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U.N. Envoy Forced to Leave Darfur Camp

May 8, 2006 at 6:20 PM EST
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GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: Our goal in Darfur is this: We want civilians to return safely to their villages and rebuild their lives. That work has begun, and completing it will require even greater effort by many nations.

First, America and other nations must act to prevent a humanitarian emergency and then help rebuild that country. America is the leading provider of humanitarian aid. And this year alone, we account for more than 85 percent of the food distributed by the World Food Programme in Sudan.

But the situation remains dire. The World Food Programme has issued an appeal for funds necessary to feed six million people over the next several months.

The United States has met our commitment, but other major donors have not come through; as a result, this month, the World Food Programme was forced to cut rations by half. So I proposed in the emergency supplemental before Congress to increase food aid to Sudan by another $225 million.

Second, America and other nations must work quickly to increase security on the ground in Darfur. In the short term, the African Union forces in Darfur need better capabilities.

So America is working with our NATO allies to get those forces immediate assistance in the form of planning, logistics, intelligence support, and other help, and I urge members of the alliance to contribute to this effort.

Growing unrest

President Bush
The United States has met our commitment, but other major donors have not come through; as a result, this month, the World Food Programme was forced to cut rations by half.

JIM LEHRER: Now, an on-the-scene report on the violence today at a refugee camp in Darfur. Margaret Warner was there and filed this report.

MARGARET WARNER: U.N. Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator Jan Egeland came to the huge Kalma refugee camp this morning to visit with some of its most recent arrivals.

They are some of the latest victims of a recent upswing in violence in the Darfur region of Sudan, where 200,000 have been killed and another two million driven from their homes since 2003. Another 50,000 have been made homeless in the last four months alone.

But waiting for him at his second stop in the camp was a massive crowd of demonstrators.

DEMONSTRATOR: Welcome, welcome, USA!

MARGARET WARNER: They were demanding the immediate deployment of U.N. troops to protect them. The Darfur peace agreement, signed last week by the Sudanese government and the largest rebel faction here, envisions the possible deployment of a U.N. force, but not for many months.

JAN EGELAND, U.N. Humanitarian Chief: I think this is very sad.

MARGARET WARNER: But in his talks with tribal leaders who run the camp, Egeland heard fervent pleas for immediate measures to protect its 90,000 residents from government-backed Arab militias they say are still attacking and raping refugees whenever they leave the camp.

Mr. Egeland said moments later that he'd never seen the camp so on edge.

JAN EGELAND: Tensions are building. There are many political groups also here now. Their message is that they want an international force; they want a U.N. Force because they do not feel safe.

They say: We do not believe really that there is a better future for us, unless there is this international force.

I had to tell them that it can become better, especially next year. But in the next few months, it's probably going to deteriorate here. There is a problem.

MARGARET WARNER: But our interview was suddenly interrupted by news that U.N. vehicles who had stayed back in the heart of the camp had been attacked by crowd members after they grew suspicious of a translator working for a British relief agency. With that, the rest of the undersecretary's schedule in Darfur was canceled.

U.N. staff decided it was too risky for him to continue touring Kalma or a neighboring camp.

The wisdom of that decision was confirmed just hours later. As Egeland prepared to take off from Darfur for Khartoum, he told reporters there had been a killing at the camp. A mob had stormed the small African Union police outpost there, hacking an interpreter to death, and looting and destroying the station.

Egeland called the incident devastating.

Tensions on the ground

Map of Sudan

JIM LEHRER: Margaret went on to Khartoum with Egeland, and she spoke from there with special correspondent Judy Woodruff later this afternoon.

JUDY WOODRUFF, NewsHour Special Correspondent: Margaret, did you and others have the sense that these demonstrations were spontaneous or were they organized in some way? And if so, by whom?

MARGARET WARNER: We asked Jan Egeland that, and he said he thought it was, that it was -- he said it's like putting a match to the tension. You know, these are people who have been in a conflict for three years and have lost everything.

