US ambassador John Bolton, joined by China, Algeria and Russia, prevented Juan Mendez, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special adviser for the prevention of genocide, from briefing the council on his recent visit to Darfur on Monday, despite pleas from Annan and 11 other council members that Mendez be heard.

"I strongly regret and deplore that Mr Mendez ... was not authorised to brief the council today as Mr Kofi Annan had asked," French ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere told reporters outside the council chambers.

But Bolton said he had objected to the briefing to make the point the council should be "talking more about the steps it can take to do something about the deteriorating security situation" in Darfur. He gave no new proposals.

"How many officials from the secretariat does it take to give a briefing?" he asked, noting the council had just concluded a briefing on Darfur from Hedi Annabi, the assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping operations.

Khartoum blamed

Mendez, who visited Darfur for a week in late September, later briefed reporters on his findings. He said Sudanese officials were taking only cosmetic steps to prevent systematic human rights abuses there that might amount to genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.

"I strongly regret and deplore that Mr Mendez[UN briefer] ... was not authorised to brief the council today as Mr Kofi Annan had asked"

Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, 
French ambassador

He also accused Khartoum of refusing to cooperate with the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, a tribunal strongly opposed by Washington on the grounds it might pursue frivolous prosecutions of US soldiers or officials working abroad.

"We cannot let the government of Sudan get away with that," Mendez told a news conference. "I haven't seen any indication of the international community telling Sudan, 'You don't have a choice, you have to cooperate with the ICC.'"

Mendez said the Security Council had to put more pressure on the Sudanese to disarm nomadic gangs, known as Janjawid, blamed for many of the atrocities now escalating in camps housing African tribesmen thrown off their land.

Bolton criticised

Council diplomats who wanted to hear from Mendez said it was a council tradition to give the envoy a platform when Annan called for a briefing from his adviser on genocide.

They noted Bolton had lined up with the three council members - Algeria, China and Russia - which have watered down action against Khartoum.

"He's playing into the hands of people who don't want to do anything," said one council diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Security Council met for a briefing on the latest developments in Darfur after rebels in the western Sudanese region abducted a number of African Union peacekeeping troops and killed some of them.

The incident prompted Annan to warn in Geneva on Monday that a surge of violence in the region may force the world body to suspend some aid to Darfur.