BRUSSELS, Belgium – Sudan's foreign minister on Friday rejected a U.S. Congressional declaration that the killings of thousands of black civilians by Arab militias in his country's western Darfur region amounted to genocide.
Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail (search) said his government was doing all it could to end the conflict in Darfur, which international officials have called the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and insisted it was cooperating with the United Nations.
"Congress is always biased," Mustafa Osman Ismail said, speaking at the Brussels headquarters for the European Union (search). "I would rather say what the Africans who are concerned with this case (are saying). They issued a resolution at an African summit ... that there is no genocide in Darfur."
Meeting this month in Ethiopia, the African Union pressed Sudan to "neutralize" the Arab militiamen and others involved in massive human rights violations in Darfur but said they did not consider the atrocities to be genocide.
Ismail said his government — along with the United Nations, Britain, Germany and France — had "unanimously" agreed that "there was significant improvement considering the humanitarian affairs" situation in Sudan.
"We are cooperating with the U.N.," he added, speaking to reporters ahead of talks late Friday with Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief.
In unanimous measures, U.S. lawmakers on Thursday declared the killings in Sudan to be a genocide. They also urged President Bush (search), likewise, to call the situation in Sudan "by its rightful name — genocide" and pressed his administration to work with the international community to stop it.
A 1948 U.N. convention obligates the international community to prevent and punish acts it has declared as genocide.
U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Friday it was up to the signatories of the genocide convention to decide if action should be taken on Sudan and whether to raise the issue with the U.N. Security Council or the International Criminal Court.
"Those are the options open, and we're just waiting to see whether any member state decides to take one of those options," he said in New York.
EU officials said Solana took the Sudanese foreign minister to task for not acting quick enough to implement U.N. demands to disarm the Arab militias or face U.N. sanctions. The United States, the European Union and humanitarian groups accuse the Sudanese government of backing the Janjaweed militias — a claim Sudan denies.
Secretary of State Colin Powell has also warned Sudan it could face U.N. sanctions if it does not act.
The Janjaweed militias have killed up to 30,000 people in Darfur, most of them black Africans, and driven over 1 million from their homes in the 15-month conflict.
The Sudanese foreign minister acknowledged his country needed help from the international community.
"In Darfur there is a problem, a humanitarian problem, a security problem, a political problem," Ismail said. "We need the support of the international community to send the correct message to the rebels that they should observe the cease-fire. They should be serious in the political negotiations."
The EU wants a political solution to the crisis, and has urged rebel groups, who walked out of peace talks last week, to resume negotiations. Rebels insisted that the government honor the terms of previous peace agreements before beginning new talks.