Sudanese Leader Rejects Genocide Claim

Sudan's president has denied that genocide is occurring in Darfur. President Omar al-Bashir accused the media of getting the story wrong during a rare video conference Monday with reporters from around the world. He also made it clear that he will seek to limit any United Nations role in Darfur.

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Sudan's president has denied there's a genocide in Darfur, accused the media of getting the story wrong, and made clear that he will limit the role of the United Nations.

These were all topics covered in a rare videoconference with journalists in Washington and other cities around the world, yesterday. It came amid reports of more violence in Darfur, and further signs that the conflict is spreading to other countries.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan says he's been waiting for a letter from President Omar al-Bashir spelling out what sort of international peacekeeping force Sudan will accept for Darfur.

Judging from what Bashir said in his videoconference yesterday, the U.N. shouldn't expect much. Speaking through an interpreter, the Sudanese president described the idea of an international force this way.

President OMAR AL-BASHIR (Sudan): (Through interpreter) It is a colonization for Sudan.

KELEMEN: The idea now is to have a hybrid force which would keep the African Union in the lead, but make it a joint operation with the U.N. Bashir made clear he preferred the U.N. to just pay for the troops already there.

President AL-BASHIR: (Through interpreter) The United Nations should fund all these African troops without changing these troops into international troops.

KELEMEN: And he said he doesn't think many more troops are needed. The A.U. has only about 7,000 monitors on the ground. U.N. officials say 20,000 troops and police are needed.

The head of U.N. peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenno, says a stronger mandate is required as well.

Mr. JEAN-MARIE GUEHENNO (U.N. Peacekeeping Force): For us it's fundamental, because for the United Nations to pay for a force that will not be a fully U.N. force, is revolutionary. For that revolutionary step to be taken, there have to be guarantees that that force will deliver, that that force will make a difference.

KELEMEN: Another top U.N. official told reporters recently that he hopes the U.N. won't lose time dealing with the intricacies of command and control structures.

Jan Englund says there's an urgent need to get a force on the ground that doesn't just report on how bad the situation is, but actually protects women and children.

Mr. JAN ENGLUND (U.N. Humanitarian Chief): The Arab militias are being armed to the teeth by the government. The rebels are getting arms across the border. The women who came to me from the camp said, thank you for the humanitarian assistance. It's kept us alive, but now we fear we're going to be killed this coming night or the night after that.

KELEMEN: President Bashir called such reports lies and he denied backing the Arab militias, calling them just a bunch of outlaws. He also accused the West of having a hidden agenda in Sudan, trying to tap into his country's oil riches.

President Bush's envoy to Sudan has gone out of his way to say the U.S. is only interested in saving lives in Darfur. Last week, Andrew Natsios set a deadline for Sudan to agree to allow in more international troops.

Mr. ANDREW NATSIOS (U.S. Envoy to Sudan): January 1st is either we see a change or we go to plan B.

KELEMEN: Natsios wouldn't explain what he meant.

Mr. NATSIOS: Plan B is a different approach to this.

KELEMEN: As diplomats debate how to deal with Khartoum - a government the U.S. has accused of genocide - Sudan's president made clear, through his interpreter, that incentives won't work.

President AL-BASHIR: (Through interpreter) Whenever they talk about incentives, we tell them that we don't need such incentives. We are not small kids, I mean, to whom you will give sweets so that they can follow what you say.

KELEMEN: Many here say what's needed is far more pressure, not just from the U.S. and the U.N., but from Sudan's friends in the Arab world and its key business partner, China.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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