China says play fair over Beijing/Darfur link
By Nick Mulvenney
BEIJING (Reuters) - China urged activists linking its stance over Sudan to the Beijing Olympics to play fair and rebel groups in Darfur praised the decision by film director Steven Spielberg to quit as an artistic adviser to the Games.
Spielberg said he was withdrawing his services because of China's policy on the Darfur conflict. China is accused by critics of providing diplomatic cover as Khartoum stonewalls efforts to send peacekeepers into the western region.
His conscience would not allow him to continue his work on the opening and closing ceremonies for the August Games while "unspeakable crimes" continued to be committed, Spielberg said.
The Chinese embassy in Washington, while not directly referring to Spielberg's decision, called on "relevant parties" to respect the facts about the "positive role played by China on the Darfur issue" and shy away from politicizing the Olympics.
"As the Darfur issue is neither an internal issue of China, nor is it caused by China, it is completely unreasonable, irresponsible and unfair for certain organizations and individuals to link the two as one," the embassy said.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told lawmakers the filmmaker had taken his decision as a private citizen.
"I think the role of the United States is not to make judgments about who participates in the Olympics or not, but to continue to stand for the very concerns that we have for human rights and freedoms in China and to use the opportunity to continue to promote those," Rice said.
Darfur's splintered rebel groups said the move by Oscar winner Spielberg could shame Beijing, a major investor in Sudan's oil industry and the East African country's largest supplier of weapons, into changing its stance on the region.
"This will send a message to other countries, other individuals and athletes, who haven't taken a strong stance on Darfur up to now," said spokesman for the insurgent Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) Ahmed Hussein Adam.
"We are calling on all countries to boycott the Olympics, athletes as well."
Four Darfur advocacy groups said in Washington they planned to release new advertisements this week pressuring China.
"The games China is hosting in Beijing can't hide those it's playing in Darfur," said one of the ads from the Save Darfur Coalition and three other groups.
Some 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes in more than four years of conflict in Sudan's western region of Darfur, according to estimates by international experts. Khartoum puts the death toll at 9,000.
A spokesman for the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) said no reaction to Spielberg's move was expected on Wednesday while an International Olympic Committee (IOC) official said his decision was a personal one.
"The IOC has not been part of the relationship between Spielberg and the Games' organizers. It is not for the IOC to make a particular comment," the official told Reuters.
Spielberg's statement was released on the day nine Nobel Peace laureates -- including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Elie Wiesel and Jody Williams -- sent a letter to President Hu Jintao urging a change in China's policy toward Sudan.
He sent his own letter to Hu in April after actor and Darfur activist Mia Farrow said he risked becoming to the Beijing Games what Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl was to the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
The winner of the European Union's top prize for human rights, Sudanese lawyer Salih Osman, said it was perfectly valid to use the Olympics as a stick to beat China.
"This is a simple balance or decision between money and oil or people's lives," Osman told Reuters via telephone.
"We cannot allow the Games to undermine the lives of innocent people in Darfur. The Olympics is the opportunity to make China listen, why shouldn't we use it as a stick? Spielberg expressed his position, so others should do the same."
New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch said Spielberg's withdrawal should prompt others, such as governments, corporate sponsors and National Olympic Committees to press Beijing for reform.
"These influential players should be prepared to show the steps they are taking to address the worsening rights climate in China, or they risk being tarnished by a human rights debacle," said Minky Worden, the group's media director.
The Chinese government has rejected attempts to influence their foreign and domestic policy by leveraging the Beijing Games. More than 30,000 international media are expected to descend on the Chinese capital for the Games, intensifying scrutiny on the government and its human rights record.
The Games take place from August 8-24.
(Additional reporting by Byron Zhao in Beijing and Karolos Grohmann in Athens; Sue Pleming in Washington. Editing by Robert Woodward)