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Sudan demands US admit "mistake" on air raid anniversary

August 19, 1999

Agence France Presse

KHARTOUM, Aug 19 (AFP) - The Sudanese government on Thursday demanded the United States admit that its attack on a pharmaceutical plant here last year was a "mistake," based on false allegations it was producing chemical weapons.

On the eve of the anniversary of the raid, Information Minister Ghazi Salah Edin Atabani told a press conference that Khartoum was also still asking for a United Nations fact-finding commission to refute the allegations.

Meanwhile some 2,000 people descended on the ruins of the factory to protest the missile attack demanding that the United States be brought to justice.

Cruise missiles levelled the plant in retaliation for the August 7, 1998, bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, blamed on multi-millionaire Saudi exile Osama bin Laden.

Washington claimed to have evidence that the plant, owned by Saudi businessmen Saleh Idris, had military applications and that Sudan had ties with bin Laden.

But in May the US government said it had unfrozen Idris's assets, suggesting Washington did not have enough evidence to support its charge that Idris was a terrorist or was linked to terrorists.

Reading a government statement, Atabani again denounced the air raid on the Al-Shifa factory on August 20 last year as "a violation of international laws and conventions."

Sudan "retains its legal right," he said without elaborating.

"We believe the entire world is now convinced that the air raid was an unjustified act of aggression," Atabani said, adding his government called on world public opinion to "pressure the US to confess to its mistake."

His country "has no military power to check such acts of aggression and relies only on political action," he said.

Thursday's government-sponsored rally at the factory ruins gathered some 2,000 people, mostly boys and girls bussed in to the site, chanting anti-US slogans such as "Down, Down US" and vowing to rebuild whatever the United States destroys.

One of the event's organisers, Mohammed Ali Ahmed, said Sudan will continue to mark the anniversary of the missile raid "until justice is served by the (UN) Security Council and by the world organisations."

Examination of the machines and soil by different experts, including US laboratories, has revealed the factory was not involved in producing chemical weapons.

The information minister said that proves the American allegation was erroneous.

By offering to allow the plant's soil to be inspected, Khartoum showed it is "confident" in its position, while the US administration, "by blocking such a mission, is not," Atabani said.

Atabani, speaking at Sudan Television studios, said the plant's destruction had caused hundreds of people to lose their jobs and deprived Sudan of important supplies of human and veterinary medicines.

The attack has produced "a catastrophic health situation" in Sudan, he said.

He said the factory produced between 50 percent to 100 percent of the country's requirements of low-cost medicines, while it was the only one to meet all of the country's needs in veterinary medicines.

Veterinary supplies now had to be imported with limited foreign currency reserves, he said.

Despite the attack, Atabani said his government has not severed diplomatic relations with the United States and is still willing to "make use of any chance for dialogue with America for the interest of the Sudan.

He said the government has decided to make the former factory site a tourist attraction to "keep the coming generations aware of the American aggression," after giving Idris another plot of land.

But Sudan has announced that two new pharmaceutical plants -- one private and the other partly owned by the government -- will be opened Friday to mark the anniversary.

Atabani also repeated a denial of charges by the Norwegian aid agency Norsk Folkehjelp that Sudanese government forces launched a chemical attack against rebels in the south in late July.

The charges, similar to those used by Washington to justify its attack on Al-Shifa, were aimed at rallying international support for the Sudan People's Liberation Army rebels, he said.

*** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. ***

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