By Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - United Nations sanctions monitors confirmed in their latest report the recent presence of cluster munitions in Sudan's conflict-torn Darfur region in violation of a U.N. arms embargo while rebel groups earned cash from illicit gold mining.
The U.N. Security Council's Panel of Experts on Darfur said it had evidence Sudan's air force recently had RBK-500 cluster bombs at the weapon loading area at the Nyala Forward Operation Base.
"Although Sudan is not a signatory to the Cluster Munition Convention, it has previously denied either possessing or using cluster munitions," the panel said in its report, seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
Cluster munitions explode in the air and scatter smaller "bomblets" over a huge area that detonate when stepped on or picked up.
The panel's sighting of cluster munitions supports the findings of the U.N. Mine Action Service that the Sudanese Air Force has used RBK-500 cluster bombs.
The panel also raised concerns about gold smuggling. Moscow, which has good relations with the Khartoum government, was unhappy with the panel's reporting.
Russian Deputy U.N. Ambassador Petr Iliichev said Russia was opposed to publishing the report because "the experts are not behaving like they are required to."
The U.N. Security Council sanctions committee has to agree by consensus to release the report.
The experts said some 48,000 kg (105,822 pounds) of gold was potentially smuggled to United Arab Emirates from Darfur between 2010 and 2014 and "such an export level equates to an additional income of $123 million to the armed groups of Darfur over this period."
The experts visited the Jebel Amir artisanal gold mines in June 2015 and said they were certain that the Abbala militia control at least 400 mines. They said the group earns some $54 million annually from levies on prospectors and support businesses, direct prospecting and the illegal exporting of mined gold.
The panel said South Sudan violated the sanctions regime by failing to stop training of the Darfur rebel group known as the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) on South Sudanese territory, and by failing to prevent it from transferring weapons into Darfur.
The experts said the Juba government clearly knew about JEM's presence and therefore violated the sanctions.
The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when mainly non-Arab tribes took up arms against the Arab-led government in Khartoum, accusing it of discrimination. The U.N. says up to 300,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in Darfur.
(Editing by Alan Crosby)