Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Sudan News Update: President Omar al-Bashir Refutes Death Claims in Darfur

Sudan disputes Darfur death figures

Tue, 28 Nov 2006

Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir has disputed UN figures of fatalities in four years of bloody fighting in the region of Darfur, saying that "not even 9000" people have been killed.

"The figure of 200 000 dead is false and the number of dead is not even 9000," Beshir said in a video media conference late on Monday.

"All the figures have been falsified and the child mortality rate in Darfur does not exceed that in Khartoum," Beshir also said, accusing western powers of inflating statistics to justify a military intervention.

According to the UN, at least 200 000 people have died from the combined effect of war and famine since the fighting erupted in February 2003. Some sources say the toll is much higher.

A UN report published on Monday painted a bleak picture of the humanitarian situation in Darfur, describing it as the worst in two years.

Washington accuses Beshir's regime of genocide in Darfur and has pushed for UN peacekeepers to be dispatched there.

The Sudanese president has consistently rejected efforts to replace the African Union observers currently deployed in Darfur, accusing the West of seeking to invade his country and plunder its resources.


News Article by AP posted on November 27, 2006 at 23:33:03: EST (-5 GMT)

Sudan President Wants UN Support In Darfur, Not Intervention

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir addressed journalists from various Western capitals in a three-hour long video conference on Monday, Nov. 27 in Khartoum, Sudan

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP)--The Sudanese president on Monday repeated his rejection of U.N. troops in Darfur but he also hinted he was trying to find a middle ground with the U.N. on how peacekeepers could support the existing African force currently deployed in the war-torn region.

President Omar al-Bashir's comments came as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was expecting a final commitment from Sudan on a deal reached in principle earlier this month for the U.N. to conduct a "hybrid mission" with the African Union force in Darfur.

During a three-hour video conference with journalists in several international capitals, al-Bashir didn't detail Khartoum's exact position on the latest compromise deal, calling it both a "positive step" and accusing U.N. troops as being "colonial."

"The Secretary-General's position is a positive step, but we have reservations on a joint force and on its command structure," al-Bashir told reporters.

But the Sudanese president also repeated his harsh opinion of U.N. peacekeepers, warning that Sudan wouldn't let the U.N. breach its sovereignty.

"U.N. troops are colonial troops...They have never had a positive role in Africa," he said.

The agreement reached by Sudanese delegates with Annan and his AU counterpart earlier this month was aimed at breaking a diplomatic deadlock for an increased international role in solving the Darfur crisis, where more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million have been displaced by three years of fighting between rebels and government forces.

Al-Bashir fiercely opposes an August U.N. Security Council resolution that called for more than 20,000 U.N. peacekeepers to replace the overwhelmed and ill-equipped 7,000-strong AU force in Darfur, whose mandate expires at the end of the year.

Khartoum had first signaled it was satisfied with the agreement but has since backtracked on the nature of the mission, opposing the idea that peacekeepers and the force's command structure could come from outside the AU.

Annan said he was expecting a letter from al-Bashir by Tuesday at the latest so it can be ready for the AU summit taking place Wednesday in Nigeria.

"The (Sudanese) government's response is urgent," Annan told reporters at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

Al-Bashir didn't disclose whether he was sending the letter, but said he believed the exact number of troops needed in Darfur should be decided by AU commanders in Darfur. He said the AU general in charge of peacekeeping operations had estimated no more than 9,000 troops were needed.

Annan's compromise deal would provide for 17,000 soldiers and 3,000 police to deploy in Darfur.

News Article by AP posted on November 27, 2006 at 16:50:48: EST (-5 GMT)

Sudanese rebels attack oil field, extending campaign to outside Darfur

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) -- Darfur rebels attacked an oil field in a rare extension of their campaign eastwards toward the Sudanese capital and said Monday the military garrison guarding the field had surrendered.

But the government said its forces repelled the assault and were in full control of the Abu Jabra oil field Monday.

