Sudan's President Claims Crisis in Darfur Exaggerated

Sudan's president claimed that human rights groups have exaggerated the crisis in Darfur to help their fundraising, and charged that demands for U.N. peacekeepers there are meant to protect Israel, carve up Sudan and get access to its oil reserves.

The United Nations and many rights groups say that fighting between rebels and government-backed militias in the region has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced 2.5 million since 2003.

"The picture that volunteer organizations try to give in order to solicit more assistance and more aid, have given a negative result," Omar al-Bashir told a news conference Tuesday.

An underfunded African Union force in Darfur has been largely unable to stop the violence, leading AU leaders and the U.N. Security Council to demand a takeover by the United Nations, with its deeper pockets and better resources.

Al-Bashir said the United Nations will not be allowed to take control of peacekeepers there under any circumstance, but did say that the African Union, which now runs the peacekeeping mission in Darfur, should be allowed to augment its forces with more logistics, advisers and other support.

Last month, the Security Council passed a resolution that would put the peacekeepers under U.N. control, but required Sudan's consent.

Speaking on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly debate, al-Bashir claimed that Zionist groups wanted to weaken Sudan and that Jewish organizations were behind dozens of recent rallies. He said Israel was spreading a lie that Sudanese Arabs are killing Sudanese Africans.

"We refuse to normalize with Israel, we refuse to deal with Israel," he said.

The fighting in Darfur has largely pitted Muslims against Muslims, though some identify themselves as African and others as Arab. The janjaweed, the Arab tribal militias unleashed by the government, are accused of some of the worst atrocities.

Al-Bashir said the African Union forces should be allowed to remain in Sudan until the region sees peace at last.

"We want the African Union to remain in Darfur until peace is re-established in Sudan," al-Bashir said.

Those comments suggest that the African Union will not face any resistance in renewing the peacekeeping force's mandate, which expires on Sept. 30.

In his speech to the U.N. General Assembly earlier Tuesday, President Bush called the Darfur killings a genocide, and said the AU force is "not strong enough" to protect the victims. He called for the force to be strengthened and demanded the U.N. take control.

Bush announced that he was naming Andrew Natsios, the former director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, as his special envoy for Sudan.

The United States and its allies are now weighing whether there are other options for confronting al-Bashir's government, including the possibility of military intervention despite his objections.

In her speech to the General Assembly, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said the stalemate over whether a U.N. or AU force should be deployed "demonstrates a lack of international will to address the sufferings and yearnings of the citizens and residents of Darfur."

Saying the U.N.'s obligation to protect the helpless and innocent must remain paramount, she called on the Security Council to act under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which allows military intervention, "to restore peace, security and stability to Darfur."