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U.N. Humanitarian Chief Pleads with Sudan to Allow Aid to Darfur

May 9, 2006 at 6:20 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: Margaret Warner is reporting this week from Darfur and Sudan. Today, she’s in the Sudan capital of Khartoum.

MARGARET WARNER: The ink is barely dry on the Darfur peace deal. And in Khartoum today, the Sudanese government was coming under pressure to help make the agreement a success and preserve lives in the meantime.

Jan Egeland, the U.N. undersecretary general who yesterday wrapped up a two-day visit to south Darfur, was today in the Sudanese capital hoping to make headway in talks with government leaders and acknowledging that much hard work lies ahead.

JAN EGELAND, U.N. Humanitarian Chief: This is the only agreement that we have, and we need to embrace it, and we need to realize this agreement.

It will take time, and that’s why I say this is the moment of truth. This is the critical phase; this is when we either turn towards something better or something worse.

The next few weeks will be fateful. I do foresee a lot of tension, a lot of problems, a lot of uphill now, for all of us, but I think we’re heading towards something better. To continue like now is really a disaster scenario.

Pending cuts in U.N. food rations

Margaret Warner
Senior NewsHour correspondent
[T]he answers [Egeland] gets here in Khartoum on the humanitarian issues that are his concern can be read as indicators of the Sudan government's willingness to take the other steps needed to make the peace deal work.

MARGARET WARNER: One key issue Egeland raised with Sudanese officials: his demand that a Norwegian nongovernmental organization be allowed to resume its work overseeing one of Darfur's largest refugee camps.

Egeland says yesterday's incident, right after his visit to the Kalma camp where a Sudanese interpreter working for the African Union was killed by a mob, is proof that simmering tensions have gone unmanaged since the Norwegian NGO was ordered out by the government in Khartoum.

At a news conference today, a reporter with Sudan's state news agency challenged him, saying that government sources were blaming Egeland for sparking the violence by telling refugees of impending cuts in U.N. food rations.

JAN EGELAND: I am right, and they are wrong, as simple as that. What I said in the camp to the people was, yes, what you have heard, that the food rations will be cut, is true, that it will happen for several months. They did not like to hear this confirmation, but it did not provoke any anger.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Egeland is not the U.N. official chiefly responsible for implementing the peace agreement, but the answers he gets here in Khartoum on the humanitarian issues that are his concern can be read as indicators of the Sudan government's willingness to take the other steps needed to make the peace deal work.

Signs of trouble in the Darfur camp

MARGARET WARNER: In the meantime, without progress on the humanitarian front, the U.N. warns that Darfur could be facing catastrophe.

The first signs of that can be seen near the town of Gereida in south Darfur. The refugee camp here now houses 120,000 residents. It has tripled in size in just four months.

There are no structures to shelter new arrivals, no tents, no plastic sheeting; only the trees offer protection from temperatures that can reach 115 degrees by early afternoon.

Asha Ibrahim Ali has been here for two weeks now, after being driven from her village under what she says was a coordinated assault by the Sudanese military and the government-backed Janjaweed militia.

ASHA IBRAHIM ALI, Darfur Refugee (through translator): The military came and attacked first. After that, the Janjaweed came. They killed our children; they looted the house; they even took all our clothes. They did not leave anything for us.

MARGARET WARNER: With only a small African Union force deployed in Gereida, she and other refugees remain deeply worried about their personal security.

Crippled aid efforts

What's more, the African Union force is completely incapable of bringing security to the vast, lawless area between the camp and the nearest sizable city. The road into Gereida is a no-go zone for humanitarian aid groups that are trying to truck desperately-needed food and supplies to the camp.

The refugees do have access to water. Aid workers have dug some wells, and work has begun on one project that should vastly increase the supply.

But the machines they're using to dig this bore hole need fuel, and the local governor, appointed by Khartoum, won't allow fuel trucks, arguing they're susceptible to being hijacked by rebel groups.

During his visits to Darfur, Egeland protested the fact that aid workers are being physically intimidated by rebel and government forces alike and hit with onerous new visa, travel and work permit restrictions by the Khartoum government. Aid workers themselves won't voice those complaints publicly for fear that Khartoum will retaliate by kicking them out entirely.

LEONARD TEDD, OXFAM: OXFAM and ICRC are the only agencies with significant bases here, and that's largely because of logistical and security concerns.

MARGARET WARNER: And who is to blame for that?

LEONARD TEDD: I can't answer.

Signs of hope

Kosti Manibe
Minister, Sudan Humanitarian Affairs
[I]t is not humanitarian affairs that does everything to facilitate the work of humanitarian organizations. For example, visas are not issued by the ministry of humanitarian affairs; it is issued elsewhere.

MARGARET WARNER: Egeland said today that he had a good meeting with Sudan's minister for humanitarian affairs on the four issues that could improve the situation in Gereida and throughout Darfur: providing real security around the camps; lifting the new restrictions on aid workers; getting the Norwegian NGO back into the Kalma camp; and donating Sudanese government food stocks to make up for the shortfall in food aid from the international community.

But when we talked with the minister, Kosti Manibe, he said that, regretfully, none of the first three issues was handled by his department. Would the Sudanese government lift all the new restrictions on NGOs?

KOSTI MANIBE, Minister, Humanitarian Affairs, Sudan: That is our hope. I also will tell you that it is not humanitarian affairs that does everything to facilitate the work of humanitarian organizations. For example, visas are not issued by the ministry of humanitarian affairs; it is issued elsewhere.

MARGARET WARNER: But late tonight, after meeting with Sudan's powerful vice president, Egeland said he had received a firm commitment to allow the Norwegian NGO back into Kalma camp and had made substantial progress in the other areas.

He said he was elated to hear Sudan was willing to donate food, which coupled with President Bush's announcement of new shipments, could make it possible to maintain Darfur refugees' food rations at full strength.