The attack on the field on the edge of South Darfur appeared to be another sign that Darfur's violence was spreading across the region.

"The government garrison guarding the oil field was totally destroyed," the National Redemption Front rebel group said in a statement. "Numerous soldiers, including high-ranking officers and generals, have surrendered," the rebels said, claiming to have shot down an army helicopter and to have captured a "substantial amount" of weapons and military vehicles.

A Sudanese military spokesman denied the army had surrendered, saying its troops had "inflicted heavy causalities on the rebels, who withdrew from the area." He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with official policy.

A Sudanese official in the oil industry said Abu Jabra's
capacity had been damaged in the attack, but insisted it would not affect overall production. The state-owned facility pumps up to 10,000 barrels per day -- a relatively small output. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the issue.

The rebel raid came amid heightened violence in Darfur, where
pro-government janjaweed militia have been accused by the United Nations of forcing 60,000 people to flee their homes this month. Violence in Darfur over three years has killed 200,000 people and displaced 2.5 million.

Observers fear Darfur's violence threatens to destabilize the
entire region. Neighboring Chad accuses Sudan of backing a rebel raid that briefly took a large Chadian town and threatened the capital in recent days.

To the south of Darfur, the Central African Republic also
alleges Sudan is backing a local rebellion. Khartoum denies both charges, but aid workers in the west Darfur town of El Geneina said they had seen Chadian rebel groups operating freely in the area. The aid workers spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Sudanese officials say the country produces about 500,000
barrels per day and that oil revenue should be at least $4 billion this year, more than half of the government's income.

Most of Sudan's oil reserves are in the south of the country,
which is now semi autonomous under a separate peace agreement that southern rebels signed with the government in January 2005.


Pan-African News Wire said...

UN rights council rejects EU-Canadian resolution on Darfur atrocities

Alexander G. Higgins
Canadian Press
Tuesday, November 28, 2006

GENEVA (AP) - The UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday rejected an attempt to hold the Sudanese government responsible for halting atrocities in Darfur.

By a 22-20 vote, the council turned down a resolution from the European Union and Canada telling the Sudanese government to prosecute those responsible for killing, raping and injuring civilians in the western region of the country.

The showdown followed months of negotiations between the European Union and the African group of members in the 47-country council on what approach to take toward Darfur, which the United Nations has called the world's worst humanitarian disaster.

After rejecting EU attempts, the council then voted 25-11 with 10 abstentions to approve the African group's resolution calling on all parties to the conflict "to put an immediate end to the ongoing violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, with a special focus on vulnerable groups, including women and children, while not hindering the return of all internally displaced persons to their homes."

The African resolution suggests no blame for President Omar al-Bashir's government, which has been accused of unleashing brutal militiamen known as janjaweed in fighting Darfur rebels. The janjaweed are widely alleged to have destroyed hundreds of villages, killing the inhabitants, raping women and stealing livestock.

The government has always denied backing the janjaweed. But UN investigators said they have found that the government armed the janjaweed, and members of the militia have acknowledged receiving state support.

More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million others displaced since the conflict began in February 2003, when Darfur's ethnic African tribesmen took up arms against what they saw as decades of neglect and discrimination by the Arab government in Khartoum.

The council, which took over from the discredited UN Human Rights Commission last June, is dominated by African and Muslim countries, who have sided with China, Cuba and other countries in preventing criticism of any government but Israel.

Joining in with the rejection of the EU measure were also India, Russia and Sri Lanka. Breaking ranks with the African group were Ghana, who voted for the EU measure, and Mauritius and Zambia, which abstained.

"Some governments in Africa do have a conscience," said Mariette Grange, of Human Rights Watch. The other African countries "should be in solidarity with the victims, and not in solidarity with the abusers," she added.

But she said she was encouraged that the 20 votes in favour of the EU measure were well over the 16 votes required to call an emergency session on Darfur, which she said a number of western delegations are ready to consider.

