China faces Games crisis over Darfur

China was facing a major international crisis linked to the Olympics on Thursday amid mounting pressure over its role in Darfur after United States filmmaker Steven Spielberg severed his links to the Games.

So far neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Olympic organising committee (Bocog) has responded to the decision by Spielberg to pull out of his role as artistic adviser to the opening and closing ceremonies of the August 8 to 24 Games.

An official at Bocog, who asked not to be named, said that a statement giving Bocog’s “definitive” response on Spielberg and Darfur had been drawn up and would be released later in the day.

However, he said that Bocog was unaware of another potential embarrassment to the organisers of the Games.

It was reported that Jacques Rogge, the Belgian head of the International Olympic Committee, joined the campaign to force China to do more to end the conflict in Sudan’s western region of Darfur.

Rogge’s signature appeared at the end of a letter published on Thursday in London’s Independent newspaper from Nobel Prize winners and Olympic athletes urging Chinese President Hu Jintao to pressure Sudan to end atrocities in Darfur.

However, Rogge denied having signed the appeal.

“It’s completely false,” his spokesperson, Emmanuelle Moreau, said.

“As the primary economic, military and political partner of the government of Sudan, and as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China has both the opportunity and the responsibility to contribute to a just peace in Darfur,” said the letter.

“Ongoing failure to rise to this responsibility amounts, in our view, to support for a government that continues to carry out atrocities against its own people.”

Spielberg, in announcing his decision on Tuesday, said the international community, and particularly China, “should be doing more to end the continuing human suffering” in the western Sudanese region.

The United Nations estimates 200 000 people have died in Darfur from the combined effects of war, famine and disease since 2003, when a civil conflict erupted pitting government-backed Arab militias against non-Arab ethnic groups.

China is a major economic partner and supplier of arms to Sudan, which is in turn accused of backing militia forces responsible for much of the violence.

In a statement from its embassy in Washington, China rejected the link between Darfur and the Olympic Games.

“As the Darfur issue is not an internal affair of China, nor was it caused by China, to link the two together is utterly unreasonable, irresponsible and unfair,” said the statement published in Beijing in Thursday’s Global Times, a sister paper of the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily.

The embassy’s statement echoes previous Chinese government statements when asked about its close ties with Khartoum.

China’s state-run media, meanwhile, were largely silent about Spielberg’s decision and the mounting pressure on Beijing over Darfur.

In communist-ruled China, the media is required to follow the government line, with mandated blackouts reserved for the most sensitive of issues.

With less than six months to go before the Games, Darfur is one of just many black spots that threaten to tarnish the Olympics.

China’s rule of Tibet, its relations with rival Taiwan and the government’s alleged wide-ranging human rights abuses are among the other issues to have generated controversy. — AFP

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