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“Sudan’s Bashir defends Darfur militia chief”
Published: January 21, 2023

By Evren Mesci

Ankara - Sudan's president on Monday rebuffed criticism of Musa Hilal, accused by Washington of coordinating Darfur's marauding militias, following Hilal's promotion to a key government post in Khartoum.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, on the first day of a visit to EU candidate country Turkey, also accused Europe of backing the violence in Darfur.

The United States, the European Union and rights groups are unhappy with Bashir's visit, although Turkey insists it will press home the West's message that Sudan needs to work towards resolving the Darfur crisis.

"Mr Hilal himself is a Sudanese citizen. He has a very influential personality in Darfur. He has contributed greatly to stability and security in the region," Bashir told a joint news conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul.

"In Sudan we don't think the claims against Hilal are true. We absolutely do not believe them. The people who really commit murders in Darfur are receiving help from Europe and others."

Bashir's government has been criticised after a five-year conflict in Sudan's west sparked what UN officials called the world's worst humantiarian crisis with an estimate 200 000 dead and 2,5 million driven from their homes.

Mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003 accusing Sudan's central government of neglect. Khartoum mobilised mostly Arab tribes to quell the revolt.

Sudan's Minister of Federal Affairs Abdel Basit Sabderat confirmed at the weekend that Hilal had been picked as his new adviser. The presidency had previously denied the appointment.

Washington says Hilal is the coordinator of the Janjaweed militias accused of war crimes in Darfur.

He denies atrocities and says he mobilised his tribesmen to defend their lands after a government call to "popular defence".

Turkey's Gul, who looked uncomfortable during the news conference, said he had urged Bashir during their talks to seek a peaceful end to the conflict in Darfur.

Bashir's visit to Ankara and to Istanbul, Turkey's business hub, is expected to boost economic ties, though human rights groups have criticised Turkey for hosting Sudan's leader.

Despite the conflict in western Darfur, foreign investment has rocketed in Sudan's capital Khartoum. Turkish companies have won large government construction contracts to build bridges and Sudan's first mall.

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