Canadian Ambassador Paul Meyer, who had joined with the EU in trying to pass a strong resolution, said that at least the council was finally addressing the situation in Darfur six months after it was organized. Others were less impressed.

"It's another disappointment," said John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, "another example of the poor performance of the Human Rights Council, another reason why those who advocated going ahead with this council will have a heavy burden to bear."

The African resolution praised the government for co-operating with a UN-appointed expert on the human rights situation in Sudan and "calls upon the government to continue and intensify its co-operation with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms."

A peace agreement signed by the government and one rebel group in May has been ignored, and the violence has escalated in recent months. The accord committed the government to disarming the janjaweed, whom the United Nations has cited as being involved in recent atrocities.

The council welcomed the peace agreement and called on the other parties to sign.

"The council notes that the Darfur Peace Agreement stipulates the principles of enhancing accountability and preventing impunity," the African resolution said. "It calls on all parties to uphold the principles which are equally applicable to states and non-state actors and to cooperate fully in the implementation of the agreement."

It also urged all sides to allow UN human rights monitors and aid workers to have full, unfettered access to those in need.

Pan-African News Wire said...

News Article by AFP posted on November 29, 2006 at 16:37:45: EST (-5 GMT)

AU envoy calls on Sudan, Chad to 'work together'

KHARTOUM, Nov 28, 2006 (AFP) - African Union envoy to Sudan Salim Ahmed Salim on Tuesday called on Khartoum and N'Djamena to cooperate to end the rebellions in their border areas.

"There's a need for (Sudan and Chad) to work together to put an end to those conflicts," Salim told AFP.

The AU envoy was in Khartoum to hold talks with officials over the conflict in the western Sudanese region of Darfur which has spilled over into Chad and the Central African Republic.

Chadian President Idriss Deby and CAR President Francois Bozize accuse Sudan of supporting the rebel movements fighting against them. Khartoum categorically denies the charges.

Leaders from all three countries discussed the spreading violence during a mini-summit in Libya Tuesday.

"Durable peace in Chad is in the interest of Sudan and durable peace in Sudan is in the interest of Chad," said Salim.

"You can choose your friends, not your brother and neighbours are brothers in spite of you," he said, stressing that "Darfur is a source of instability" for Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic.

Salim said he raised the issue of Chad during a meeting with Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir Monday, and stressed that he would discuss Sudan whenever he next visits N'Djamena.

The conflict in Darfur started in February 2003 when ethnic minority rebels demanding a greater share of the country's resources took up arms, prompting a scorched earth campaign by the government and its allied Janjaweed militia.

According to the United Nations, at least 200,000 people have died from the combined effects of war and famine, and over two million have been displaced since the fighting erupted in February 2003. Some sources put the toll much higher.

News Article by AFP posted on November 29, 2006 at 16:39:08: EST (-5 GMT)

Sudan to give response on joint AU-UN force for Darfur: Annan

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 28, 2006 (AFP) - Sudan will give its formal response Wednesday on contentious points of a tentative deal reached with the United Nations for deploying a joint African Union-UN peacekeeping force in Darfur, UN chief Kofi Annan said Tuesday.

"I just spoke with him (Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir) before I came here and he has indicated that I would get his response tomorrow morning," Annan told reporters here.

The outgoing secretary general has pressed Beshir from clarifications on three key issues left unresolved at a meeting in Addis Ababa earlier this month where Khartoum agreed in principle, according to the UN, to deploy a joint AU-UN force in Darfur.

The issues involve the size of the force -- which the UN foresees at 17,000 troops and 3,000 police -- how the force commander should be appointed and the role of the special representative who would report to both the UN and the AU, Annan said.

But in Khartoum, Beshir reiterated his stance supporting the continued presence of AU monitors in Darfur and denied his country's acceptance of a proposal for a "hybrid force" comprising troops from both the AU and the UN.

