Sudan's Beshir pledges peace as he leaves Darfur

Jul 24, 2008 (AFP)

Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir paraded as a man of peace on Thursday as he wrapped up a heavily protected tour of Darfur defying accusations that he masterminded genocide in the region.

Wearing a safari suit, shades and a giant ring, he danced on stage and beat his silver-topped cane to nationalist music as several thousand people fanned themselves in the scorching heat of the West Darfur state capital El Geneina.

On his second day of a tour of the three government-controlled state capitals in the vast western region, Beshir presented himself as a man of peace despite stalled international efforts to find a political solution.

"We will exclude no one (from peace): tribal leaders, politicians, signatory movements and even non-signatories," he told the crowd who wilted under the sun but responded to the Islamic slogan chanting habitual at Beshir rallies.

He is the first head of state accused by International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo on 10 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Sudan's western region of Darfur, gripped by more than five years of war.

He faces a possible international arrest warrant for allegedly ordering his forces to annihilate three non-Arab groups in Darfur, masterminding murder, torture, pillaging and using rape to commit genocide.

Beshir spent two days dancing and talking about peace to thousands of supporters, promising to do whatever possible to allow the displaced to return home but giving no specifics on his first visit to Darfur in a year.

"We don't need lessons from anyone. We don't need to be told how to behave. Peace is the responsibility of Darfuris," he said in El Geneina, adding he had come to Darfur to "share the pain" of the people and listen to their requests.

Beshir has inaugurated development projects and met state and UN officials, but avoided the sprawling impoverished camps for the more than 2.2 million people estimated to have been displaced by the war.

In El Geneina, the people who came out onto the streets to watch his heavily armed convoy -- guarded by police, army and national security -- drive to the organised reception kept quiet and did not cheer, an AFP correspondent said.

West Darfur is the poorest state in the region and parts are strongholds of the Justice and Equality Movement rebel group that attacked the capital in May, for the first time bringing the conflict close to the seat of power.

Two helicopters circled overhead as schoolchildren, government employees, tribesmen perched on the backs of camels and women attended an organised rally where loudspeakers blared out speeches from officials and traditional music.

"Ocampo, you are a coward, an agent of the Americans!" shouted someone in the crowd, considerably smaller than those in North and South Darfur states.

The United Nations says that up to 300,000 people have died and more than 2.2 million have fled their homes since the conflict erupted in February 2003. Sudan says 10,000 have been killed.

The war began when African ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime and state-backed Arab militias, fighting for resources and power in one of the most remote and deprived places on earth.

Beshir's regime is trying to persuade the UN Security Council to freeze possible legal proceedings should International Criminal Court judges actually issue an arrest warrant, charging that it could jeopardise peace prospects.

Jordan on Thursday added to the growing Arab and African voices criticising the accusations against Beshir as politically motivated.

"We are convinced that the accusations are of political nature that seek to serve certain objectives and interests of some countries," lower house speaker Abdul Hadi Majali told visiting Beshir adviser Ghazai Salaheddin.

Western and Arab diplomats, including US charge d'affaires Alberto Fernandez and British ambassador Rosalind Marsden, accompanied Beshir in Darfur.

In an interview published on Thursday, the outgoing head of UN peacekeeping justified a reluctance to send large numbers of peacekeepers to Darfur, where a UN-led mission is running at a third of its billed capacity.

"There is not enough of a political process for a peacekeeping operation to be really successful," Jean-Marie Guehenno told the Financial Times


The Nuba Mountains Homepage was made by Nanne op 't Ende.
You can contact me here.