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Last Updated: Monday, 20 August 2007, 11:23 GMT 12:23 UK
Row over number of Darfur deaths
A girl in a Darfur refugee camp
More than 2.5m people have been displaced in the unrest
A group that challenged the figure of those who have been killed in Sudan's Darfur conflict has welcomed a ruling that 400,000 may not be accurate.

The European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council told the BBC inflated figures are used to justify Western inference.

The UK's advertising watchdog recently said that the claim, made by the Save Darfur Coalition in an advert, should have been stated as opinion, not fact.

Most experts put the figure as at least 200,000; Sudan's government says 9,000.

There is a division of views... I think it probably has almost certainly been true of every genocide in history
John Hagan
Northwestern University

The Save Darfur Coalition has said it accepted the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruling, but argued in a statement that "history tells us that the size of genocides are rarely understood contemporarily", Reuters news agency reports.

More than 2m people have been left homeless in Darfur since fighting broke out in 2003 when rebels took up arms.

The US says that genocide is taking place in the region - although a UN investigation team sent to Sudan said that while war crimes had been committed, there had been no intent to commit genocide.

A 26,000-strong UN and African Union peacekeeping force is to be deployed to the region by the end of the year.

'Deconstructing propaganda'

The Save Darfur Coalition used an estimate of deaths in Darfur from the research of John Hagan from Northwestern University in the United States, which specified that the figure of 400,000 was a high-end estimate based on reports of those dead and missing.

map

It then quoted the figure in a campaign in the UK's national press, which was challenged by the European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, a group funded by businesses in Sudan which aims, in part, is to challenge "questionable coverage of Sudan".

The ASA says it does not dispute that there are atrocities happening in Darfur.

"We don't want to quibble over such a serious issue but we're dealing with the advertising codes which say if you want to state something as fact you've got to have the robust and rigorous evidence to back it up," ASA's Matthew Wilson told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

"Unfortunately because there are so many different studies with so many different figures attributed to the death toll you cannot state one as fact over the other," he said.

Mr Hagan agreed that there was divided opinion over Darfur's death toll.

African Union soldiers in Darfur
African Union soldiers already in Darfur will be joined by new troops

"What the adjudication from the [ASA] says is that there is a division of views and a division of opinions on this matter and that is undoubtedly true and I think it probably has almost certainly been true of every genocide in history," Mr Hagan told the BBC's Africa Network

"It's conceivable that Save Darfur could have said a little bit more about the diversity of estimates and opinions about death in Darfur, but as I think it is increasingly clear... there's a great deal of support for the position that Save Darfur has taken."

But David Hoile of the European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council said it was dangerous to exaggerate figures.

"You get groups in Washington DC who are using very distorted accusations in an attempt to get yet another military intervention in yet another oil-rich Muslim country," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

He said the real focus now should be on peace talks.

"This thing can only be solved by Darfurians, it can only be made worse by outside intervention by people such as the Save Darfur Campaign," Mr Hoile said.

"When you want to move towards a peace process you have to start deconstructing propaganda and deconstructing the imagery that is prolonging the conflict.

"Without that propaganda deconstruction you will have extremists on both sides who want to carry on the conflict."




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