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US decries Sudan's reelection to UN rights panel as 'absurdity'

UNITED NATIONS -- Sudan won reelection to the United Nations' main human rights watchdog yesterday, prompting the United States to walk out because of widespread killings and atrocities in the country's Darfur region.

Sudan's envoy immediately accused the US delegation of "shedding crocodile tears," and said the United States had turned a blind eye as Iraqi prisoners were mistreated and civilians were harmed in battle.

Fourteen seats were filled yesterday for the 53-nation UN Human Rights Commission based in Geneva. Many were decided by regional groups before yesterday's voting in the Economic and Social Council in New York.

In the African regional group, Sudan, Guinea, Togo, and Kenya, were chosen for three-year terms on the commission, beginning in January.

Sichan Siv, the US delegate to the council, accused Sudan of having no right to sit on the rights commission because of the violence in Darfur, where government troops are accused of backing Arab militias that pillage black African villages, raping and killing. The Khartoum government denies it is involved in ethnic cleansing.

"The United States will not participate in this absurdity," said Siv before briefly walking out of council chambers. "Our delegation will absent itself from the meeting rather than lend support to Sudan's candidacy."

He also walked out a year ago when Cuba won a seat on the commission.

Sudan's deputy UN ambassador, Omar Bashir Mohamed Manis, said the United States had no right to accuse anyone of human rights violations after the allegations of mistreatment of Iraqis held in US-run prisons in Iraq.

Images of the Iraqi prisoners "are fresh in the minds of all justice-loving people around the world," he said.

The US military is investigating the prisoner abuse after news reports and photos broadcast by CBS last week showed Iraqis stripped naked and tormented by US captors.

Manis also referred to Iraqi civilian casualties during a recent siege in Fallujah. "This [US] delegation is turning a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the American forces against the innocent civilian population in Iraq, including women and children," he said.

Filling other seats on the commission, Canada, Finland, and France were elected from the Western group. Spain, another candidate, was defeated.

In the Asian group, Malaysia, South Korea, and Pakistan won seats with another candidate, Vietnam, defeated.

Mexico and Ecuador faced no opposition among the Latin American group. Armenia and Romania were elected to assured seats among Eastern Europeans.

A coalition of 10 human rights groups complained on Monday that too few democracies had been nominated to the commission. It said that among the four African countries, only Kenya was a democracy and that Pakistan had serious human rights problems.

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