Sudan's foreign minister says President Bush is wrong to label the bloodletting and violence in the troubled Darfur region as genocide. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from Washington the United States continues to call for the swift deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force to Sudan.
Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol admits that bloodshed and hardship have engulfed Darfur for several years. But, speaking on CNN's Late Edition program, the minister said the situation in the western Sudanese region does not rise to the level of genocide, as the Bush administration alleges.
"We are not denying that in any war people will get caught in the crossfire," said Lam Akol. "In war there will be unnecessary death. This is common. But what we do not agree with is the way they are exaggerated and the way they are classified as genocide. There is only one country in the world that has said that there is genocide in Sudan. And 'genocide' is s precise word with a precise definition. A nd this definition does not apply to Sudan."
Less than two weeks ago, President Bush repeated his contention that genocide is taking place in Darfur. Speaking at the United Nations, Mr. Bush showed little patience for any quibbling over the meaning of the word.
"My nation has labeled what has taken place in Darfur as genocide," said President Bush. "Maybe some do not think it is genocide. But if you are mercilessly killed by roaming bands, you know it is genocide."
An estimated 200,000 people have perished in Darfur in recent years, primarily at the hands of militias backed by the government in Khartoum. Many more have been displaced as hundreds of villages have been destroyed.
But Foreign Minister Akol points out that, long before violence erupted in Darfur, Sudan suffered decades of bloody civil war with even greater casualties.
"In the last war in southern Sudan more than two million people died," he said. "More than four million went into internal displacement. And not a single person said this is genocide."
Susan Rice, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during the Clinton administration, also spoke on Late Edition.
"This is much more than a civil war," said Susan Rice. "There are civil wars all over the world. But the government of Sudan made a conscious decision to go one step further and employ tactics that amounted to genocide: rape, displacement, murder, burning of villages to wipe out large parts of entire tribes."
Appearing alongside Rice was an advisor to the head of the International Crisis Group on Darfur, John Pendergast. Pendergast said Khartoum has targeted specific groups of people to, as he put it, "wipe them out and render them extinct." He alleged that many governments shy away from designating the killings in Darfur as genocide because doing to would compel them to act in response.
A 2005 accord ended two decades of civil war between Sudan's Arab-dominated government and mostly Christian and animist rebels in the south of the country - a conflict separate from the Darfur crisis.
Speaking at the end of a 10-day trip to Sudan, U.S. Special Envoy Andrew Natsios said he is deeply concerned that the peace deal could falter over border questions, the sharing of Sudan's oil wealth, and other issues. He urged renewed efforts to fully implement the provisions of the accord.
In Darfur, a U.N. peacekeeping force is scheduled to take over from a much smaller contingent of African Union soldiers at the beginning of next year.