Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Raids on Darfur food aid trucks leave drivers dead, wounded - UN WFP says Sudan will face a new catastrophe unless more food gets there fast

Yesterday, April 5, the UNs World Food Programme (WFP) said they do not have enough food to provide for 5.5 million Sudanese people in need and that Sudan will face a new catastrophe unless more food gets there fast. WFP told ENS newswire:

"In West Darfur, areas to the north of the capital of El-Geneina remain "no go" for UN agencies, although security restrictions on some other areas have been lifted.

On March 11, WFP staff and other UN and nongovernmental organization personnel were pulled back to the state capital, following three days of attacks by armed bandits on clearly marked humanitarian vehicles. The attacks and the impact on relief operations have been raised with local authorities in West Darfur.

"We are doing everything we can to get food to those who need it," said Ramiro Lopes da Silva, WFP Sudan country director. "But banditry, conflict and insecurity make this an uphill battle."

"We are dispatching assessment teams to the worst-hit areas to find out by mid April how many more people need food aid in the months ahead," said Lopes da Silva.

"But so far, WFP doesn't have enough food to provide for the 5.5 million people who need assistance in 2005 in the east, transitional areas, the south and Darfur. If the numbers continue to rise, Sudan will face a new catastrophe unless more food gets here fast."
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Raids on Darfur food aid trucks leave drivers dead, wounded

The UNs WFP reported April 5 that shootings, attacks on drivers and thefts of trucks carrying food aid are creating a climate of fear that is hampering the delivery of essential food to millions of displaced people in Darfur. Excerpt:
"The security situation is so bad that many drivers are now refusing to move through sections of the road corridors to the three Darfur states," said Ramiro Lopes da Silva, World Food Programme (WFP) Sudan country director.

Mr Lopes da Silva said some WFP contract truck drivers are refusing to move out onto the increasingly dangerous roads. They halted a 37 truck convoy in Ed-Daien last week for security reasons. In March, a driver was shot and wounded, another had his hands broken, and others were severely beaten. A total of 13 WFP contracted trucks are still missing after a string of raids; eight of these are known to be held by the Darfur rebel group SLA.

"These attacks are completely unconscionable. They create a climate of fear that together with truck seizures pose a real threat to our ability to deliver food to the Darfurs," said Lopes da Silva. "These attacks must stop, and the trucks must be returned - it is as simple as that," he said.
[As if the rebels will take heed. They, like all the other bandits in Sudan, seem to survive by looting and stealing trucks, petrol and food. How else are they supporting themselves? If bandits are travelling in UN trucks, and there is no UN security to stop them, it can't come as a surprise to the UN that their trucks are being attacked and cargoes failing to reach their destination.

Why such large convoys of food trucks are not escorted by police and helicopters is incomprehensible. Khartoum ought to be made responsible for escorting the aid safely to its destination, or they get no development funding. 10,000 aid workers are doing a tremendous job for the Sudanese people while risking their own lives. They and the aid must be protected. Khartoum and the rebels have their own security forces. What about everyone else? Who is protecting them? African Union soldiers do not have the necessary mandate to act as a protection force. The African Union has its own Security Council that does not need to go through the UN Security Council to get a mandate for AU troops. Why the 53-member bloc African Union is not insisting on a full mandate for Darfur is mind boggling. One can only conclude they are sympathetic to the regime in Khartoum, regardless of everyone else.

What exactly is the Sudan anyway - is it an African nation or an Arab nation? It comes under the umbrella of both the Arab League and the African Union. It seems (to me anyway) the Sudan has an identity crisis that cannot be resolved unless Khartoum comes out and makes clear Sudan is an Arab nation. Africans and Arabs who wish the freedom to choose their own religion and not be subjected to Islamic law ought to be able to live in South Sudan and Darfur with a government that represents the needs and wants of citizens.

Trouble is, there is oil in South Sudan and Darfur. North Sudan is loathe to lose that - Khartoum included. Wherever you turn to work out the root problem in Sudan, it always leads you to the northern region of Sudan which has always given itself preferential treatment, never mind the rest. Nomads - like the gypsies here in England who are shunned by mainstream communities - live on the fringes of society. They have their own customs and traditions and take it upon themselves to draw on the resources that surround local communities such as land, water and other facilities while not heeding licensing laws or paying full taxes like everyone else.]