He charged that the deployment of some 20,000 UN peacekeepers stipulated in the August 31 UN Security Council resolution would de facto place his country under international mandate.

"We would run the risk of having a Bremer Mark II and just look at what he did to Iraq," Beshir said, in reference to Paul Bremer, who headed the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq in the aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion.

Beshir argued the only solution to the conflict in Darfur was to continue efforts to rally holdout rebel groups to the May peace agreement Khartoum signed with the main rebel faction.

"This is a strategic choice for us," he said.

Annan, who is to step down at the end of December after 10 years in office, meanwhile told reporters that the Darfur crisis would be one of his top priorities during his remaining time in office.

"On Darfur, I hope we will get it on the right track between now and the end of the year," he noted.

News Article by AFP posted on November 29, 2006 at 16:41:35: EST (-5 GMT)

AU cannot abandon Sudan, Darfur peace envoy says

KHARTOUM, Nov 29, 2006 (AFP) - The African Union cannot afford to leave Darfur, the African body's top peace envoy told AFP Wednesday in Khartoum, where he is striving to rekindle efforts to stabilise the war-torn region.

"It is inconceivable for Africa to quit Darfur, it would be tantamount to leaving a part of itself sink into oblivion," Salim Ahmed Salim said.

"Africa cannot afford to leave because if it does, it will have huge consequences on Sudan and what will happen in Sudan will also affect neighbouring countries," he added.

The African Union has some 7,000 observers deployed in Darfur but the under-funded and ill-equipped contingent has failed to contain relentless violence pitting rebel groups against government forces and its militia.

Salim arrived in Khartoum this week in a bid to find a political solution to the nearly four-year-old conflict amid ever-growing international pressure on Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir's regime.

After failing to impose the replacement of AU observers with UN peacekeepers, the West has been pushing for a 'hybrid force' but Beshir has so far stuck to his guns and rejected any UN military presence on his soil.

"Why does the international community not mobilise to give the AU sufficient means to achieve the goals of its mission?" Salim complained.

The embattled Darfur contingent is the first foreign peacekeeping operation conducted by the African body and Salim told AFP he believed its mandate would be extended beyond its current December 31 deadline.

"If you have a credible force, it will bolster the implementation of the peace agreement," said the official, in reference to the May peace deal of which he was one of the main architects.

Khartoum signed a peace agreement with the main Darfur rebel faction in May but two other groups refused to endorse it and the Abuja deal has failed to curb the level of violence.

The Tanzanian official, who is expected to conduct a series of consultations with the holdout rebel factions, insisted there was reason to hope for a breakthrough.

"I think there is a new awareness (in Sudan) that the conflict has already lasted too long and that efforts to reach a peaceful settlement need to be intensified," he said.

News Article by AFP posted on November 29, 2006 at 16:42:58: EST (-5 GMT)

UN chiefs urge rights forum to deal urgently with Darfur atrocities

GENEVA, Nov 29, 2006 (AFP) - UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on Wednesday urged the world body's Human Rights Council to hold a special session on violations in Sudan's strife-torn region of Darfur, warning that the Council's reputation was at stake.

He was joined by UN human rights chief Louise Arbour, who warned the assembly that "atrocities" in Darfur "continue to be a daily occurrence" and openly engaged Khartoum's ongoing responsibility in serious violations.

"The government of Sudan and militias aligned with them... continue to be responsible for the most serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law," she said.

In a message to the 47-member states of the Council delivered by Arbour, Annan said the violations there deserve at least as much if not more attention than grave violations in Palestinian territories and Israel.

"There are surely other situations, besides the one in the Middle East, which would merit scrutiny by a special session of this council. I would suggest that Darfur is a glaring case in point," Annan said in his message to the session.

The Council formed this year has fallen prey to similar geopolitical rifts that discredited its predecessor, the Commission.

The Council has held urgent special sessions three times in recent months, but solely at the request of Arab nations to deal with the Middle East.

