Friday, July 2, 2004

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Sudan plays hide-and-seek with the UN

Sudarsan Raghavan reports for Knight-Ridder on the visit to Sudan by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to get a grip on the humanitarian disaster there. Things did not go smoothly:

Sudanese government officials emptied a camp of thousands of refugees hours before UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was to arrive here Thursday, preventing him from meeting some of the hardest-hit victims of the humanitarian crisis in the province of Darfur.

"There may have been 3,000 to 4,000 people here as of 5 p.m. yesterday," UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said as he gazed upon the empty camp at Mashtel. "Now, as you can see, no one is here. I can't imagine they spontaneously moved."

The forced removal came a day after Sudanese officials promised Secretary of State Colin Powell that humanitarian aid workers would have unrestricted access to Darfur and agreed to other U.S. demands to avoid possible UN sanctions....

As many as 30,000 people have died and 1 million more have been driven from their homes by a scorched-earth campaign carried out by pro-government Arab militias. The militias, called the Janjaweed, were recruited to wipe out a rebel insurrection that began 16 months ago, but they have unleashed their fury on civilians who belong to the same tribes as the rebels....

On Thursday, Annan, along with UN and Sudanese officials, arrived in the province to get a firsthand look at the plight of the displaced.

At the Zam Zam refugee camp, Annan talked with tribal elders. Senior Sudanese officials listened to every word.

Ahmed Noor Mohammed, one of the elders, was asked if women were being abused in the camp. He rattled off a long sentence in Arabic.

"Some women face some difficulties. Masked men, even soldiers ..." Annan's translator began. Before he could finish the sentence, Sudanese government minders and officials cut him off, saying he had translated it wrong.

"They are afraid, but they don't have any problems," said Ibrahim Hamid, the minister of humanitarian affairs, who was seated next to UN leader.

After Annan's entourage left, Mohammed said women were scared to leave the camp because of the Janjaweed.

posted by Dan on 07.02.04 at 11:10 AM


Dan: Here is a personal account of these events by Marcus Prior, aid worker for the World Food Programme.

July 1-12:35 - Arrive in Meshtel camp. I was here a week ago and there were at least 3,000 people, living in some of the worst conditions I have ever seen. UN officials visited last night and those people were still in Meshtel. Now, with the Secretary General looking on, there is nobody. Every last one of them has been moved. Overnight. Apparently to a nearby camp that is already overcrowded.

This is exactly the kind of "story" the 50-odd journalists travelling with the delegation were hoping for.

posted by: Brennan Stout on 07.02.04 at 11:10 AM [permalink]

Well, at least we get to see Kofi swing into action. I have no fear that an advisory investigatory committee will be convened as soon as it is convenient for the ministers to meet and properly begin the process of deciding on possible membership, to be completed when the Security Counsil can decide on apropriate directives and guidelines based on the analysis and reccommendations of the Sub-Advisory Commision on Quasi-Human Rights (SACQHR, currently chaired by Rwanda), who should have there semi-annual report available at any time. Of course all that will have to wait until the 'season' is over in the French Mediterranean, but that goes without saying. Ultimately, I would look for immediate action within the next 12-16 months, or at least immediate further discourse. Happilly, at the current rate of genocide the issue will likely have cleared itself up by then, in which case an after action report can be expect within the decade and we can get down to figuring out how this was all America's fault.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 07.02.04 at 11:10 AM [permalink]

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