Sudan vows to step up 'terrorist' hunt

DAVID ORR

Khartoum

Sudan is to intensify its search for three suspects wanted in connection with the attempted assassination of the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, last year. If found on Sudanese territory, they will be arrested and extradited, Ali Osman Mohammed Taha, the country's Foreign Minister, said yesterday.

His assurances come in the wake of a UN Security Council resolution demanding that Sudan hand over three Egyptians suspected of trying to kill President Mubarak in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, last June.

Sudan's Islamic regime has for a long time been accused by the West, particularly the United States, of training and harbouring terrorists. Since the attack on President Mubarak, Sudan's relations with Egypt and Ethiopia have deteriorated dramatically.

"We are putting more effort into demonstrating our seriousness in conducting this search," the influential minister told the Independent yesterday. "We are taking some measures which will be made public in a day or two. What else can we do? We have been given an impossible mission".

The Khartoum government of Lieutenant-General Omar Hassan al-Bashir, which has consistently denied any involvement in the assassination attempt, has been given 60 days by the UN to hand over the three suspects. It admits that one of the three Egyptians named by Ethiopia did enter Sudan after the attack but insists that he did not stay.

"We believe the resolution has been based on unfounded presumptions," said Mr Taha. "We feel we have been unjustly treated on this issue. Sudan is an open country. We have never provided military training for any elements whether they are Egyptians or other nationalities."

Mr Taha said his government would shortly begin a campaign to explain its position. The UN resolution is being seen here as part of an international conspiracy to isolate Sudan and as a prelude to demands for trade sanctions by the US.

The Security Council resolution condemning Sudan was immediately followed by an announcement by the US that it was withdrawing all American personnel from its embassy in Khartoum. Some 30 embassy employees are due to leave the Sudanese capital by the end of this week though the US insists it is not breaking diplomatic relations. A US embassy spokesman yesterday dismissed as "totally coincidental" the fact that the announcement of thewithdrawal came at the same time as the resolution.

"We're suspending our presence out of concern for the safety of our personnel," said the diplomat. "There's been no one development which has prompted our decision. We've had a longstanding concern over Sudan harbouring terrorist groups. It's dangerous for us here and it will continue to be dangerous for as long as the Sudanese government fails to curb the activities of terrorist groups based here."

The US says the threats to its staff come from both Sudanese and "non- Sudanese elements", a catch-all phrase denoting Palestinian and other groups. The US, which has had Sudan on its list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1993, reports the existence in the country of up to 20 terrorist training camps. The camps are said to be moved frequently to outwit spy satellites.

"For some international powers - particularly for the US and Britain - the Islamic attitudes of Sudan pose a threat to their interests," said Mr Taha. "But our interpretation of Islam does not lead to confrontation with the West, it does not lead to violence or terrorism."

Mr Taha admitted that there are many Palestinian and other Arabs based in Sudan but denied they are engaged in military activities. They were leading "normal civilian lives".

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