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China Defends Decision to Invite Sudan, Zimbabwe to Africa Summit


Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is defending his government's human rights record, a day after Chinese President Hu Jintao publicly called on him to step up efforts to resolve the bitter conflict in Sudan's Darfur region. Sudan - a major supplier of petroleum to China - is among 48 African nations that Beijing is hosting Saturday and Sunday in a bid to boost its imports of resources from the continent.

China's decision to invite Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to the Africa summit has drawn criticism from international human rights advocates.

They are concerned that Beijing is overlooking the poor human rights record of some African governments so it can obtain resources and new markets in Africa.

Beijing's invitation to Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe, whose government is accused of massive human rights violations, has drawn similar fire.

Sudan's government is accused of supporting militias that have killed tens of thousands of people, destroyed villages, and committed wholesale rape of women in Darfur, in the country's south.

Mr. Bashir, the Sudanese leader, met with reporters here in Beijing Friday on the sidelines of China's gathering of 48 African countries, and denied those charges.

He defended his government's handling of the three-year-old Darfur crisis, and sought to downplay the atrocities that have been widely reported there. He said only 10,000 people had died in the conflict, contradicting international figures that put the toll at 200,000.

Mr. Bashir also reaffirmed his government's refusal to allow U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur.

"We refuse to accept the entry of U.N. peacekeepers into Sudan, because the result of our refusal is better than the impact of accepting the deployment," Mr. Bashir said.

He said allowing U.N. peacekeepers would create a situation similar to the instability that now exists in Iraq, and letting them in would be worse than not letting them in.

Mr. Bashir says he appreciates China's support at the United Nations, which has authorized 20,000 U.N. troops to replace the seven thousand African Union peacekeepers currently deployed. China says it will support the presence of U.N. troops only if Sudan agrees to it.

However, Beijing at the same time is eager to avoid the kind of international criticism it has been suffering for embracing Mr. Bashir.

Chinese television quoted President Hu as making unusually forceful statements about the situation in Darfur, urging the Sudanese leader, when the two met on Thursday, to push for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

The official reports quoted Mr. Hu as telling Mr. Bashir the Darfur matter had "reached a critical stage," and saying China hopes the Sudanese government will maintain dialogue with all parties in the conflict, adjust its position, and improve the humanitarian situation in the region.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao this week explained how Beijing justifies its invitation to such leaders as Mr. Bashir and Mr. Mugabe.

Mr. Liu says strengthening cooperation with Africa in all fields is conducive to peace, development and prosperity for everyone. He says China is not ashamed to hold this summit with these leaders.

China traditionally abides by a policy of non-interference in the affairs of other countries - a position that Human Rights Watch, a major U.S.-based human rights group, has likened in this case to remaining silent as mass killings go on.

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