More than a million people have been displaced by the violence there, and the international aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres warned on Monday that not enough aid was getting through. "Urgent action is still overdue, as it has been throughout Darfur's man-made emergency," the group said.
The EU's 25 foreign ministers urged the Sudanese government to implement a July 3 promise to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to rein in pro-government Arab militias, improve security and provide better access for relief efforts.
"They know very well the threat of sanctions is imminent if they don't comply," said Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot, whose country holds the EU presidency. "We have made that crystal clear to them."
The violence in Darfur began 15 months ago when two rebel groups from Darfur's African tribes took up arms in a struggle over land and resources. Arab militias known as Janjaweed then began a brutal campaign to drive out the black Africans.
EU officials took a tough line but would not go so far as to label the killings in Darfur genocide, as the U.S. Congress did last week.
In a statement, the ministers said they were "extremely concerned ... by continuing reports of massive human rights violations" perpetrated by Arab militias, "including systematic rape of women."
The foreign ministers said they expect the Sudanese government to "immediately fulfill" U.N. demands to end the violence or the EU would take "further actions, including imposing sanctions."
Bot refused to say what specific sanctions were being considered by EU governments, but EU officials said experts already were looking at specific measures, including possible freezing of assets of Sudanese government and rebel leaders or travel bans against specific people.
However, any final decision would be up to the U.N.'s Security Council.
Backing up its threat, the EU said it was drafting a list of Janjaweed leaders "responsible for breaches and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and those guiding and supporting them."
The EU said the Sudanese government "will be pressed to investigate" and bring to justice those listed.
"They need to be disarmed, and the responsible need to go to trial," said German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.
Up to 30,000 people, most of them black Africans, have been killed in Darfur, and an estimated 2.2 million are in urgent need of food or medical attention.
Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF, said Monday that not enough aid is making it way to Darfur, and death rates are already significantly above the "emergency threshold."
"This is not surprising as there are extreme shortages of water, food, shelter and latrines, which contribute to high levels of diarrhea among children, a major cause of death," the group said in a statement.
"What you see there is widespread suffering, inadequate relief efforts and continuing violence," said Dr. Rowan Gillies, who heads the organization.
"Hardly anyone is getting the care civilians should get in a conflict," said Gillies, who just spent a month in Darfur. "And there are pockets of real disaster, where people are at grave risk of dying in large numbers."
The EU, the United States and humanitarian groups have accused the Sudanese government of backing the militias — a claim Khartoum denies.
There was no immediate Sudanese government comment on the EU ministers' decision. But Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir's Cabinet was expected to hold a special meeting Tuesday on the Darfur crisis.
El-Bashi's ruling National Congress Party has decided to begin diplomatic campaigns to head off attempts at foreign intervention in the crisis, according to a party leader.
EU officials said the union did not plan to cut off the millions it gives Sudan in development aid.
Earlier this year, the EU said it would give $14.6 million (U.S.) to pay for an African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur, which would be deployed once a lasting cease-fire takes hold there. The AU is sending 300 troops and 150 unarmed observers, along with nine from the EU.
The EU has also sent some $259 million in humanitarian aid this year, and French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said Monday that France had a cargo plane on standby to fly aid to Darfur if permission is granted.
"It is an extremely urgent situation," Barnier said. "We want to get aid on site as soon as possible."
Bot said Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail asked the EU, the United States and the U.N. for time to implement its pledge to end the fighting.
"The Sudanese promised full cooperation ... the U.N. agreement foresees a period of 90 days," Bot said. "We will monitor very carefully progress in the field."
The 25 foreign ministers also urged Sudan to admit more aid workers to provide emergency food and shelter for more than 1 million people displaced in Darfur.
The EU wants a political solution to the crisis. But peace talks in Ethiopia last week ended early when Darfur's rebels walked out, insisting Sudan's government honor the terms of previous agreements, like an April cease-fire that has been largely ignored.
The United Nations plans to send a peacekeeping mission by the end of the year to Darfur, a region the size of Iraq with a population of 6.7 million.