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Sudan criticizes US on Darfur

world Updated: Feb 18, 2009 22:36 IST
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Sudan's ambassador to the United Nations accused the United States on Tuesday of hypocrisy for supporting possible international prosecution of the country's president, despite a step toward peace in Darfur with a key rebel group. Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamed said Sudan expected a change in US policy from President Barack Obama, but has so far only seen the same attitude toward Sudan as former-President George W Bush.

Mohamed said it was "ironic" that the United States, which has refused to become a party to the court, is now supporting its possible prosecution of Sudan' President Omar al-Bashir on genocide charges.

"If the ICC is such rosy and beautiful and lovable and everything like that, why the US did not join the ICC?," the Sudanese envoy asked. "They want only to use the ICC politically. They are just opportunists, and they don't care about the sufferings of our people and the imperatives of peace in our country." The Sudanese government is hoping that by showing seriousness about peace, it can avert international prosecution of al-Bashir by the Hague-based court which is expected to make a decision within days on whether to issue an arrest warrant for the president over accusations he orchestrated atrocities against Darfur's ethnic Africans.

The war in Darfur began in 2003 when rebel groups took up arms against the government complaining of discrimination and neglect. Attempts to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table or to broker cease-fires have failed, and so far up to 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have fled their homes, according to UN officials.

The fighting continues, and the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur reported Tuesday that a fact-finding team it sent to Wada'ah in North Darfur was shown fresh mounds of earth in two locations which local residents said were the recently-dug mass graves where they buried 45 of their own people following recent clashes between the government and armed groups, UN spokeswoman Michele Montas said.

The team, led by force commander Gen. Martin Agwai, saw numerous buildings, houses, shops, huts, equipment and generators burned to the ground in Wada'ah, she said. The market place was also allegedly looted, and local residents said many fled the fighting and a large number were still unaccounted for, she said.

An aid worker said the fighters were from a faction of the splintered Sudan Liberation Movement that signed a peace deal with the government in 2006. That faction's leader, Minni Minnawi, has been appointed a presidential adviser. The aid worker spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

US Ambassador Susan Rice was very lukewarm about on Tuesday's agreement between the government and the rebel Justice and Equality Movement, and she told reporters there was "no linkage" between the possible prosecution of al-Bashir and the talks in Doha, Qatar to launch peace negotiations.

The African Union has been trying to drum up support from members of the U.N. Security Council for a resolution that would delay action on an arrest warrant for a year if one is issued against al-Bashir _ but Rice made clear that the U.S., a veto-wielding council member, remains opposed.

Tuesday's agreement in Doha to launch negotiations "is potentially a modest first step, but it is not itself a cessation of hostilities," Rice told reporters. "The United States' position has been and remains that we see no circumstances or other actions to date that would change our judgment at this point that (such a) deferral is unwarranted."

Sudan's Mohamed criticized US Ambassador Susan Rice for failing to note what he called "the remarkable progress" in Tuesday's agreement between the government and a powerful rebel group to launch negotiations to end the six-year conflict in Darfur. The U.S. objective from the court "is regime change, and our country and our people are fully united behind our president. They will never achieve their goal," Mohamed said.

After Obama took power, he said, "we were expecting a change in the US policy vis-a-vis Sudan, and we have welcomed the announcement coming from Washington that the US foreign policy will be premised on transparency, openness, dialogue, diplomacy and change."

"What we are seeing now shows us that nothing has changed much because she's (Rice) the same activist as before," Mohamed said. "I think she needs time to change from an activist to a diplomat." He was apparently referring to Rice's past statements on Darfur, including in an article last year for the Brookings Institution where she was a senior fellow before joining the Obama campaign, that "Congress should authorize the use of force in order to end the genocide."

In Khartoum, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali Sadiq noted that the Obama administration "said they will extend a hand to Iran, Zimbabwe."

"Are they going to do the same with Sudan? If they say no, why is Sudan an exception?" Sadiq asked.

Rice said on Tuesday the United States "remains deeply concerned about the ongoing genocide in Sudan" and called for full deployment of a 26,000-strong U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur which the U.S. views as "a critical element" for protecting civilians.

Sudan's Mohamed had some sharp words for French President Nicolas Sarkozy, accusing him of keeping rebel chief Abdul Wahid Elnur, who founded the Sudan Liberation Army, in a five-star hotel "making fiery statements, spoiling the environment for achieving fruitful talks."

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