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19/03/2009 | Africa - Sudan's Bashir Rallies Arab Tribesmen in Darfur

Reuters Staff

Sudan's president rallied thousands of spear-waving Arab tribesmen in Darfur on Wednesday in his latest show of defiance against international moves to arrest him for war crimes.

 

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir vowed to confront Western "colonisers" as he addressed the gathering of Rizeigat tribespeople—a group including clans that have produced some of the fiercest pro-government militias in the Darfur conflict.

His emotional speech came amid signs of a growing standoff between Sudan and the West following the International Criminal Court's decision to issue an arrest warrant for Bashir to face charges of masterminding atrocities in Darfur.

The president sparked international outrage this month when he expelled 13 foreign aid groups and shut down three local organisations, accusing them of assisting the court. The expelled groups—including Oxfam and two branches of Medecins Sans Frontieres—deny helping the ICC.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday stepped up pressure on Khartoum by saying Bashir would be responsible for every death caused by the resulting drop in humanitarian cover in the remote region.

The vast crowd of Rizeigat tribespeople, many riding horses and camels, swore a mass oath of allegiance to the president at the rally in the remote Sibdu valley area in south Darfur.

In a speech broadcast live on Sudan TV, Bashir told the gathering the West was trying to remove him from power, but he was ready to confront any attack. "These knights on horseback now have spears, but tomorrow on the battlefield they will have machine guns," he said, referring to the crowd.  

Musa Hilal, a man Washington accuses of coordinating Darfur's pro-government militias, is the leader of the Rizeigat's Mahamied clan. But rebel groups have also claimed Rizeigat members and large parts of the tribe have also resisted government call-ups in the past.

Bashir invoked Sudan's colonial-era victories, including the defeat and killing of Britain's Major-General Charles George Gordon in 1885. He called for an end to fighting inside Darfur, saying the government was pushing through a string of development projects from roads to hospitals.

Tensions have been mounting in Khartoum, where state media have printed regular attacks on aid groups, accusing them of spying, and on Western powers, saying they support the ICC warrant.

Around 100 protesters gathered outside France's embassy in the capital on Wednesday and some threw stones at the building, said French diplomatic sources. France's foreign ministry spokesman said on Tuesday he had been misquoted by an Arab newspaper as saying France would back the interception of any plane carrying Bashir if he left Sudan.

The U.N. has warned Bashir's expulsion of aid groups would have a devastating impact on hundreds of thousands of Darfuris, many of them dependent on food aid. Sudanese government officials have said they plan to fill the gap by recruiting scores of Sudanese aid groups, assisted by the surviving foreign humanitarian organisations.

But veteran Darfur rebel leader Suleiman Jamous said this plan would not help people in rebel-held areas of the region, where state-backed aid groups would not be able to work. "Now that the government has failed to kill the people with guns, they are trying to kill them by taking their aid," he said.

International experts say almost six years of fighting has killed 200,000 and driven more than 2.7 million from their homes. Khartoum says 10,000 have died.

The conflict flared when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government accusing it of neglecting the development of the region. Khartoum mobilised mostly Arab militias to crush the revolt and denies accusations from Washington and activists that it committed genocide during the counter-insurgency.

The Epoch Times (Estados Unidos)

 


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