UN aid convoy
Photo: Every day, hundreds of WFP trucks and planes are on the move to deliver food aid. (Photo by Laura Melo courtesy WFP)

The UNs WFP says in crowded camps throughout the three states of Darfur and across the border in Chad, two million people who have fled their homes rely on food aid to survive. It is estimated that a monthly average of 2.3 million people will need food assistance in the Darfurs over 2005, rising to 2.8 million during the rainy season months. In February, WFP fed 1.6 million people in Darfur, the highest monthly total since its emergency operation began in April 2004. Bravo to all involved.

UPDATE April 6, 2005: Relief workers have reported an upsurge in severe malnutrition among Sudanese refugees from Darfur at three camps in eastern Chad. See Severe Malnutrition on the Rise - via Coalition for Darfur [with thanks].
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Darfur aid workers under threat

There are 1,000 international aid workers on the ground, assisted by 9,000 Sudanese workers but its never explained how the local workers are selected or where they are from. We don't really know what is going on half the time. There is still no further news on what happened to the route to Darfur via Libya that was offered by the Libyan leader several months ago. In a recent interview, US Defence Secretary Rice mentioned "problems" with the Libyan route over the past few months and the need to keep pressing Khartoum on the issue.

On April 5 Human Rights Watch said the Sudanese government has sought to intimidate humanitarian relief agencies in Darfur by arbitrarily arresting or detaining at least 20 aid workers since December - and in several incidents rebels in Darfur have also detained or attacked aid workers. Sudanese authorities and rebels must not impede relief efforts, they said.
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Danish Refugee Council has withdrawn aid workers

The banditry is part of a deteriorating security situation across Darfur including attacks on humanitarian teams from WFP partner organizations, says the UNs WFP April 5.

The Danish Refugee Council has temporarily withdrawn from the Jebel Marra region after two of its aid workers were abducted from a vehicle on March 20. The two were released, but the vehicle is still missing.
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US aid workers returned to UN representative

An AGI report from Rome, Italy, April 4 says Italian negotiators succeeded in brokering the release of three US aid workers kidnapped last December in Sudan.

The three were members of ADRA (Adventist development and relief agency) and had been kidnapped by anti government factions whilst their aid convoy travelled from Khartoum to Darfur.

Italian UN envoy Barbara Contini actively brokered the release. After lengthy negotiations the three were returned released without payment of a ransom.
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UN turning a blind eye to Darfur deaths, says Straw

Gethin Chamberlain, the Scotsman's correspondent who covered news on Darfur from the Chad-Sudan border last year, reports today, April 6, that Britain yesterday accused other members of the UN Security Council of turning a blind eye to the atrocities in Darfur.

In a strongly worded statement, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said they had put commercial or political interests above their commitments under the UN charter.

Britain has worked to get other members of the UN Security Council "to recognise the gravity of the situation and, for some of them, to appreciate that their obligations under the UN Charter must take precedence over their immediate commercial or political interests with the government of Sudan", he said.

"There are still members of the so-called international community, members of the Security Council and others, who are turning a blind eye from clear atrocities which have taken place in Darfur," Mr Straw said.

[No doubt he was thinking of China, Russia and Algeria that have blocked any concrete action by the Security Council against Sudan]
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Ireland: Darfur top of agenda as Minister Lenihan travels to Sudan

Irish news says the humanitarian crisis in Darfur is back on the Irish Government's agenda ahead of an international meeting to discuss relief efforts in the region.

On April 3, Ireland's Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Conor Lenihan, departed for Darfur.

Minister Lenihan said that he supports the UN call to bring the killers to justice: "I think the UNs overview is the right one and I think it is very important now that people who have been perpetrating these killings and bringing death to everyone's door are brought to justice through the International Criminal Court."

[Irish aid agency GOAL has been doing a tremendous job for many years in the Sudan]
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Straw Calls for International Consensus on Sudan

April 5 2005 report by Nick Mead, PA Political Staff, at Scotsman - excerpt:

"Speaking at Commons questions, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the resolution "sent a very clear message that there is now no hiding place for those committing crimes against humanity".

Shadow foreign minister Mark Simmonds called on the UK and the rest of the international community to ensure perpetrators of war crimes are brought to justice, enforce a "no fly" zone over Darfur and impose oil and arms sanctions.

Mr Straw replied: "We have always argued for the toughest possible action but achieving that depends on gaining agreement inside the Security Council.

"We have to gain a consensus. It involves international engagement, even with our European partners.

"Where we've got to is not where we would wish to get to but it is infinitely better than where we would have got to under a Conservative government."

