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Sudan’s Bashir defends his handling of Darfur crisis

Feb 24, 2007 (KHARTOUM) — Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir defended his handling of the Darfur crisis and criticised Western media for exaggerating the death toll in a video conference with worshippers at a Detroit mosque on Friday.

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Omar al-Bashir (SUNA)

Bashir acknowledged Sudan was facing a "problem" in Darfur, but placed the blame squarely on rebel groups which did not sign on to a peace agreement concluded in Abuja, Nigeria in May 2006. "There is a problem, and the main cause of that problem is the rebellion ... we’ve done everything to possible to try to convince those who bore arms against the state and the people ... but all efforts and mediation failed," he said.

Experts say an estimated 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million driven from their homes in Darfur since 2003.

"There’s a discourse in Western media about the number of people killed in these events, and a lot of organisations and the American media refer to imaginary numbers, up to 400,000 dead. All these are false," Bashir said, later adding that the actual number was closer to 9,000 dead.

He dismissed claims of ethnic cleansing in Darfur. "Talk of Arabs killing blacks is a lie. The government of Sudan is a government of blacks, with all different ethnic backgrounds ... We’re all Africans, we’re all black."

Bashir said Darfur’s non-signatory rebel groups had refused to negotiate with Khartoum during Wednesday’s summit in Tripoli, Libya, attended by the rebels, whom Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was expected to try to persuade to join the peace deal.

But the rebels said they had gone to Libya to observe and did not intend to engage in talks with Khartoum, and that their priority was to unite Darfur rebels.

Bashir reiterated his rejection of Security Council resolution 1706, which calls for the deployment of some 22,500 U.N. peacekeepers and police to take over the African Union mission in Darfur, saying it would effectively place Sudan under U.N. control.

He said Sudan would hold "free and fair" elections in 2008 and 2009, monitored by regional and international bodies.

The International Criminal Court is due to name the first suspects accused of committing war crimes in Darfur next Tuesday.

(Reuters)