Home | News    Saturday 28 August 2004

Darfur elders say United States demonises Sudan to hurt Islam

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KANO, Nigeria, Aug 28 (AFP) — A group of tribal chiefs from the
war-torn Sudanese region of Darfur on Saturday told Nigerian Islamic
leaders that the United States was using the conflict in their
homeland to demonise Muslims.

The 11 elders were brought to Nigeria as part of a
pro-government delegation to African Union peace talks aimed at
resolving the bloody 18-month conflict between Khartoum and Darfur’s
two main rebel groups.

The United States has led international condemnation of the
violence and US lawmakers have branded the attacks by the Janjaweed
Arab militia on black African tribes regarded as rebel sympathisers
a genocide.

But the chiefs, who were escorted to the northern Nigerian city
of Kano by the Sudanese junior minister for social development
Marghani Mansur Badawi, called such a stance an attack on the Muslim
world as a whole.

"Its the United States that is fuelling the crises in Darfur,
telling the world that the Arabs are commiting genocide against
blacks," Badawi said.

"The target is not Sudan but the target is Islam although Sudans
reputation has been defamed by this propaganda," he claimed.

Kano is the commercial centre of mainly-Muslim northern Nigeria
— which is home to more than 40 million black African Muslims —
and Badawi’s party was met by some very senior local Islamic
leaders.

"The Janjaweed is a group of criminals that have been operating
since 1993, they are a bunch of bandits that have been robbing
people, stealing herds from nomads and causing confusion in Darfur,"
Badawi said.

"When war started between the government and the rebels they
seized the chance offered by the war to cause the damage they are
now causing but the government has no hand in the atrocities they
are committing," he insisted.

The United Nations, the United States, international rights
groups and Nigeria’s own President Olusegun Obasanjo, chairman of
the African Union, have said that the Janjaweed were armed and
sponsored by the Sudanese government.

Kano and Sudan have a relationship that dates back centuries to
when Sudan served as a transit route for northern Nigerian pilgrims
going to Mecca for the Hajj pilgrimage, crossing the Sahara on
donkeys, mules and on foot.

Many of the pilgrims settled in Sudan on their way home, and it
is widely believed in Nigeria that there are now more than four
million Sudanese of Nigerian descent.

Badawi said the crises in Darfur is as a result of water
shortage caused by a drought in 1993, which led to clashes between
farmers and nomads over grazing fields as nomadic herdsmen
encroached on crops.

"The tribes living there are all Muslims and Islam came to unite
humanity and doesnt differentiate between races and tribes," said
Badawi, who is a mamber of the Masalik tribe in western Darfur.

"Where there is war there is destruction because war causes
havoc, pushing people to leave villages to cities where they can
find safety," he said.

"But television footage from Western media depicts these
displaced people as victims of ethnic cleansing to ridicule Islam,"
he continued.

The minister’s thesis won a sympathetic ear in a region in which
anti-US sentiment runs deep.

Magaji Abdullahi, Kano’s deputy governor, accused the West of
instigating the conflict in Darfur in order to "Balkanise the Sudan
as they did in Bosnia and Afghanistan, with the motive of destroying
our sacred religion."

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