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US Angry Over Sudan Leader's Denial of Role in Darfur Atrocities

The United States has responded angrily to interview remarks by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir denying his government had any role in atrocities in Darfur. The State Department said the remarks bore "no resemblance to reality" and it is time to consider new punitive action against the Khartoum government. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here say the interview comments are part of a pattern of defiance by the Sudanese leader on global concerns about Darfur, and they say they may hasten punitive measures to force his government to accept expanded international peacekeeping there.

In an interview with the American NBC television network aired Monday, President Bashir denied his government is complicit in ethnic-cleansing, rape and other atrocities in Darfur and accused the United States of fabricating evidence to the contrary.

He also said the international push for stepped-up peacekeeping operations in Darfur was part of a U.S. led effort to seize the region and energy resources there.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the Sudanese leader's remarks fly in the face of direct evidence viewed by top U.S. officials including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "It just bears no resemblance to reality. Our diplomats have visited Darfur. We talk with NGOs who are trying to alleviate the humanitarian situation in Darfur. Secretary Rice visited a camp in Darfur. She sat down across from women who recounted awful stories of being brutalized as a result of just going out to collect firewood. So it's very real. We've seen it. We have heard first-hand accounts of it," he said.

McCormack said to try to push aside the suffering in Darfur as a U.S. fabrication is at the very least "misguided." He said the interview remarks, coupled with the Sudanese leader's letter to the United Nations a week ago rejecting plans to send new U.N. and African Union peacekeepers to Sudan, could hasten punitive action by the world community.

"We have gotten to a point where we need to look, give a good hard look, at what levers we might use at our disposal in order to convince the Sudanese government to change its position. This is not getting them to change their behavior. And maybe what we need to do is try to change the cost-benefit analysis for them. And that is something that we're looking at actively," he said.

Sudan appeared, at an international conference in Addis Ababa last November to have accepted the three-stage deployment of a 20,000 member "hybrid" U.N. and AU force to replace the much smaller AU observer mission there now.

A senior diplomat who spoke to reporters here said U.S. and allied diplomats decided to take Sudan's ambivalent response as a "yes" and proceed with deployment plans, but that its subsequent defiance has now put that approach in doubt.

Efforts until now to punish Sudan have encountered resistance from some key U.N. members, including China. The issue has been complicated by the failure of the United Nations thus far to raise the required number of troops for Darfur.