Home | News    Saturday 3 February 2007

China’s Hu tells Sudan it must solve Darfur issue

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Feb 2, 2007 (KHARTOUM) — Chinese President Hu Jintao told Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on Friday Khartoum had to resolve the four-year-old conflict in Darfur, a source said after talks between the two leaders.

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Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir (R) and Chinese President Hu Jintao wave during a visit to the Chinese-built Khartoum oil refinery, February 2, 2007. (Reuters)

The source did not elaborate on the comments by Hu, who Western leaders hoped would use his first trip to Sudan, China’s third-largest African trading partner, to press Bashir to accept U.N. peacekeepers in the western region.

The Chinese leader did not refer to the Darfur conflict in a statement afterwards in which he said he envisaged a new level of cooperation and stronger economic ties with Sudan, China’s fourth-largest source of crude oil imports in November.

But Hu, on an eight-nation African tour to boost ties at a time of huge Chinese demand for raw materials to meet its rapid industrial expansion, did pledge 40 million yuan ($4.8 million) in humanitarian aid for Darfur.

Hu told Bashir "Darfur is a part of Sudan and you have to resolve this problem", said the source, declining to be named.

The Chinese president signed several economic deals as he started his visit, including an interest-free loan of 100 million yuan for Sudan to build a new presidential palace. He wrote off up to $70 million in Sudanese debts to China.

Hu, who also visited a Chinese-built oil refinery north of Khartoum and gave a brief speech, declined to take questions from the media. He is due to leave Sudan on Saturday.

"I am confident this visit will facilitate a strengthening of the traditional friendship between China and Sudan and bring cooperation between the countries to a new level," he said in the statement.

Sudan’s Islamic government, under U.S. sanctions, has relied on its communist Asian ally to expand oil production to 330,000 barrels per day and build infrastructure like dams and roads.

But little is known about China’s investment in Sudan, especially in the oil sector.

BANNER WAVING

Hundreds of people waving banners reading "Welcome Hu Jintao, welcome to Sudan" lined the streets of Khartoum, which was festooned with Sudanese and Chinese flags.

Thousands of Chinese expatriates live in Sudan, working on construction projects and in the oil industry.

At the refinery, about 75 km (47 miles) from the capital, hundreds of uniformed Chinese workers wearing yellow and blue hard hats lined up to greet him.

Security was tight at the compound of sparkling new buildings, tarmac roads and rows of new cars. The refinery processes around 100,000 barrels of crude a day.

Hu is visiting Sudan to mark 10 years of Sudanese-Chinese cooperation in the oil industry. Sudan’s economy has benefited from Chinese and Asian funds, and is expected to grow by up to 13 percent this year.

Bilateral trade stood at $2.9 billion in the first 11 months of 2006, Chinese figures show.

China’s "no strings attached" aid policy throughout Africa has raised concern in the West. Western officials say it could undermine efforts to link good governance, accountability and protection of human rights to financial aid and cooperation.

Washington in particular has pressed China to use its economic muscle to persuade Khartoum to end violence in Darfur, where about 200,000 people have been killed in the past four years and some 2.5 million have been driven from their homes.

The conflict began when rebels rose up against the government in February 2003 saying Khartoum discriminated against non-Arab farmers in Darfur in favour of Arab tribes. Arab militias known as the Janjaweed drove farmers from their land in a campaign the United States has called genocide.

A 7,500-strong African Union peacekeeping mission has struggled to maintain a shaky ceasefire in Darfur but Khartoum rejects a U.N. takeover of the force.

Chinese arms are used by all sides in the Darfur conflict, despite an arms embargo on the region.

China is a veto-holding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, which is engaged in a standoff with Khartoum over the proposed U.N. peacekeeping mission for Darfur.

"The blunt truth is China hasn’t begun to use any of the irresistible diplomatic, economic and political leverage it has with the Khartoum regime," said U.S. Darfur expert Eric Reeves.

"And until it does, there will be ... no halt to the intolerable deterioration in security for civilians and humanitarians."

(Reuters)

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