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President of Sudan Denies Reports of Ethnic Cleansing in Darfur

The president of Sudan says reports of ethnic cleansing during nearly four years of war in western Darfur are mere talk. President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir also says that his government still rejects the deployment of a U.N.-backed international peacekeeping force for the region. VOA's Catherine Maddux reports.

President Bashir spoke about the conflict in Darfur at a video news conference beamed from Khartoum to eight cities around the world.

He told reporters gathered in Washington, London, Paris, Pretoria, Berlin, Beirut, Cairo and Moscow that no genocide has been committed in Darfur. He said comparisons made to the 1994 Rwandan genocide are simply wrong.

President Bashir also once again said his government would never accept a U.N. resolution to send foreign troops into Darfur to help stabilize the region. But he added that does not mean his government is not cooperating with the United Nations.

"We are working with the United Nations and we have great action with the U.N.," said Omar Hassan Al-Bashir. "That does not mean we accept this [U.N.] resolution because actually, it is a colonization for Sudan."

Earlier this month, Mr. Bashir agreed to some aspects of a proposed hybrid U.N. - African Union force, designed to get around Khartoum's rejection of a full-fledged international peacekeeping mission. So far the Sudan government has agreed to accept logistical support and money - and, perhaps, some extra troops - from the United Nations.

But President Bashir made it clear to reporters that any troops from the U.N. would have to come under the command of the African Union mission, which already has some 7,000 soldiers and observers deployed in region.

Furthermore, Mr. Bashir said reports from U.N. officials, relief agencies and journalists that a humanitarian disaster involving the displacement of more than two million in Darfur are false, though he did acknowledge that some people have been displaced.

"We do not want to say that there are no IDP's [internally displaced people] or refugees," he said. "But talking about a humanitarian disaster is not true. Until now there is not any famine in Darfur. No epidemics. And all the statistics of the institutions and the international NGO's [non-governmental organizations], including the WHO [World Health Organization] and UNICEF affirms that the percentage of child mortality is similar to the different parts of Sudan."

Mr. Bashir made another bold assertion, saying only 9,000 people have died during the nearly four year long conflict.

"I challenge anyone who can bring a very accurate statistic to show the number of those who have been killed," added Sudan's president. "And that this number can go beyond 9,000 people."

This figure is far lower than the United Nation's estimate of more than 200,000 killed - a figure that is considered conservative by some experts.

The president also dismissed the idea that Darfur's Arab militias, known as the Janjaweed, are armed by the government and responsible for atrocities committed against non-Arab civilians. He said crimes against Darfur's civilians are being committed by petty criminals who, he insisted, would be prosecuted.

"The Janjaweed as they are depicted by the western media - that they are bandits who attack and rape and do a lot of damage - are all outlaws," he said. "And all people who are arrested by the police forces will be tried."

The Sudanese president also repeatedly called on rebel factions who have not signed the Darfur Peace Agreement to come onboard and stop their military offensives. Only one of several rebel groups has so far agreed to the deal. But despite reports by journalists and the United Nations to the contrary, Mr. Bashir told reporters that the situation in Darfur has improved since the agreement was signed.