Sir Menzies Campbell, for Lib Dems, called for the African Union force in Sudan to be increased from 2,500 to 10,000 and for its mandate to be strengthened to allow for peacekeeping rather than simply monitoring.

The Foreign Secretary said the UK was giving the African Union technical and logistical support to get the available troops effectively deployed."
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30 million in emergency aid for Sudan

A Minister from The Netherlands (Jan Pronk's home country) returned home this week following her 4-day visit to the Sudan.

Here is a copy of a April 5, 2005, press release outlining the conclusions she reached. [Note, the Minister observed that where the African Union is present in Darfur, the situation improves. I can find no report that explains why it is taking so long for even 1,000 extra AU troops to arrive in Darfur to make the full numbers approved. The European Union has committed a few hundred million dollars to the African Union. AU officials themselves have said money is not an issue but that "accommodation" for the troops in Darfur is the problem]. Here is the press release:

In Darfur too many people still have to get by without water, food supplies are insufficient, aid convoys are being attacked, the security situation for refugees and aid workers is alarming and women are being intimidated and sexually assaulted. These are the conclusions that the Minister for Development Cooperation, Agnes van Ardenne, drew at the end of her four-day visit to Sudan. The Netherlands will donate 30 million euros through international aid organisations to alleviate human suffering in Sudan. "But that is not nearly enough," says Van Ardenne. "I call upon other donors to make their contributions. That way we can show that a human life in Darfur is just as valuable as a human life in the tsunami impacted regions."

Van Ardenne expressed dismay that no progress has been made on the implementation of the North-South peace agreement. The accord has not been used in any way to resolve the conflict in Darfur. It is of vital importance for a new government to be formed immediately. Van Ardenne: "With the UN Security Council adopting three resolutions, the African Union enlarging its membership, and extensive humanitarian aid efforts being made, the international donor community is doing what can be expected. There are no more obstacles to prevent the Sudanese government and the rebels from sitting down at the negotiating table in Abuja and finding a political solution for Darfur." The violence in Darfur must be stopped, for the sake of the people there, for peace in all of Sudan and, not least, for the success of the Donors' Conference on Sudan to be held in Oslo next week. The Netherlands has set aside 100 million euros for the reconstruction of Sudan, but will not release the funds until Darfur is stable.

The minister observed in Darfur that where the African Union is present, the situation improves. The AU mission is making good use of three helicopters deployed with financial support from the Netherlands. To further improve security in Darfur, the AU mission needs to be expanded quickly. Van Ardenne believes that the current pledge of 3,200 African troops should be doubled and that the AU mission is insufficiently equipped. It lacks adequate transport vehicles, communication equipment and reliable information services. Van Ardenne informed the AU that, if necessary, the Netherlands would be willing to contribute more than the eight million euros it has made available thus far.

In Darfur, she spoke with the African Union, the Sudanese government, the SLA rebels and representatives of aid organisations. In the refugee camps, she spoke with several women and aid workers in emergency hospitals. "In my contact with Sudanese women," she says, "I was again moved by their resilience. Despite their harrowing stories, they want to focus on the future and are already getting to work, for example, making wicker baskets. They hope to earn an income selling them on the local market." Van Ardenne was also impressed by the courage and perseverance of the aid workers, who often have to do their work under the most difficult of circumstances.
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Darfur war crimes evidence driven overnight from Geneva to The Hague

A report in the Scotsman April 6 quotes British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw as saying it was too early to say when the ICC might issue indictments or arrest warrants over Darfur and added he hoped the Sudanese government would help with the investigation. "We hope there will be constructive co-operation. We will co-operate with international institutions and governments to collect as much information as we can," he said.

His comments came as the International Criminal Court in the Hague took delivery of boxes of documents gathered last year by a UN commission. The boxes were driven overnight from Geneva to the court in The Hague, in the Netherlands.

Darfur war crimes evidence driven overnight from Switzerland to Holland
Photo: Boxes of documents have been delivered to the court. See BBC report UN sets Darfur trials in motion.

On April 5 at UN HQ in New York, Kofi Annan, handed the ICC's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, a sealed envelope holding a list of 51 people the commission recommends should stand trial. UN officials have said the list includes Sudan government and army officials, militia leaders and rebel and foreign army commanders but the ICC will not reveal the content of the list and will only decide later who it wants to indict.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo said that he would analyse the material, assess the alleged crimes and the admissibility of the cases. He urged those with information on Darfur to provide it to his office. "We all have a common task - to protect life, ending the culture of impunity," he said.