Annan said the Council needed to do more to "take its place as one of the paramount bodies of the United Nations".

"There is much at stake for the Council and for human rights in the months ahead. A new atmosphere is vitally needed," he warned, calling on the 47 member states to rise above national and regional interests to tackle abuses
"wherever and whenever" they occur.

UN emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland on Wednesday accused sections of the international community of being in denial about the humanitarian crisis in Sudan's strife torn region of Darfur.

On Tuesday, the Council rejected a bid by the European Union and Canada to place primary responsibility on the Sudanese government to prevent human rights violations in the conflict-riven Darfur.

Instead, an African resolution that made no direct reference to Khartoum's role was passed in its unaltered form with 25 votes in favour, 11 against and 10 abstentions.

Sudan is expected Wednesday to give its formal response on a tentative deal with the United Nations for deploying a joint African Union-UN peacekeeping force in Darfur.

At least 200,000 people have died from the combined effects of war and famine since the conflict there erupted in 2003. More than two million have fled their homes and violence is continuing, according to the UN.

Annan, a Ghanaian, said the 47 Council members must build coalitions based on the principle of upholding human rights.

"Do not let yourselves be split along the faultline between north and south -- between developed and developing countries -- as your colleagues have done in some other parts of the system, with results inimical to progress," the outgoing UN chief cautioned.

Annan also mounted a staunch defence of the system of UN human rights experts who investigate abuse -- known as "special procedures" -- just days after African countries in the Council, supported by China and Cuba, launched a process to set up a "code of conduct" for the experts' activities.

"I strongly believe that the Council must preserve and strengthen the system of special procedures -- the crown jewel of the system -- while also developing a robust universal periodic review," he said.

One of the key new powers granted to the Council when it was formed in June is systematically to scrutinise the human rights record of each of its members. But it has yet to agree on how to carry out those reviews.

The campaign group Human Rights Watch warned that the procedural vote on Monday could muzzle the UN's human rights rapporteurs and experts.

News Article by REUTERS posted on November 29, 2006 at 16:44:49: EST (-5 GMT)

UN tries to calm Sudan's Upper Nile after clashes

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 29 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed deep concern on Wednesday about heavy fighting between Sudan's army and former rebels in southern Sudan, where a peace pact had ended a 21-year-old civil war.

The clashes, on Monday and Tuesday, were in the town of
Malakal in Upper Nile State among soldiers in an integrated
unit of the Sudanese army and the Southern Peoples Liberation
Army, the one-time rebels in the south.

According to U.N. reports, Maj. Gen. Gabriel Tang of the
Sudanese Armed Forces, attacked two SPLA soldiers, killing one
and injuring another. In turn, SPLA troops attacked Tang's
house and occupied it.

U.N. officials in Sudan said they did not know the number
of casualties on both sides but relocated some 240 civilian
staff. Annan said that U.N. commanders along with a delegation
of SPLA and Sudanese army officers were now in Malakal to calm
the dispute.

"While the situation in Malakal is relatively calm (on Wednesday),
tension remains," Annan said in a statement issued by a spokesman. He said he was "deeply concerned" about the clashes, which were a "serious violation of the security arrangements of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement."

That agreement, signed in January 2005 agreement, between the Khartoum government and the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement includes power and wealth sharing and integrating security forces.

But some of the basic tenets, including election planning
and dividing oil revenues, have not been met.

The United Nations has some 10,000 peacekeepers in the south to monitor the agreement and help train police, human rights workers and provide other services.

The southern conflict is separate from violence in the western region of Darfur, where U.N. peacekeepers are not permitted, and where an estimated 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million have been forced to flee their homes
since 2003.

Pan-African News Wire said...

