Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Blair arrives in Khartoum to press for Darfur peace - Blair outlines demands to Sudan

British Prime Minister Tony Blair flew in to Khartoum earlier today (Wednesday). He is the most senior Western government official to visit Sudan since the Darfur conflict erupted. After talks with President Bashir, he called for a peace agreement to cover the whole of Sudan by the end of 2004

Mr Blair told a press conference that he handed the Sudanese leadership a list of five demands to deal with the "terrible" situation in Darfur.

He urged the government of Sudan to adopt a five-point plan designed to help end the slaughter in Darfur and ease the humanitarian crisis there.

In talks with President Bashir and his deputy, the premier made plain the international community's continuing concern at the conflict in Darfur, which has left up to a million refugees, as rebels fight with government-backed militia gangs.

"We want the government to commit to reaching a comprehensive agreement, north and south, in Sudan by the end of the year," Blair said. He coupled his blunt message with the announcement of a GBP 100 million aid package to the country next year.

He called for a major boost to African Union forces, all government troops and militia to be identified, agreement with the rebels to withdraw troops, an overall peace accord for Sudan, and Khartoum to facilitate aid distribution.

Blair said the fact he had travelled to Khartoum showed "the seriousness with which this is taken".

"The international focus will not go away while this issue remains outstanding," he added, describing talks with Bashir and Vice President Ali Osman Taha as "frank and open and, I think, constructive".

Mr Blair urged Sudan to:

Allow more African Union troops to take part in peacekeeping.

Identify its own troops and its sponsored militias to aid monitoring.

Reach agreement with the rebels to withdraw both sides' soldiers from Darfur.

Reach a comprehensive agreement covering ethnic tensions throughout the country.

Give a commitment to help humanitarian aid get through to the suffering.

British officials said later they were confident the Sudanese government would agree on paper to the demands but stressed they were cautious and wanted to see "the reality on the ground" changed.

Mr Blair later told reporters he acknowledged some progress had already been made.

But, speaking on the first leg of a three-day Africa visit, the Prime Minister stressed: "It's important that people in Darfur realise that the international community is determined to ensure that when we talk with the government of Sudan it realises it has to take on these responsibilities and the rebel forces likewise recognise they have responsibilities in this situation and the international focus will not go away while this situation remains outstanding."

Mr Blair, looking fit and relaxed in the sweltering Sudan heat despite his recent heart procedure, flies on later today to Ethiopia for talks with its premier Meles Zenawi before chairing the second meeting of his Africa Commission tomorrow.

The Prime Minister has promised to make the future of Africa one of the centrepieces of Britain's presidency of the G8 group of leading industrialised democracies next year.


Ahead of Mr Blair's arrival:

-- Ismail said Britain could push all sides to reach an agreement at peace talks in NIgeria due to reconvene on October 21, after an earlier round of talks in Abuja collapsed last month and said he hoped for more aid for reconstruction from Britain, one of the biggest aid donors to Darfur.

-- Mr Blair's spokesman said, "Rather than concentrate on threats and sanctions, we would like to focus on trying to get progress that would make sanctions not necessary." British officials say Blair's message to Khartoum officials will be three-fold -- negotiate a settlement with rebels in Darfur; allow "unfettered access" for aid workers; and accept an expanded role for African Union peacekeepers.

Blair, who has pledged to make Africa one of his key policies during 2005, when Britain holds the rotating presidency of both the G8 rich nations' club and the European Union, was scheduled to spend around five hours in Sudan.

After talks with Beshir and Taha, he will hold a press conference, before flying to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, for a meeting of the Commission for Africa, his personal project designed to galvanize development efforts.

This evening, in Ethiopia, he will have talks with the prime minister, Meles Zenawi. Tomorrow, Mr Blair will make local visits and then outline his vision for Africa in a speech setting out his case for change. International Development Secretary Hilary Benn and Treasury Chief Secretary Paul Boateng are accompanying Mr Blair on the trip.

The stopover in Sudan - the first-ever visit by a British leader since Khartoum got independence from Britain in 1956 - had been kept under wraps for security reasons, with London only confirming the trip after Blair's aircraft took off on Tuesday evening.

Mr Blair will not visit Darfur, with his spokesman saying the limited time available was best used hammering home the international community's message to the Sudanese government. "We know what the situation in Darfur is. The important thing is that something is done about it at government level," said the Prime Minister's spokesman.

