Sudan’s Govt Lashes Out at US Over Possible Sanctions

NAIROBI – Sudan’s government has launched a scathing attack on the United States, accusing it of spearheading a campaign to have the United Nations apply sanctions against Khartoum over the crisis in Darfur.

"The question of sanctions will be the continuity of unfair actions of the U.S., such as what it has done to Iraq," Anglo Beada, deputy speaker of the Sudanese parliament, told IPS Thursday after a press conference held in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

"The U.S. is acting like a bull in a China shop," he added.

Beada’s comments follow the circulation by the U.S. of a new draft resolution in the UN Security Council that calls for more concerted action to curb human rights abuses in Darfur – a region in western Sudan. (The document is scheduled to come under discussion at the UN in New York, Thursday.)

Since last year, Darfur has been plagued by conflict between Arab militias known as the "Janjaweed" (men on horseback), and the Fur, Masaalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups – a battle underpinned by competition over land and water.

The conflict began when two rebel movements, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), took up arms against the government to protest against its alleged disregard of development needs in Darfur.

These groups are said to receive support from the Fur, Masaalit and Zaghawa, against which attacks have escalated in recent months.

Up to 50,000 people have reportedly died in Darfur, while more than a million have been displaced in what certain analysts term a campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Janjaweed. The Arab militants reportedly have the backing of government.

The draft resolution proposed by the U.S. includes a reference to possible sanctions against Sudan’s key oil industry.

"This will not be the first time [that Sudan has been the target of sanctions]. We have experienced this before. But if they are unfair, we will not just lie there. We will make our case known," said Beada.

In 1997, the U.S. Congress implemented economic sanctions against Sudan, accusing the country of being a "sponsor of terrorism and a relentless oppressor of its minority Christian population."

In addition, the resolution calls for a bigger African Union (AU) monitoring force in Sudan.

During the AU’s annual summit held in Ethiopia about two months ago, leaders agreed to send a 300-member force to protect 60 AU observers who are monitoring a ceasefire that was signed in April among the government, the SLM/A and the JEM. To date, Rwandan and Nigerian soldiers have been deployed in Darfur.

On July 28, the UN passed a resolution giving Sudan 30 days to disarm the Janjaweed. While the deadline for this expired on Aug. 30, officials are not believed to have made real headway in bringing the militias under control. Khartoum disputes this view.

"The government has up to now disarmed 375,000 or 30 percent of the Janjaweed. We are still going on with the process and we have deployed 40,000 of our military officers to the three states in Darfur to protect civilians," Beada claimed.

He also dismissed reports of ongoing attacks against inhabitants of Darfur: "Again, it is not true that civilians are still being attacked. The report from the ground is different from the report we have. No killing has taken place since the government accepted to crack down on the Janjaweed."

Mohammed Bakhiet, chairman of Sudan’s parliamentary committee on defense and security said at Thursday’s press conference that diplomatic efforts should now focus on ensuring successful peace negotiations between Khartoum and rebels from the SLM/A and the JEM.

"What we need now is something that will put an end to the war in Darfur," he noted.

Sudanese officials are currently meeting representatives from the two groups in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, for talks mediated by the African Union. The discussions, which began Aug. 23, have reached a deadlock.

Parties involved in talks to end civil war in southern Sudan fear the Darfur crisis may jeopardize gains made in these negotiations.

"All attention now has been diverted to Darfur, forgetting the [south Sudanese] peace process, which is equally important," Samson Kwaje, spokesman for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), told IPS in an interview earlier.

The southern conflict has pitted SPLM/A rebels from Christian and animist communities against the Islamic government in Khartoum for more than two decades.

Talks to end the war began in Kenya in 2002 under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development: a regional body comprising Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia and Djibouti.

Negotiations, currently in their final round, adjourned July 28 with agreement on a permanent ceasefire still pending.