sudan president 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Sudan's President Field Marshal Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir claimed Tuesday that reports in western newspapers of hundreds of thousands dead in his country's brutal civil war are all part of an Israeli-led worldwide conspiracy.
In a rambling video-link interview from Khartoum, in which he connected with journalists based in eight different countries, al-Bashir also claimed fatality levels in Darfur were "less than 9,000," instead of a figure of upwards of 400,000 quoted in much of the media, and accepted by the United Nations.
Al-Bashir asserted that all talk of a serious conflict - and accusations that his Government has supported, trained and armed the brutal Arab Janjaweed militia, which has displaced, raped and robbed an estimated 2.5 million people in Darfur - were a western conspiracy engineered by Israel to divert attention from the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories.
He also blamed Chad for financing and sponsoring the rebels, and denied any responsibility for supporting the Janjaweed.
However, just hours after his interview, which included answering questions of this Jerusalem Post correspondent based in Berlin, aid agencies revealed the true scale of the horror in Darfur.
Speaking to the Post from another Berlin press conference, Vincent Hoedt, who was last year the head of mission in Darfur for the Medecins Sans Frontiers agency, said parts of Darfur were now out of bounds to his agency because staff fear attack from the multitude of tribal forces engaged in the conflict. He revealed that 17 Medicins Sans Frontiers were beaten up recently by tribes ordering the evacuation of a village, and said there had been "incredible" casualties.
The conflict, in the Darfur region of western Sudan, is mainly being fought between the Janjaweed and the other, mostly land-tilling tribes, of the region. The Sudanese Government is accused in participating in joint attacks with the Janjaweed, systematically targeting the Fur, Zaghawa, and Massaleit ethnic groups in Darfur. It started in 2003.
In statements that appeared to be more in keeping with 1920s anti-Semitism than statesmanship, Field Marshal al-Bashir added that Israeli influence was at the center of the conflict, and all the world's disputes.
"You cannot at all rule out the Israeli role in any problem that any Arab country is facing because the security of Israel is based on weakening Arab states," he said.
"Israel would do everything through their media and their different mechanisms - you can't deny they have such influence in circles all over the world so they can do what they want."
Appearing to believe that western media are controlled by their governments, Field Marshal al-Bashir claimed that America and Britain had asked Sudan to recognize Israel and hinted negative coverage of the Darfur conflict could stop as a result.
"Since we took power, these messages have never stopped. They (America, Britain and Israel) would like to divert the Arabs from the central cause of the Arabs, which is Palestine.
"This is a camouflage for what is happening in Iraq, in Palestine, in Afghanistan."
Field Marshal al-Bashir also refused to call in outside help from the United Nations, claiming the organization is infiltrated by western agents from the US and Britain, and praised Saddam Hussein's regime for creating a country which contained "the best Arab citizens in terms of livelihood and stability."
However, Mr. Hoedt - now in Amsterdam coordinating the Sudanese mission having returned from Sudan himself six months ago - said in a one-on-one interview at the end of a Berlin press conference yesterday that evidence from aid agencies' experiences was that there must have been hundreds of thousands of casualties, although there are no exact figures. Hoedt confirmed that the aid agencies' ability to do their work is being hampered by growing hostility.
"We came to the conclusion that incredible numbers must have died, but (whether that is) 200,000, 300,000 or 400,000, we do not know," he said.
Hoedt added that growing hostility towards all foreigners meant that Medecins Sans Frontiers was struggling to do its work. "Seventeen of our staff, who were working with displaced people in southern Darfur, got beaten up when rebels evacuated the area," he said.
"Darfur is a difficult place to work. We do get affected by a lot of menace, a lot of robberies and threats to our security."
He added that the Government's coordination with aid agencies was limited, and there was widespread suspicion about Medecins Sans Frontiers' motive, adding that Medecins Sans Frontiers was now completely unable to work in the northern part of western Darfur, and the southern part of northern Darfur because the dangers to them were too great.
Hoedt, who was temporarily imprisoned in Sudan for a day last year for writing an article revealing the rape of Sudanese women by Arab tribesmen, added that belief in a western conspiracy was rife in Sudan.
"People asked us whether we were also working in Lebanon after the recent war, and we said: 'Of course we are,' and they were amazed. 'So you are helping Arabs too,' they said. This kind of reaction is pretty common."