KHARTOUM, Sudan (Reuters) – Sudan’s president Thursday accused the West of exploiting the Darfur conflict in the hope of seizing the country’s gold and oil, but Washington replied its only aim was to halt mass murder and starvation.
Sudan is under intense international pressure to rein in Arab militias accused of sacking African villages and killing and raping civilians, and to provide security for more than 1 million people driven from their homes by the turmoil.
The U.N. Security Council said in a July 30 resolution that Khartoum could face unspecified sanctions if it failed to do so, and there has been talk of foreign military intervention.
Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir Bashir said Thursday the real motive of Western nations was to destabilize his country.
“There is an agenda to seek petrol and gold in the region,” he told a women’s union meeting on Darfur in Khartoum.
“This high life that they (the West) enjoy now is a result of the theft of the colonies and their riches and peoples,” he added. Britain granted Sudan independence in 1956.
U.S. DISMISSES BASHIR’S COMMENTS
A State Department spokesman was quick to dismiss Bashir’s comments.
“Oil and gold is not the issue here. The issue is saving people from disease, starvation, rape and murder. That’s what’s at stake here. That’s why we’re involved in Darfur,” Adam Ereli told reporters in Washington.
Sudan’s two main oil fields are in the south and Khartoum hopes more will be discovered. The country, Africa’s largest by area, earns about $2 billion a year from output of about 300,000 barrels per day. Analysts say Darfur itself could have oil.
The government and rebels in the south have agreed a plan to end 21 years of civil war there. But as that conflict appeared to be drawing to a close, fresh turmoil arose in Darfur in the west last year.
Two rebel groups in Darfur accuse Khartoum of arming Arab militias, known as Janjaweed or “devils on horseback,” to drive African farmers from their land in a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
The United Nations (news – web sites) says 50,000 people have been killed and many more driven from their homes in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. It says the conflict has forced about 200,000 refugees into neighboring Chad and left 2 million people short of food and medicine.
The U.S. Congress has labeled the violence “genocide.” Sudan denies blame for the violence and describes the Janjaweed as outlaws it is struggling to control, rather than its proxies.
Jean-Marie Fakhouri, the Darfur director of operations for U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said security had to be reestablished to encourage refugees to return home.
“I met some people this morning and asked them whether they would be ready to return home. The immediate reply was ‘not in these conditions, not while there is no security, not while our villages are destroyed and there is no rehabilitation’,” he said after visiting a camp for the displaced in western Darfur.
Darfur rebel groups the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), said Thursday they would attend African Union-sponsored peace talks in Nigeria at the end of the month, but expressed doubts about the Aug. 23. date.
The U.N. said Tuesday Sudan was still imposing some restrictions on aid flights, causing “major delays” in the deployment of aid workers. But Fakhouri, speaking in Chad, said the humanitarian effort was starting to show results.
JEM secretary-general Abu Garda said the rebels had agreed with the World Food Program to give the U.N. body access to rebel-held areas in Darfur to distribute food.
AFRICAN TROOPS TO FLY IN
The African Union has deployed cease-fire monitors in the region and the Netherlands is to begin airlifting more than 150 Rwandan troops to Darfur Saturday to protect the observers.
Thursday, the 53-member Addis Ababa-based organization said several African countries had indicated their willingness to send troops to Darfur provided they were requested by the African Union.
“Tanzania, Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Senegal and Mali are among countries which have indicated their willingness to contribute troops to serve as peacekeepers under the aegis of the African Union,” Assane Ba, a representative from the African Union, told Reuters.
Rights group Human Rights Watch said rapes and other atrocities were still taking place in Darfur, despite government promises to bring security to displaced people.
Sudan has rejected the idea of foreign peacekeepers being deployed, saying its troops are responsible for the region.
(Additional reporting by Opheera McDoom in Cairo, Helen Nyambura in Dar es Salaam and Emmanuel Braun in Chad)