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Sudanese official says war in Darfur complex By Ann Rodgers By Ann Rodgers, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

5/22/2005 8:55 pm

PITTSBURGH, USA, May 22, 2005 -- The Sudanese deputy ambassador in the USA argued yesterday that complex regional ethnic and economic rivalries started the war in Darfur, and that the Sudanese government had a legitimate right to intervene.

But he also acknowledged that the situation was not simple, and that protesters outside the Oakland event had a right to raise questions.

"I believe I have the ... greater portion of the true story. I don't claim to have the whole story," said Abdel Bagi Kabeir, who spent seven years with one of Sudan's rebel movements before 1996.

Critics, from former Secretary of State Colin Powell to 12 protesters outside Kabeir's speech in David Lawrence Hall on the University of Pittsburgh campus yesterday, have accused the Sudanese government of genocide in the Mississippi-sized region.

Kabeir described Darfur as plagued by ethnic and tribal conflicts, despite centuries of intermarriage that have made the rivals indistinguishable from one another. The recently resolved 20-year civil war in the southern region of Sudan made arms readily accessible to these groups, who did not believe the national government would protect them, Kabeir told about 100 people who attended.

When armed groups destroyed government airplanes and captured the top Sudanese Air Force general in 2003, the government responded, he said.

"This is a tribal conflict ... but I am not saying that is the whole thing," he said. He also cited "ecological problems" over control of access to grazing lands and other natural resources.

He argued that the 16-year-old national government has benefitted Darfur, increasing public high schools from 16 to 250, universities from zero to three and hospitals from three to 23.

He referred to the Janjaweed, a group of raiders accused of mass murder, rape and other crimes, as "outlaws." Some human rights groups say that the Janjaweed are working with the Sudanese military.

Kabeir was invited to speak by the Sankore Institute, which preserves and digitizes ancient Arabic texts, and Pitt's Muslim Student Association. Both groups said they were neutral on the Darfur conflict, but believed Americans had heard only one side of a complex situation.

The tone between the organizers and the dozen or so protesters was civil. Some had marched together on other causes . Before the event Tahir Abdullah, president of the Muslim Student Association, approached David Rosenberg, coordinator of the Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition and a leader of the protest, to shake hands.

"We are pro-peace. We haven't taken either side. We want both sides to present their arguments," Abdullah said.

But Rosenberg said that the forum presented only Kabeir's view. Kabeir, he said, was presenting disinformation.

"He is coming to talk to Muslims, who understandably want to feel pride in their traditions, and enlist them in his propaganda campaign," Rosenberg said.

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