By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 13, 2006
Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi E. Frazer planned to meet yesterday at the State Department with a top Sudanese official linked by human rights groups to the violence in Sudan's Darfur region that the Bush administration has labeled as genocide. But the official, deputy foreign minister Ali Ahmed Karti, did not show up for the meeting, a State Department spokesman said.
David Sims, a spokesman for the Africa bureau headed by Frazer, said a meeting had been planned but Karti "just decided he didn't want to make it." Frazer, who last week was in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, for intensive talks that led to a tentative peace agreement on Darfur, did not have qualms about meeting with Karti, Sims said.
Human rights groups say that Karti, though he now holds the title of state minister for foreign affairs, was the head of the Popular Defense Forces, a paramilitary group that fought alongside the militia known as the Janjaweed during a campaign of terror that has now resulted in as many as 450,000 deaths and driven more than 2 million from their homes. Some experts have said they believe his name is on the secret list of 51 names referred by the United Nations to the International Criminal Court for possible prosecution for war crimes.
Another official believed to be on that list, intelligence chief Saleh Gosh, traveled to Washington last year to meet with CIA officials.
Karti did not respond to a message left at the Sudanese Embassy. He has been a key public figure in rejecting the jurisdiction of the war-crimes court. "Our decision not to hand any Sudanese national for trial outside the country remains valid and has not changed," Karti was quoted as saying last June by the official Sudanese Media Center.
Besides his alleged role in Darfur, Human Rights Watch documented that Karti was involved in the scorched-earth clearances in the oil regions of southern Sudan, beginning in 1998, as part of the long-running civil war in the south. A report on the campaign said that "PDF coordinating director Ali Ahmad Karti read out the names of the brigades that had been sent to the field, including the 'Protectors of the Oil Brigade,' and promised that more brigades would be created."
Sims said that Karti was granted a visa for a private visit to the United States and was a guest of former congressman Mark D. Siljander (R-Mich.). But Siljander said he knew little about Karti's schedule and had only arranged his attendance at a congressional prayer breakfast this week. He said that Karti planned to stay for two to three weeks and had told him he wanted to meet with State Department officials.
Siljander expressed surprise regarding the allegations about Karti's past. "I don't know anything about that," he said. "As far as I knew, he was in the cabinet."
The Darfur conflict broke out in early 2003 when two African rebel groups attacked police stations and military outposts in Darfur, in western Sudan. The United Nations and human rights groups accuse the Arab-led central government of supporting the Janjaweed to crush the rebellion. About 2,000 villages have been destroyed across Darfur, an area the size of France.
The peace agreement, signed by the largest rebel faction but rejected by two smaller groups, aims to share wealth and power between the region and the central government. It calls for dismantling the Janjaweed and folding the rebel forces into Sudan's army and police forces.