Sudan says U.S. genocide declaration for Darfur a 'big mistake' that could hurt peace talks

Friday, September 10th 2004, 6:38 am
By: News On 6

ABUJA, Nigeria _ The U.S. declaration that Sudan government-allied militiamen have committed genocide in the Darfur region is a ``big mistake'' that could hinder peace talks and undermine the role of African states mediating the 19-month conflict, Sudan government officials said Friday.

The announcement by Secretary of State Colin Powell on Thursday that the killing, raping and displacement of black Africans by Arab fighters amounts to genocide ``is sending a wrong signal'' to rebel delegates at Darfur peace talks, said Sudanese Deputy Foreign Minister Najeeb El-Khair Abdel Wahab.

Insurgents ``will bet on U.N. sanctions, they will want to wait for action to be taken by the U.N. Security Council _ and for that reason they will not be forthcoming in negotiations,'' Abdel Wahab, a top government negotiator, told reporters.

``Colin Powell is making a big mistake,'' he said.

Sudan government and rebel envoys have been attending Darfur peace talks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, since Aug. 23 in an African Union-brokered effort to calm violence that has left 30,000 dead and 1.2 million homeless. The United Nations calls it the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

On Friday, mediators adjourned talks until Tuesday, saying little progress had been made.

Powell's announcement came as the United States pressured the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on Sudan's oil industry, among other measures, if the government does not take steps to improve security in Darfur and rein in the militia, known as Janjaweed.

Such sanctions are opposed by China and Pakistan, Security Council members that import Sudanese oil.

In recent interviews with 1,136 refugees in neighboring Chad, the State Department said it found a ``consistent and widespread pattern of atrocities committed against non-Arab villagers,'' according to a department report. It added that about a third of the refugees who were interviewed heard racial epithets while under attack.

Powell said that as a member of the 1948 international genocide convention, Sudan is obliged to prevent and punish acts of genocide.

The 52-nation African Union has about 300 troops in Darfur, protecting 80 military observers monitoring a roundly violated April cease-fire accord among Sudan's government and rebels.

The violence in Darfur began when black African tribes rebelled in February 2003, accusing the national government in Khartoum of neglecting their interests.

The AU is considering sending up to 3,000 troops to Darfur, but the Sudanese government resists the proposal saying it alone is responsible for internal security.

On Friday, Sudan's Abdel Wahab said the U.S. genocide declaration shows that the country doesn't believe the African Union can end the Darfur crisis, thus undermining the bloc's efforts.

``What Colin Powell said also contradicts what the Americans have told us that they respect the leadership role and engagement of the African Union in the Darfur crisis,'' he said.

``He's undermining the efforts of the African Union, efforts by the two (rebel and government) parties and the international community seeking a solution to the question of Darfur.''

Rebel delegates said they have long shared Powell's genocide declaration and called for an international investigation to confirm it. Khartoum rejected the U.S. findings on Thursday. Insurgent envoys didn't say how Powell's declaration could affect the Abuja talks.

An earlier peace conference in Ethiopia ended without any resolution.

Also Friday, the African Union said its charter would force it to take action within Sudan if the bloc found ongoing genocide, but that no decision had yet been taken.

``If we find evidence, we shall not shy away from calling it genocide,'' said Sam Ibok, a top AU official.

``But we can't call it genocide at this point in time because we have not fully investigated it. For now we are preoccupied with saving lives,'' he said from AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

``No matter what terminology you call what has happened in Darfur it is serious enough,'' Ibok said. ``We do not have to designate it as genocide to be able to know that there is indeed a catastrophe.''