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Beshir accountable for Darfur deaths

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 21 – Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir "must be held accountable for each and every death" caused by his expulsion of international aid groups from Darfur, Washington’s UN ambassador said on Friday.

"President Beshir and his government are responsible for and must be held accountable for each and every death caused by these callous and calculated actions," Susan Rice told the UN Security Council during a briefing on the humanitarian crisis in Sudan’s strife-torn western region.

Her British counterpart John Sawers also had tough words for Khartoum, saying: "The United Kingdom will hold the government of Sudan responsible for the suffering that their decision causes."

"The government of Sudan created this crisis. It must act now to end it," added Rice, who put the blame squarely on Beshir.

She reiterated that he had put the lives of more than one million people at risk with his decision earlier this month to expel the 13 key non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The US delegation requested Friday’s briefing by Rashid Khalikov, a senior official of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who warned of "significant signs of an erosion of humanitarian response capacity, with a concurrent impact on the lives of people in Darfur."

Rice said Khartoum "owns its consequences, which will not only cost lives but leave the government locked deeper in an isolation of its own making."

Several other ambassadors appealed to Khartoum to rescind the expulsion order. But Mohamed Yousif Abdelmannan, a Sudanese UN delegate, reiterated that his government’s decision was irreversible.

"The decision of the government of Sudan is a legitimate sovereign decision which we will never reverse, and this should not be an issue for discussion," the Sudanese diplomat told the council.

Earlier Khalikov said the world body was still pressing for a reversal of the NGOs expulsion and recalled that a series of joint UN-Sudan assessments of the situation in three Darfur states was underway.

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"The findings will be finalized this weekend with government counterparts in Khartoum," he noted. "We should be able to speak more next week about their impact on the wider assistance effort in Darfur."

"There is no doubt that our ability to help the people of Darfur and northern Sudan has been seriously compromised," the OCHA official said. "The current atmosphere of fear and uncertainty facing all aid organizations is affecting the assistance available to the people of Darfur."

Several council members however questioned the usefulness of Friday’s interim briefing since a more thorough one is scheduled for next Thursday.

Khartoum expelled the 13 key NGOs shortly after the International Criminal Court (ICC) on March 4 issued an arrest warrant for Beshir for alleged war crimes in Darfur.

Beshir is accused of masterminding a campaign of extermination, rape and pillage during the six-year conflict in Darfur. He faces five counts of crimes against humanity and two of war crimes.

France’s UN Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert meanwhile reaffirmed his country’s support to the ICC and its independence.

"To punish one’s own population is certainly not the right attitude," he noted. "We believe that the fight against impunity cannot be separated from the quest for peace in Darfur as in the rest of the world. This is why we are awaiting with great interest the debate which we will have next Thursday with UN mediator for Darfur Djibril Bassole."

Visiting ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who observed Friday’s council proceedings, said Beshir, by expelling the humanitarian aid groups, "is confirming the crime" of extermination.

"The king is naked," Moreno-Ocampo said, referring to Beshir. "It is not my responsibility that the king is naked."

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The United Nations says that 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have been made homeless by the conflict in Darfur which erupted in February 2003.


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