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20 Mar 2007 12:41
Sudan’s president on Monday denied his government was involved in widespread human rights abuses in Darfur, where an estimated 200Â 000 people have been killed in what the United States says is the first genocide of this century.
Shown a picture of a US State Department map depicting burned villages in Sudan’s vast western region during an NBC News interview in Khartoum, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir called it a “fabrication”.
“Yes, there have been villages burned, but not to the extent you are talking about,” Bashir said.
“People have been killed because there is war. It is not in the Sudanese culture or people of Darfur to rape.
It doesn’t exist.
The Sudanese leader likened the photograph to pictures shown by former US Secretary of State Colin Powell at the United Nations Security Council before the start of the Iraq war as proof of the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. No such weapons have been found since the war started four years ago.
“This picture is the same fabrication and the same picture as the ones Colin Powell presented about Iraq,” Bashir said, speaking through an interpreter.
Experts say about 200Â 000 people have been killed since rebels in Darfur rose up against the government in 2003, accusing Khartoum of discrimination against non-Arab farmers there. In addition, more than 2,5-million people have been forced from their homes.
In the interview, Bashir defended a government official against war-crimes charges levelled by the International Criminal Court in The Hague in February.
“We have judicial system in Sudan. Anyone who committed a war crime, anti-human crime or any other crime will be locked up,” the Sudanese leader told NBC.
Pressed on whether he believes Ahmed Haroun, state interior minister during the height of the Darfur conflict, was guilty of crimes against humanity? Bashir replied: “No, not at all.”
“I’m sure that he did not participate in any war crimes. The same forces behind the attack on Iraq are trying to do the same in Sudan,” Bashir said.
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court named Haroun and militia commander Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-al-Rahman as the first suspects he wants tried for war crimes in Darfur and suggested more could follow.
The UN calls Darfur one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
US special envoy to Sudan Andrew Natsios visited Sudan earlier this month and said the government was paralysing the humanitarian operation in Darfur, a region the size of France.
NBC said Bashir suggested Washington had ulterior motives, accusing the US of trying to seize what he said were Darfur’s rich oil and gas reserves.
“The goal is to put Darfur under their custody,” Bashir said. “Separating the region of Darfur from Sudan.”—Reuters
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