And certainly, as we were approaching the cars, it did feel very combustible, with all the people pressing in on us as we leapt into the cars and, you know, pounding the car with their hands.

But I'd have to say that, once we heard later that somebody -- first of all, that the windows had been not only smashed, but that an African Union outpost had been overrun and this A.U. interpreter hacked to death, it began to look less spontaneous.

Then when we learned that there had been a similar attack at a completely different camp in West Darfur, suddenly the peace agreement and the politics of that became involved, because when they overran that African Union outpost, they were shouting, "Minnawi does not represent us."

Minnawi is the leader of the rebel faction that did sign the deal in Nigeria, but, as you probably know, other rebel factions did not.

Desperate living conditions

Margaret Warner
NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
[T]hey still must go and get water. For fuel, they have to walk outside the camp, their encampment, to get firewood which, as we know, is where, certainly, the women are still being raped.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret, this was, I think, your first visit to Darfur. How did it look to you? I mean, you've certainly described some of it. But help us who have not been there get a feel for what it looks like at this point, with all these people jammed into these camps?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, first of all, Judy, to a Western eye it just looks desolate. I mean, you fly for two-and-a-half hours from Khartoum just to get there, and it's all this sort of red-brown earth. And people live, even when they stayed in their villages, in these little compounds.

In the camps, there are different levels of -- I can't call it comfort, but accommodation. So some of them -- literally yesterday, we interviewed people sleeping under trees.

But the camp we went to today is almost a model camp, in the sense of what international aid can do for a large collection of people, 90,000 people; that's the size of a small town.

And there they have built houses out of that red-brown earth and water and made bricks. People have their own little plot. They've set up little shopping stalls in front. They have areas for their cattle; they have little donkeys. And there is some kind of commerce there.

It is still incredibly primitive, I would say. For instance, water, they still must go and get water. For fuel, they have to walk outside the camp, their encampment, to get firewood which, as we know, is where, certainly, the women are still being raped. We were told four women were raped just last night by, they said, Janjaweed militia.

But when you're in the camp, camp doesn't really convey it. It's like a desperately poor, little city.

Keeping the peace

Rioters in Darfur

JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret, where is the African Union in all of this? There's supposed to be something like, what, 7,000 African Union peacekeeping troops there?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Judy, there are 7,000, but you have to remember Darfur is the size of France.

What's more, the African Union troops, at least the ones in the camps, are unarmed. So these camps have basically a law-enforcement-free zone, is the way one U.N. official traveling with us described it.

The African Union is completely outgunned and outmanned, and they are there to monitor what's going on. Egeland says many of them have waded into conflicts when they've seen them erupting and tried to separate people, but they are really overwhelmed.

And in a camp like the Kalma camp, the political structure is really provided by these sheiks, of which there were there are 800 of them, which doesn't mean there's much control or structure. So, in terms of law enforcement, in terms of peace and security, it's very, very tenuous.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Margaret, what about this peace agreement that was just signed a couple of days ago? Given everything that's happened today, you mentioned a minute ago the number of incidents, the people you're talking to, what do they say the prospects are that this is going to fly, going to succeed?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Judy, I think what happened today, whoever was behind it -- and there are a lot of different theories -- is really a metaphor for the complexity of the situation, and that is what surprised me when I got on the ground.

And that is what anyone who's been here a while will tell you, that this is not like a negotiation between the U.S. And the old Soviet Union over arms control, or even the Bosnia, the Dayton accords, or even a Middle East deal, when the political leadership by and large represents discrete factions, and they can deliver once they've negotiated.

I have to say that neither I -- and I know from Mr. Egeland -- and his staff so far have seen any indication that the assurances provided in Nigeria are going to be carried out.

It doesn't mean they aren't going to be, but it was certainly not arriving on the ground and the crowd saying, "Oh, wonderful, there's peace deal," and everybody talking about, "Let's go forward." Out there in Darfur, it's still a very wild environment, very lawless environment with a lot of competing political, ethnic and tribal interests.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret, thank you very much.