His deputy at The Hague, Serge Brammertz, said yesterday prosecutors would decide if the case fell within the court's jurisdiction and merited formal investigation and that the court would not necessarily follow the UNs findings, either in terms of suspects or crimes to be prosecuted. He said it was too early to say when a formal investigation would begin and that he hoped the Sudanese government would cooperate with prosecutors. "We will now proceed with the analysis of the documents and prepare a work. We will put together a team of analysts and investigators," he said.

Sources within the ICC told the Associated Press last week that about two dozen prosecution investigators were preparing to travel soon to Sudan.

International Criminal Court, The Hague
Photo courtesy ICC: Mr. Serge BRAMMERTZ, Deputy Prosecutor of the ICC (Investigations), Mr. Luis MORENO-OCAMPO, Chief Prosecutor, and Mrs. Fatou BENSOUDA, Deputy Prosecutor (Prosecutions)
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1,000 Teso children in captivity

April 4, 2005 AllAfrica report by Samuel Okiror in Kampala - copy:

ARROW group coordinator Musa Ecweru on Friday said 1,028 Teso children abducted by LRA rebels in 2003 are still under rebel captivity in southern Sudan.

"We have confirmed that the children are being traded for guns and uniforms for the rebels," he said in an interview.

Ecweru, the Soroti RDC, said LRA leader Joseph Kony was selling the children to the governments of Sudan and Somalia. He said the people of Teso would appeal to the international community to trace the children.

Ecweru said about 5,000 children were abducted in Teso by the rebels in 2003 but the UPDF and Arrow boys rescued only 3,000.
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Further reading:

April 1, 2005: Darfur is now a household name in Britain, but a year ago, when I was among the first aid workers to be sent to this remote province of western Sudan, even old Africa hands might have been hard pushed to place it on the map. I was part of a UNHCR team charged with setting up the first refugee camps in the Sahel scrubland on the border with eastern Chad, where the number of displaced and traumatised Darfurians was growing rapidly. Full Story "On the edge of existence" by Katherine Grant, Financial Times, April 1, 2005.

April 2, 2005: The destruction and killing visited on Darfur might best be understood as ethnic cleansing along the lines seen in Kosovo, rather than the spasm of violence that gripped Rwanda. That means stopping the killing and the flight of an estimated 2 million people from the region will be messy and time-consuming. The best solution remains an African one: more support for the African Union, and encouragement for it to send larger peacekeeping forces. The sooner that is done, the better for Darfur. Full Story "Saving Darfur" Guardian UK, April 2, 2005.

April 3, 2005: In the six months I spent in Darfur as a "ceasefire observer", I saw entire villages burned down with Sudanese locked inside their huts. I saw villagers with their eyes or ears plucked out, or men who had bled to death after being castrated. I interviewed women who had been gang-raped while out collecting firewood. I saw evidence of summary executions. I walked through a field where it was impossible to move without stepping on human bones. Full Story "I walked through a field filled with human bones" by American Captain Brian Steidle, The Independent UK. Captain Brian Steidle was a ceasefire monitor in Darfur with the African Union, where he watched helplessly as a genocide unfolded. The former US Marine is the first observer to go public on the atrocities in the region.

April 4, 2005: But above all Sudan needs international commitments of aid for those displaced in Darfur and elsewhere in the vast country, concrete plans to return them home and assurances that political pressure will be kept up to ensure these agreements are followed through. This is a huge and demanding agenda which has been kept in the public eye mainly by aid agencies. Governments must now act on it with sustained pressure on all concerned. Full Story, Welcome break in Darfur impasse" The Irish Times.

April 5, 2005: "We're proud of what we do," said Kenny Gluck, the operations director based in the Netherlands for Medecins Sans Frontieres. "But people's villages have been burned, their crops have been destroyed, their wells spiked, their family members raped, tortured and killed - and they come to us, and we give them 2,100 kilocalories a day." In effect, Gluck said, the aid effort is sustaining victims so they can be killed with a full belly. Full Story "Hypocrisy on Darfur" by Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times.
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Sudan stages 'million-man' march against UN war crimes trial

The Sudanese government has been accused of seeking to intimidate humanitarian relief agencies in Darfur by arresting or detaining at least 20 aid workers since December. Human Rights Watch, which has campaigned against the genocide, said that rebels had also detained or attacked aid workers. The group called on all parties to the conflict to ensure the safety of humanitarian aid workers and enable them to reach Sudanese civilians in need of assistance.

