Home | News    Saturday 4 November 2006

Sudan will not relent on its rejection of UN troops - Bashir

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Nov 3, 2006 (BEIJING) — Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said Friday his government will not relent on its rejection of U.N. peacekeeping troops for Darfur.

Al-Bashir, in Beijing for a landmark summit between Chinese and African leaders, said allowing U.N. troops into Darfur would lead to a greater number of deaths, likening it to the peacekeeping situation in Iraq.

"We refuse to accept the entry of U.N. peacekeepers into Sudan because the impact of our refusal is better than the impact of our acceptance," al-Bashir said, speaking in Arabic at a news conference. "We dare not think of what the consequences would be of them being there."

His hardened stance came one day after a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, who urged Sudan to step up its diplomacy on Darfur.

The conflict began in 2003, when members of Darfur’s ethnic African tribes took up arms against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum, accusing it of decades of neglect and discrimination.

To quell the uprising, al-Bashir’s government has been accused of unleashing brutal militiamen known as janjaweed, who are widely alleged to have destroyed hundreds of villages, killing the inhabitants, raping women and stealing livestock.

At least 200,000 people have died and more than 2.5 million people have been displaced.

The U.N. has authorized 20,000 troops to replace an under-equipped force of 7,000 African Union peacekeepers in Darfur, but al-Bashir’s government has rejected the U.N. force, saying they would be "neocolonialists." Last month, it expelled the U.N.’s Sudan envoy.

"We were using traditional methods and measures to resolve the conflict," al-Bashir said. "The cause of the crisis is the interference from external powers ... mainly the United States."

U.S. President George W. Bush warned Sudan last week that it must move soon to resolve the Darfur issue. As recently as September, Bush has called the atrocities in Sudan "genocide."

"The government of Sudan must understand that we’re ... earnest and serious about their necessity to step up and work with the international community," the president said after meeting with Andrew Natsios, the U.S.’s special envoy to Sudan.

Bush said Natsios delivered a "grim report about the human condition" in Darfur after a 10-day trip to the area.

Al-Bashir denied Khartoum backed the janjaweed, saying this "was not in accordance with fact."

He also said only 10,000 had died in fighting, which he said affects only seven of the Darfur region’s 22 counties. "The rest of the areas are very safe and the people live normal lives," al-Bashir said.

Hu, the Chinese president, Thursday said "the Darfur issue is now at a critical stage," state-run China Central Television quoted him as telling al-Bashir. "China ... hopes Sudan can strengthen the dialogue with all parties."

Hu’s comments marked a rare public foray for him into Beijing’s much criticized relations with Sudan, a major supplier of oil to China.

Western governments and rights groups have accused China of using its position as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council to protect Sudan from pressure over Darfur.

Al-Bashir Friday emphasized the closeness of the two countries and expressed gratitude for China’s support in the council by insisting that U.N. troops be sent into Darfur only with Khartoum’s consent.

"The Chinese side really understands Sudan’s position and its considerations behind its refusal," he said.

Violence has been escalating recently in the region. The U.N. said large-scale militia attacks last week on civilian settlements caused scores of deaths - including children younger than 12 - and forced thousands to flee.

In the run-up to the China-Africa summit, activists are hoping that Beijing will use its growing economic clout with Africa to improve human rights. New York-based Human Rights Watch said China was supporting African governments responsible for some of the continent’s worst human rights violations and particularly cited Sudan and Zimbabwe.

"China insists that it will not ’interfere’ in other countries’ domestic affairs, but it also claims to be a great friend of the African people and a responsible major power," Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch said in a statement. "But that doesn’t square with staying silent while mass killings go on in Darfur."

(AP)

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