Lawmakers warn China of PR "disaster" in Darfur

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 100 U.S. lawmakers sent China's President Hu Jintao a letter on Wednesday warning of "disaster" for the 2008 Olympic Games if Beijing fails to do more to stop carnage in Chinese ally Sudan's Darfur region.

California Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, was backed by 106 legislators including House Majority leader Steny Hoyer, in the strongly worded missive, his office said.

"It would be a disaster for China if the games were to be marred by protests, from concerned individuals and groups, who will undoubtedly link your government to the continued atrocities in Darfur, if there is no significant improvement in the conditions," said the letter.

Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in the U.S. Congress and a staunch critic of authoritarian states, noted there were calls in some quarters to boycott what some activists have been calling the "Genocide Olympics."

"As Sudan's single largest trading partner, and the main beneficiary of their significant crude oil exports and construction contracts, we urge you to protect your country's image from being irredeemably tarnished, through association with a genocidal regime, for the purposes of economic gains," his letter said.

China's close economic and political ties with Sudan gave Beijing a "special responsibility" to uphold U.N. resolutions calling for peacekeepers in Darfur, it said.

Lantos welcomed recent steps by China, including efforts to persuade the Sudan government to accept the deployment of peacekeepers in Darfur, but said Beijing's loans, arms sales and debt cancellation "send the wrong message to Khartoum."

China should press Sudan to take steps including halting military operations throughout Darfur, withdrawing Sudanese troops from the region and honoring its commitment to accept deployments of African Union and UN peacekeeping forces, the letter said.

The United Nations says around 200,000 people have died and more than 2 million have been made homeless since conflict flared in Darfur in 2003 when rebel groups took up arms against the Khartoum government, accusing it of neglect. Khartoum says only 9,000 have lost their lives.

China and Russia on Tuesday both denied allegations by the human rights group Amnesty International that they were breaching a U.N. arms embargo by letting weapons into Sudan.

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