"The Sudanese authorities are using the same strong-arm tactics against aid workers that they have used against human rights defenders," said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Donor governments should condemn Khartoum's attempts to intimidate aid workers and others assisting civilians in Sudan."

On April 5, hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Khartoum - not for any concern over the humanitarian crisis and the scorched earth campaign waged by the government against the rebels that has left more than 350,000 dead and 2.4 million people displaced - but because of the UNs demands for war crimes suspects, including high officials, to be handed over for trail by the International Criminal Court.

Sudanese protesters
Photo: Sudanese protestors carry placards and banners during a protest march in Khartoum April 5, 2005. (Reuters)

Reuters reported that protesters directed much of their anger against British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and French and US presidents Jacques Chirac and George W. Bush, but they also had harsh words for UN chief Kofi Annan. "Death to Bush, death to Blair, death to Chirac," chanted the demonstrators, many of whom travelled in from the provinces for the rally and arrived hours ahead of the start. State television had given extensive advance publicity to the march and carried live footage on the day. Traffic came to a standstill in the capital, as the protestors marched from the republican palace to UN headquarters, calling for Annan to resign.

"If it does not comply by surrendering the suspects to the ICC, (it) will open the door to punishments that will go beyond sanctions to the use of military force," said Abdel Qadir Bakash of the Beja Congress, an ethnic minority rebel group active in eastern Sudan.

He said the regime had two options -- "either to destroy itself and the Sudan as well by refusing to cooperate with the international community, or to agree to participate in a national conference of all opposition political forces ... to establish a broad-based government that will implement the Naivasha peace accords." Full Story via Sudan Tribune.

Sudanese protesters in Khartoum
Photo: Radio stations and newspapers urged people to join the protest. The state-owned mobile phone company MobiTel had publicised the protest march through a text message to many subscribers on Monday evening.

Sudan has said it will refuse to hand over its citizens to face trial abroad, preferring to rely on local justice, but it is not clear if they know the trials will be held a lot closer to home. The ICC is mobile and prepared to hold court in order to gather evidence and witnesses. Sudan's President al-Bashir swore "thrice in the name of Almighty Allah that I shall never hand any Sudanese national to a foreign court", he is quoted as saying by AFP news agency.
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Sudanese tribes reject UN resolution on Darfur

April 5 Arabic News says the legal advisor of the UN mission in Sudan cited Sunday an ample opportunity for Khartoum to hold transparent and fair trials of Darfur war criminals. He said that if Khartoum puts such criminals on trial the ICC will not intervene. Excerpt:

The council of Sudanese tribes Sunday slammed UN Security Council resolution 1593 on Darfur as "unjust." A statement by the council called on all tribes to stand united against such an "insulting" resolution.

Meanwhile, the Sudanese government formed a committee to look into the repercussions of the resolution at the political, legal and diplomatic levels.

Reaffirming Khartoum's stance rejecting the resolution, Sudanese Information and Communications Minister designate Abdel Bassit Sidrat said the cabinet branded the resolution as a violation of Sudanese sovereignty.
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Egyptian news says UN resolution racist

Excerpt from Arab press roundup at World Peace Herald by UPI April 6, 2005:

Egypt's al-Gumhouriya commented in its editorial on what it described as the "justice of the new world order," saying the UN Security Council resolution to try suspected Sudanese officials on war crimes in Darfur was "reeking with racism."

The semi-official mass-circulation daily said the decision sought to try the officials in an international tribunal that was set up by the legitimacy of the new world order to punish anyone in the world "except those with noble American blood." It said the resolution, other than being a blatant interference in Sudan's internal affairs, was racist in nature because "it distinguishes between Americans and Sudanese and others."

The paper opined there appeared to be two types of justice, one that judges Muslims and Arabs, and another that judges "the noble Americans ... and all in the name of the illegitimate international legitimacy."
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Australia applauds UN decision to refer Darfur war crime to ICC

Associated Press April 6 says Australia and New Zealand on Wednesday applauded the UN decision to refer allegations of atrocities in Darfur to an international war crimes tribunal. Excerpt:

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said his government strongly supported the decision.

"This is an essential step to ending the atrocities in Darfur," Downer said in a statement.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff said the moves were "a major step toward justice and peace for the people of the Sudan after 21 years of civil war and internal conflict."

He said the court's investigation into the Darfur atrocities "hopefully" would act to deter further crimes being committed.

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