Blair's spokesman refused to be drawn on whether Britain supported sanctions against the north African Muslim state, or whether it would join the United States in considering the violence in Darfur as genocide. He said the premier was simply "relaying and re-emphasising" international worries. But he stressed that Blair would expect clear answers on issues such as a ceasefire, peace negotiations and aid efforts. "Those are points which we believe the Sudanese government understand. And I think what we need to see is what the response of the Sudanese government is to the prime minister's visit," he said.

CFA 1,0.gif

The trip to Sudan is part of Mr Blair's three-day Africa tour, which will also take him to Ethiopia where he will attend a session of the Commission for Africa, an Africa task force launched by himself in February.

Blair will arrive in Addis Ababa today, along with Benn, Treasury chief secretary Paul Boateng and Live Aid founder Bob Geldof, for the opening of the three day meeting of the commission.

Mr Blair will attend the second session of his Commission for Africa in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. The talks will also be attended by Band Aid star Sir Bob Geldof, 20 years after his appeal to help people starving there raised GBP 90m.

The commission will report in time for its findings to be discussed by the G8 group of leading industrialised nations next year, when Britain will be in charge of both the European Union and the G8 - the club of the world's richest countries.

Mr Blair has promised to make the plight of Africa one of the twin focuses of his chairmanship, along with climate change.

"There is a moral imperative to do this," said International Development Minister Hilary Benn, who will join Blair in Addis Ababa for the two-day meeting starting on Thursday. "If we don't tackle poverty, injustice and inequality round the world, then we're never going to have a safe and secure world in which to live," he told Reuters.

"Something concrete has got to be done this time. Unless the politicians actually do something about unfair trade rules, no amount of aid money is going to solve poverty," said Helen Palmer, of aid agency Oxfam.

The commission aims to propose action from the West on boosting aid, obtaining more debt relief and making trade rules fairer for African exporters. "Then the priorities for Africa itself are tackling conflict and promoting good government," Benn said.

Britain set up the commission, including senior figures from across Africa, earlier this year to highlight to problems in a continent Blair called a "scar on the conscience of the world".

Africa expert Thomas Cargill, of the Royal Institute of International Affairs said the most urgent priorities were bigger investment, pressure on poorly performing governments and tighter controls on Western firms to act in a moral fashion.
- - -


In a stinging U.N. assessment on Monday, Annan said Sudan made no progress last month in stopping attacks on civilians or punishing culprits. Nor did the government make progress in nailing down a ceasefire, he added.

While the U.S. government believes genocide is taking place, two top U.N. human rights watchdogs told the council last week war crimes probably occurred on "a large and systematic scale".

British officials said they would reserve judgement on how to qualify the crisis until a U.N. inquiry.

Britain is one of the largest donors for Darfur, with 62.5 million pounds ($111 million) committed this year
- - -


Oct 5 (AFP) - The U.S. called Tuesday for international donors to fulfill pledges to provide assistance to stem the crisis in Darfur, accusing some nations of failing to live up to their promises.

"We've been very outspoken about the need for the international community to do more to help the people of Darfur," deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said. "It is a problem of a huge scale beyond the capability of any one country".

"There have been pledges from the international community, pledges that are important and necessary, but that have gone unfilled to date," he told reporters. "It's important ... that they be filled."

Ereli did not name the countries that have failed to meet their pledges and was unable to specify the amount of the shortfall although on Monday the World Food Program said it was short some 220 million of the 865 million dollars it needs to feed some 11 million refugees worldwide, including 200,000 from Darfur who have crossed the Sudanese border into Chad.

Late last month at a donors conference in Norway, representatives of the Sudanese government and the southern rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) appealed for the international community to provide about 300 million dollars in aid to cover emergency needs in Darfur.

The United States is the largest single contributor to Darfur aid efforts and on Tuesday, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) gave a 600,000-dollar grant to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to help double the number of human rights monitors there to 16.

To date, Washington has provided 243 million dollars in aid for Darfur, nearly 62 million dollars of which had been earmarked for the refugees in Chad, and expects that figure to rise to nearly 300 million through the end of the next fiscal year, according to USAID.

In addition, the United States has set aside 27.4 million dollars to help fund the African Union monitoring mission in Darfur, USAID said in a statement.
- - -

No quick end to Darfur humanitarian crisis - U.N.

Here is a copy of an October 6 report via Reuters that says no quick end to Darfur humanitarian crisis in Darfur - it will last at least until the end of next year, a U.N. official warned on Wednesday.

U.N. World Food Programme spokesman Greg Barrow said the crisis would drag on because so many Darfur residents were still in refugee camps, unable to harvest this year or plant crops for 2005.

