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Last Updated: Monday, 18 October, 2004, 12:15 GMT 13:15 UK
Sudan's Darfur 'safer than Iraq'
Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismael
Mr Ismael said security had been restored to Darfur
Sudan's government has said it has handled the Darfur crisis better than the United States has dealt with Iraq.

Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismael told the BBC that US leaders were trying to use Darfur "immorally" ahead of next month's presidential elections.

He was speaking after a meeting of regional leaders in Libya, at which Sudan hinted it may agree to Darfur having more control over its affairs.

Some 70,000 people have died in Darfur, in what the US says is a "genocide".

Pro-government Arab militias have forced some 1.5 million black African farmers and their families from their homes, after two rebel groups took up arms in February 2003.

'African solution'

Mr Ismael said the international community should leave the complex ethnic politics of Darfur alone.

"This is an African problem - it needs an African solution," he said.

More than 1.5m displaced
About 70,000 dead since February 2003
More at risk from disease, starvation and lack of aid
Arab militias accused of ethnic cleansing
Sudan blames rebels for starting conflict

The African Union hopes to have a 4,500-strong force in place by the end of November, but a lack of funds has delayed the deployment of troops.

About 300 armed Nigerian and Rwandan troops are currently in place.

The United Nations has threatened to impose sanctions on Sudan unless it stops the violence.

Mr Ismael said although the US has deployed more troops and advanced military hardware to Iraq, it has still not been able to disarm dissident forces there.

Credible estimates say that some 14,000 people have died in Iraq since the US-led invasion last year.

Sudan has sent thousands of extra policemen to Darfur but the UN says that attacks on refugees have continued.

Those who have fled their homes say that the security forces worked with the Janjaweed militias to force them from their homes but Sudan has always denied arming the Arab militias.

Humanitarian disaster

The fighting began more than a year ago when rebel groups began attacking government targets, complaining that the region was being neglected by the central government and that the authorities were oppressing black Africans in favour of Arabs.

Car on fire after explosion in central Baghdad
Violence continues in Iraq

The rebellion sparked a crackdown on the civilian population by regular troops and militia called Janjaweed, leading to what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian disaster.

At the summit in Libya, several delegates opposed the idea of sanctions.

Egyptian presidential spokesman Maged Abdel Fattah said that instead of putting pressure on Sudan or threatening sanctions, "we should all try to help Sudan to implement its obligations in accordance with resolutions".

The BBC's Mike Donkin in Tripoli says the meeting, on the face of it, produced real signs of movement to end the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.

The summit also gave its backing to peace talks between Khartoum and rebels based in Darfur, which are due to resume on 21 October.

The talks were held late at night, after the leaders had broken their daily fast for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Journalists were barred from the meeting, which was convened and chaired by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, clad in brightly-coloured African robes.

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