SUDAN WATCH: British Government behind African troops - Britain stands ready to provide further assistance if necessary

Monday, August 23, 2004

British Government behind African troops - Britain stands ready to provide further assistance if necessary

Sudan is a former British protectorate. Britain is the world's largest cash donor, and the second-largest contributor of aid, to Sudan. It's historic ties with Sudan stretch back more than a century to when the region was under British control.

Today, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is on his way to Sudan to pile pressure on Khartoum. On leaving Heathrow Airport, he told reporters that the Sudanese government would "face the opprobrium of the world" if it failed to rein in the Arab Janjaweed militia by the UN security council deadline of August 30. His trip has been planned since July 22, 2004.

Mr Straw will be making clear to the Sudanese government that it needs to do much more to help the victims of the Darfur conflict, the Foreign Office said. He will also be impressing on the Sudanese the need for them to do more to improve the country's security situation.

The point of the trip is “to impress on the government of Sudan how seriously the international community takes this, to make his own first-hand assessment of the situation and to feed that back to Kofi Annan and others”.

The British government, which is providing logistical support for African troops protecting monitoring mission in Darfur, is pushing for a bigger commitment from the African Union. It is particularly keen for troops to be sent from Arab north Africa, which would be more acceptable to Sudan's Arabic-speaking government.

Senior Foreign Office officials said that over the weekend Mr Straw spoke by telephone to Mr Annan, as well as the United Nations’ special representative in Sudan Jan Pronk, and several senior ministers in countries bordering Sudan.

Speaking before his departure Mr Straw said his fact-finding mission would feed into UN deliberations on Sudan. "I am keen to see for myself the situation on the ground in Darfur, and to make clear to the Sudanese government and people the extent of British, and broader international, concern," he said.

"UN security council resolution 1556 sets out the steps that the Sudanese government must now take to deal with the crisis. I will discuss with President Bashir and others exactly how they plan to do this."

"In preparation for the visit I have spoken among others with UN secretary general Kofi Annan, President Obasanjo of Nigeria and President Kagame of Rwanda." "During and after my visit I shall be liaising closely with President Obasanjo who is holding preliminary peace talks in Abuja starting Monday."

"I shall provide a full read-out to Kofi Annan as a contribution to his pending report to the security council."

Also, before his departure, Mr Straw confirmed that the British Government was providing logistical support to Nigerian troops who are protecting a monitoring mission in Sudan. “We are providing the air transport and all the rations for the Nigerian troops,” he said.

He had told the leaders of neighbouring Nigeria and Rwanda, which are both involved in the monitoring mission, that Britain stood ready “to provide further assistance if necessary”. “The key here is international solidarity and consensus," he said.

He also insisted that, despite UN security council divisions over Sudan, there was "an emerging consensus about the imperative need for the government of Sudan to relieve the humanitarian crisis, to provide for the safety of the displaced persons and to make sure there is an effective political process".

On arriving in Khartoum this evening, Mr Straw will hold talks with vice-president Osman Mohamed Taha and foreign minister Mustafa Osman Ismail. After visiting Abu Shouk, one of the biggest refugee camps in Darfur, tomorrow, he will return to the Sudanese capital for further talks with the foreign minister, Mr Pronk, and on Wednesday Sudan’s president Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir. His visit is expected to last three days.

Downing Street said the foreign secretary would be taking a "clear message" that the government of Sudan must do more to meet its obligations under the UN security council resolution.

UK responses: "This is the moment when the international community has to show that it means business if we are not to see another Rwanda," said Michael Ancram.

The shadow foreign secretary said a UN-mandated force should be sent into Darfur to safeguard security.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat spokesman Tom Brake said the "time for quiet diplomacy is over". "The foreign secretary must request details of how many militiamen have been disarmed and charged, and how the Sudanese authorities intend honouring their pledge to bring a halt to the ethnic cleansing in Darfur," he said.

Amnesty International also warned that the foreign secretary must confront the Sudanese government head on. The human rights group's UK director, Kate Allen, said: "Jack Straw must use this critical opportunity to make it starkly clear to the Sudanese government that the international community will not tolerate continuing atrocities in Darfur. "Mr Straw's message should be that rape, torture and murder absolutely must be stopped and that perpetrators need to be brought to justice. "It is action that is needed now, not denials or empty promises."
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The UN estimates that the conflict has affected 1.5 million people in Darfur itself, and another 200,000 in nearby Chad.

British officials believe that is "a conservative estimate".
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Further UK reports:

Aug 23 report by BBC on fresh peace talks being held today in Nigeria between rebels and GoS to try to end the conflict in Darfur. Opening the meeting, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, current head of the African Union, said: "We are gathered here today to put our heads together, to rub minds together because as far as we are concerned in Africa, part of one of our houses is on fire."

Aug 23 report by BBC re Militia chief denies Darfur atrocities. One-eyed and dressed in traditional white, flowing gowns, Ahmed Khalil Sheet, an Arab militia leader in Darfur admits that his tribe was armed by GoS to fight SLA and JEM.

Aug 23 special report by Guardian UK on how Darfur poses an early test for African Union.

Update - Aug 23 BBC report: Is Darfur the new Rwanda? "In Sudan, if you have African groups and Arab militias, you certainly have ethnic groups, and if one is trying to exterminate the other, then arguably you have genocide" - Barrister John Jones

See Passion of the Present for the latest major developments on the Sudan.

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