UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - China has tried to suppress a U.N. report that says Chinese bullets were used in attacks on peacekeepers in Sudan's conflict-torn Darfur region, diplomats said on Tuesday.
The U.N. Security Council's Sudan sanctions committee will discuss on Wednesday the latest report and recommendations from the so-called Panel of Experts on Sudan. The group monitors compliance with a 2005 arms embargo in place for Darfur.
That report, according to Security Council diplomats familiar with its contents, says a dozen brands of bullet casings found at sites of attacks on U.N./African Union peacekeepers in Darfur came from China. Four other types were manufactured in Sudan, and two varieties were from Israel.
"There's no evidence that the bullets were sent directly by China with the government's knowledge to Khartoum for use in Darfur, or that it was China that sold the ammunition to Sudan," a diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
"To knowingly sell Sudan ammunition for use in Darfur would be a violation of the sanctions," the diplomat said. "We don't know if China did that but its attempt to suppress the report is suspicious."
Council diplomats predicted that the report would eventually reach the public, whether or not China succeeded in blocking its official publication.
Normally the Security Council's Sudan sanctions committee posts the expert panel's reports on its website within weeks of formally presenting them to the Security Council.
The Chinese delegation has made clear that it would prefer not have the latest report posted, diplomats said.
The issue of the Chinese bullets in Darfur was first reported on the "Turtle Bay" blog of Foreign Policy magazine.
One diplomat said the Chinese delegation had threatened to veto the renewal of the mandate for the Panel of Experts in the Security Council if the language in the report was not changed but agreed to abstain under American persuasion.
After the council renewed the mandate last week, the Chinese delegate, Yang Tao, did not hide his irritation with the group's work.
"China has serious concerns over the annual report submitted by the Panel of Experts on the Sudan sanctions committee and believes that there is much room for improvement in the work of the panel," Yang told the council.
China's position as Khartoum's top arms supplier is well known and has long been criticized by human rights activists and Western governments. Previous reports by the Panel of Experts have raised the issue of Chinese arms in Darfur.
It is not illegal to supply weapons to Sudan, but countries are required to have guarantees from the Sudanese government that the arms will not end up in Darfur.
Russia is another supplier of military hardware to Sudan.
The conflict in Darfur flared in 2003 when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government, accusing it of neglecting the region. A series of cease-fires, negotiations and international campaigns has failed to end the fighting and law and order has collapsed in most of the region.
The United Nations estimates up to 300,000 people died in the humanitarian crisis after Khartoum mobilized militias to quell the revolt. Khartoum puts the death toll at 10,000.
U.S. and other Western delegations have suggested that they would like to expand the arms embargo to cover all arms sales to Khartoum but diplomats say China would never allow that.