Sat, Jul 31, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Arab League is cool to sanctions

DARFUR Where the UN sees a dire humanitarian crisis, Arab leaders see a pretext for the West to assert its power in an oil-rich and strategically important country

REUTERS , CAIRO, EGYPT

Newly arrived Sudanese refugees from the Darfur region receive aid at a camp in eastern Chad on Thursday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

The Arab League is cautioning the West against threatening Sudan with sanctions over a humanitarian crisis in Darfur, a move some in the Arab world see as a US pretext for toppling another Arab government.

Sudan says pressure over Darfur, where the UN says the world's worst humanitarian crisis is unfolding, aims to undermine the country's Islamist government, whose thawing ties with Washington have been put back on ice over the issue.

"Many would say that the US administration, as well as some European countries, have found in the Darfur crisis a long-lost pretext to put the government under the sword of international sanctions," Arab League spokesman Hossam Zaki said, adding an embargo would not help resolve the crisis, but antagonize Khartoum.

A US-drafted UN resolution, on which the UN Security Council was to vote yesterday, implicitly threatens Sudan with sanctions should the government not fulfill pledges to disarm Arab militias and provide aid workers relief access.

The US Congress has said the Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, are committing genocide against non-Arabs in Darfur, where fighting has displaced 1 million people and killed 30,000.

The Darfur rebels say the government armed and sent the militias against them. Khartoum denies the charge.

Many in the Arab world are angry over the US invasion of Iraq and what they see as an unswerving US bias towards Israel at the Palestinians' expense.

They are now questioning Washington's motives in promoting the Darfur issue in the Security Council.

"How come the Security Council ... and those with a humanitarian agenda are so active when it comes to such a situation, when they turn a blind eye to the miserable situation in the Palestinian territories?" Zaki asked.

Mohamed Mahdi Akef, head of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, said Washington was using Darfur as an element of a plan "designed to fragment all states of the region, the beginning of it [the plan] was in Iraq."

The US in 1998 launched missiles at a Khartoum pharmaceuticals plant linked to terrorism figurehead Osama bin Laden, saying it was making ingredients for chemical weapons. Sudan, which sheltered bin Laden from 1991 to 1996, has been under US sanctions since 1997 for sponsoring terrorism.

But the US under the Bush administration has taken a more active diplomatic role in Sudan.

Under US pressure, Khartoum and the southern rebels have made great strides in the last two years towards reaching a final peace deal to end a 21-year-old civil war in the south separate from the Darfur conflict. Khartoum has agreed to a southern vote on secession six years after a final deal.

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