"The aid crisis is going to continue at least until the end of next year," Barrow said in a briefing for reporters accompanying British Prime Minister Tony Blair to Sudan.

This year's intense media focus on Darfur and a stream of high-level foreign visitors had helped, but the world must not forget the crisis when attention fades, he added.

"This is a very, very precarious situation. The levels of humanitarian aid will need to be sustained at or above the same level as this year."

Barrow said the World Food Programme had received $167 million of its $204 million budget for emergency food aid in Darfur this year. He urged international donors to quickly make up the shortfall and to prepare for further aid next year.

"We're still not there in terms of overall funding."

After years of skirmishes between Arab nomadic tribes and mainly non-Arab farmers over scarce resources, rebels launched a revolt last year. They accuse Khartoum of supporting Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, to loot and burn villages.

The United States has called the violence genocide.

But Sudan has dismissed the charge and denies supporting the Janjaweed militiamen, calling them outlaws.

The United Nations has threatened oil sanctions unless Khartoum controls the violence.

Barrow said U.N. personnel in the region had noticed an improvement in security for relief workers in Darfur, an area the size of France with a population of about six million.

Bandits were, however, still harassing U.N. personnel at the rate of at least one incident a week, he said.

"It is difficult to estimate, if our trucks or personnel get stopped, if it's by the militia or rebels or whoever. We're not talking about people getting killed but being accosted by people with guns," he said.

Barrow urged Blair to press Sudanese officials to keep giving good access for relief trucks and personnel.

"The Sudanese government has already done a lot as a result of international pressure to improve access," he said. "We need them to keep that up."
- - -

Aid agencies urged Blair to take a tough line in Sudan

"The situation in Darfur is not improving. Nearly six months after the ceasefire, there are daily reports of violence and insecurity," British-based Oxfam said in a statement.

The charity Save the Children said foreign aid must now focus on lifting Ethiopia out of poverty, rather than just keeping people alive with food handouts.

Spokesman Mike Aaronson, said millions of people in the historically famine-prone northeastern highlands are "worse off and more vulnerable than ever".

He said "lack of political will" by world leaders and "paltry" aid have not helped the nation combat persistent food shortages.

"It is shocking that 20 years after Band Aid millions of children still experience hunger," he said.

"Yet, in the last 20 years, donors have shown a lack of political will and a shortsighted approach to aid that has compounded poverty in Ethiopia."

Ethiopia is one of the poorest nations in the world - the average annual income is GBP 56.

Donor countries must inject more investments in education and health care in a bid to help the country break out of poverty, he said.

"A great deal of money has gone into keeping people alive with food aid," Mr Aaronson added.

"However, in comparison, the sum invested in longer-term development to lift Ethiopia out of the cycle of poverty has been paltry."
- - -

Why does the UN not name and shame and update its figures?

According to the latest news reports, the U.N. says some 50,000 people have died in Darfur from violence, hunger or disease.

The U.N. complains through the media that countries are not paying for food and aid but it refuses to name those countries. Why?

On the other hand, the U.N. seems to pull figures out of the air and expect donors to pay up based on those figures. If, as they claim, thousands of people are dying each month - how come the figure has been stuck at 50,000 deaths for the past three months? Going by reports, it seems the numbers should have changed by at least 80,000 - 120,000.

USAID predicted 300,000 deaths by Christmas, even if enough aid reached the victims of Darfur.

The World Food Programme and others do of course do great work, but when there is so much at stake it's reasonable to question what exactly is going on. People tend not to donate when they think it won't make any difference. My feelings are that charities and bodies like the UN need to sort this out asap to restore public confidence in the work of the aid agencies (see next report here below).
- - -


Today's report from UK Scotsman says Sudan's UN ambassador has challenged the United States to send troops to Darfur if it really believes a genocide is taking place as the US Congress and President George W. Bush's administration have determined. Excerpt:

Elfatih Mohamed Erwa was asked yesterday about the effect of the US "genocide" designations when both Bush and his Democratic challenger John Kerry ruled out sending US troops to end the 19-month conflict in their debate.

"If it is really a genocide they should be committed to send troops," the Sudanese ambassador said. "This is why I don't think they're genuine about its being genocide."

Would US troops really be welcome?

"I won't say I welcome them because I don't have the authority to say that, but if they want to do that, let them talk to us." Erwa said.

US Ambassador John Danforth, when told Erwa raised the possibility of discussing the deployment of US troops, said: "I've never heard of such a thing before. It's certainly an attention grabber."

"It's a curious idea, but I don't think it has a future," he said.

No comments: