KHARTOUM, Sudan — Amid intense international pressure to stop the atrocities in Darfur, the president of Sudan reacted forcefully Monday, denying his government is complicit in ethnic cleansing and accusing the United States of having ulterior motives against Sudan.
We have reported before on the tragedy of Sudan's Darfur region, where it has been estimated that hundreds of thousands have been killed in what the United States calls genocide.
On Monday, Sudan President Omar al-Bashir gave NBC's Ann Curry an unprecedented two-hour, no-holds-barred interview — his first television interview to a Western journalist in three years:
Ann Curry:Mr. President, I have this map from the U.S. Department of State that shows more than a thousand villages in the Darfur region — more than a thousand burned.
And the question is, how can this be done by Arab militias without the support of the Sudanese government? This is shocking.
Omar al-Bashir: What do you think about the picture that Colin Powell presented before the national security that confirmed and illustrated the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? What do you think about it?
Curry:You're saying this is not true?
Al-Bashir: This picture is the same fabrication and the same picture as the ones Colin Powell presented about Iraq.
Curry:The International Criminal Court is moving, as you know, to summon one of your top ministers in your government for crimes against humanity in Darfur in 2003 and 2004.
Al-Bashir: We have judicial system in Sudan. Anyone who committed a war crime, anti-human crime or any other crime will be locked up.
Curry:Do you believe he is guilty of crimes against humanity?
Al-Bashir: No, not at all. I'm sure that he did not participate in any war crimes. The same forces behind the attack on Iraq are trying to do the same in Sudan.
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Curry:I myself have spoken to the people in Darfur — people who have been shot and burned and women who have been raped.
Al-Bashir: Yes, there have been villages burned, but not to the extent you are talking about. People have been killed because there is war. It is not in the Sudanese culture or people of Darfur to rape. It doesn't exist. We don't have it.
Al-Bashir also accused the United States of trying to seize Darfur's oil and gas riches.
"The goal is to put Darfur under their custody," he said. "Separating the region of Darfur from Sudan."
President al-Bashir accused the United States of angling to get access to what he says are Darfur's rich oil reserves. He also addressed how Sudan shared information about Osama bin Laden with the United States before 9/11 and that this deep intelligence relationship continues.
We will bring you that Tuesday night.
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