KHARTOUM - Britain wants to boost its trade links with Sudan despite US sanctions and the international arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir over the Darfur conflict, a British minister said on Monday.
"One of our top priorities is to increase trade with different countries around the world, particularly in Africa," Britain's Minister for Africa Henry Bellingham told a news conference in the Sudanese capital.
"The trade we have with Sudan at the moment is very good. Our bilateral trade is well over 100 million sterling (119 million euros) but we feel the scope for that trade can increase," he said.
Bellingham called oil "very important" but said British companies were "lagging behind in the exploration and exploitation of oil all over Sudan, in the south and elsewhere. We think there is great potential there."
Sudan produces 500,000 barrels of oil per day and has reserves estimated at six billion barrels, most of it on the border between north and south, making it the continent's fifth largest oil producer.
Far Eastern and Gulf nations have fared better than Western states in several commercial sectors in Sudan, especially oil.
The United States imposed economic sanctions against Khartoum in 1997, accusing it of playing host to international terrorists, complicating commercial ties with Sudan.
Bellingham sought to play down the sanctions. "There are no UK sanctions, there are US sanctions," he said, adding that they do not effect Britain. "We want to see more UK banks taking a positive view toward Sudan."
On July 12, the International Criminal Court (ICC) added three genocide counts to existing charges against Bashir for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
The United Nations says up to 300,000 people have died since conflict broke out in Darfur in 2003, when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated regime for a greater share of resources and power.
Sudan's government says 10,000 have been killed.
"We are supporters of the ICC process," Bellingham told reporters.
"We feel the government of Sudan should collaborate with the court over the existing arrest warrants, but on the other hand we don't have an argument with the Sudanese people."
He added that it would be "wrong" for Britain "not to encourage the trade because trade equals wealth creation, jobs, prosperity, sustainability."