Debate Grows Over Number of Darfur Dead

By ALFRED de MONTESQUIOU Associated Press Writer

(AP)-KHARTOUM, Sudan-As violence in Darfur escalates, a debate is growing over how many people have died in what officials call the world's worst humanitarian crisis. A U.N. agency's survey cites at least 200,000 deaths, but other studies say the death toll could be closer to 400,000 or more.

Sudan's government, however, contends the deaths are only a tiny fraction of that.

The dispute occurs in part because, ever since fighting began in early 2003, humanitarian workers have had only limited and perilous access to Darfur, a sprawling, arid region of western Sudan nearly the size of Texas.

Both violence and government restrictions have kept aid groups and researchers away. Right now, for example, violence makes nearly 40 percent of the population inaccessible to aid workers, said Ramesh Rajasingham, the head of the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Sudan.

"To this day, we don't really have our eyes on the ground. We work with projections," Rajasingham said in a recent interview.

Overall, the U.N. says 4 million people in Darfur are currently in desperate need of aid - nearly two-thirds of the estimated Darfur population of 6.5 million. An estimated 2.5 million live in refugee camps in Darfur and neighboring Chad, while others inhabit remote villages, the U.N. says.

On deaths, the last official, independent mortality survey for Darfur was published in March 2005. Based on data collected in refugee camps in Darfur, a team from the World Health Organization estimated that 10,000 of these refugees died each month between the end of 2003 and October 2004 - mostly of malnutrition and disease linked to the violence. By March 2005, when the survey was released, the total number had risen to 200,000 deaths, the WHO later estimated.

The figures have not been thoroughly updated since. Yet fighting has worsened in the past few months.

That has led some researchers and human rights advocates to contend that the estimate of 200,000 killed since 2003 is too low. They say the violence has continued at the same or greater level each month since March 2005, meaning total deaths now could be as high as 400,000.

Government attacks in the last month alone have chased at least 60,000 from their homes, Rajasingham said, and dozens of villages have been razed. But aid agencies do not have time and resources to "go around counting the graves," he said, because they need to focus on survivors.

"We are concerned with the numbers of the living more than the number of the dead," Rajasingham said. "Our priority is to prevent further killing."

U.N. officials still usually use the 200,000 number. The Associated Press also uses the figure of at least 200,000 dead, based on the WHO survey.

For its part, Sudan's government in Khartoum says death tolls have been vastly inflated.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said in September that only 10,000 people had died because of violence in Darfur since 2003. In a press conference this week, he lowered his figure to 9,000. "I challenge anybody to prove differently," al-Bashir said.

Khartoum denies having orchestrated killings in Darfur, and recently described attacks by Arab nomads called janjaweed as being conducted by "renegade Arab bandits" it does not control.

But academics who study the Darfur crisis put little stock in Khartoum's estimate.

They say the exact extent of Darfur's killing cannot be proven because the survey done by the WHO ended in March 2005 and no other research has been permitted on the ground by the Sudanese government since then.

David Nabarro, who directed the WHO survey, said that because of lack of freedom of movement and security concerns at the time, "we may not have been able to get the full extent of the violent mortality" - or those killed in violence.

"So the numbers are possibly higher," he said in a recent phone interview.

Nabarro stressed that his survey also described only "what was happening in a defined time frame (from end of 2003 until early 2005) and within accessible areas" of Darfur.

More than a dozen other studies have estimated death tolls ranging around 400,000 for the period since 2003.

Those include a survey by the Washington-based and State Department-funded Center for International Justice, which conducted interviews with Darfur refugees in Chad in August 2004. That survey found 61 percent of those interviewed reported witnessing the killing of a family member.

The survey combined that percentage with the number of refugees in Chad to reach a total of 200,000 dead in violent attacks. Because the WHO study did not survey refugees in Chad and did not count many violent deaths, the report argues the 200,000 that it estimated dead by violence among refugee families in Chad should be added to the WHO's toll of 200,000 dead inside Darfur camps to reach a total of 400,000 deaths.

But not all researchers accept the methodology, calling the extrapolation method faulty.