IRC's President tours war-torn Sudan with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan

KHARTOUM, SUDAN - June 1, 2005 - George Rupp, president of the International Rescue Committee, joined a small group of humanitarian agency heads who accompanied UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on his visit to Sudan's war-torn state of South Darfur and the southern rebel stronghold of Rumbek last weekend.
The visit highlighted burgeoning hope and ongoing strife in a country that has experienced over 20 years of civil war. More than 2.4 million people have been displaced by the Darfur conflict alone, including the 110,000 now living in overcrowded Kalma Camp, where the delegation made a stopover.

The delegation also visited Labado, where villagers who fled a December 17 militia attack were returning to begin anew against the backdrop of destroyed homes and charred fields. "Already, more than 12,000 people have been able to return and the community is coming alive," said Rupp. Virtually all of them seemed to have gathered around the central square to greet the Secretary General, he said. "They were cheering wildly a word of welcome to Kofi Annan and were clearly deeply appreciative of the fact that that the African Union provided the core security which was allowing them to restart their lives."

Annan talked with some of the people who had returned about their experiences and later described their stories as "heart-wrenching." He told Rupp it was important for relief agencies to facilitate both security and development for the returnees.

Rupp and his counterparts, Ken Bacon, president of Refugees International, and Tom Arnold, chief executive of Concern Worldwide, reported that Annan was both encouraged and discouraged by the trip. In a report to the heads of other humanitarian organizations, they said the Secretary General was left with a sense that the government wants to end the war in Darfur and that implementation of the January peace agreement between north and south Sudan is on track. However, they noted, Annan is worried that neither Darfur nor the south are getting the resources they need.

"There is no infrastructure in South Sudan, so support from the international community is very much needed," said Rupp. "Yet, ironically, international aid has decreased following the peace agreement."

Report on Trip with UN Secretary General to Sudan

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan visited Sudan over the Memorial Day weekend to press for an end of the fighting and human rights violations in Darfur and survey progress under an agreement that ended a 21-year civil war in south Sudan. Three representatives of humanitarian agencies-George Rupp, the president of the International Rescue Committee, Ken Bacon, the president of Refugees International, and Tom Arnold, the CEO of Concern Worldwide-traveled with him. They reported on the trip to other agencies:

We are writing to report on our whistle-stop tour of Sudan with Kofi Annan. The Secretary General spent a day in Khartoum, meeting with the UN staff and government officials, a day in Darfur, where he visited the Kalma Camp in Nyala and Labado, and a day in Rumbek in southern Sudan. Whatever the frustrations of trying to bring peace to Darfur, negotiating with government in Khartoum, and funding development in south Sudan, Annan had to be buoyed by huge crowds chanting "Welcome, Welcome, Kofi Annan" in both Arabic and English.

He was both encouraged and discouraged by the trip. On the plus side, he left with a sense that the government wants to end the war in Darfur and that implementation of the peace agreement between north and south Sudan is on track. On the minus side, he is worried that neither Darfur nor the south are getting the resources they need. Despite the pledges at the recent conference of donors in Oslo, he expressed concern that the north-south peace agreement is not getting proper funding, in part because money is going to Darfur. In fact, aid to south Sudan is lower than it was before the Naivasha Accords were signed, in effect penalizing the south for making peace. He focused on two continuing problems in Darfur--harassment of humanitarian workers and rape. The detention in Khartoum by the head of MSF-Holland a day after Kofi Annan left the country was both an affront to the Secretary General and a sign of the government's harassment and interference, as well as its unwillingness to deal with the rape problem.

Annan came to Khartoum after an Africa Union meeting in Addis Ababa, where the AU vowed to increase the size of the force in Darfur and where NATO agreed to provide logistical, transportation, communications and other support that won't require NATO boots on the ground. This expansion will cost $500 million, and some $200 million, including $134 million by Canada, was pledged at the conference. He stressed the urgent need for the AU and donor countries to work together to expand the force as quickly as possible. Security in Darfur remains the biggest challenge; while the AU is providing tangible security in Labado and other places, it is too small to provide enough security. He was pleased that Norway had pledged to provide 30 mobile police stations so that AU police can provide enhanced security in camps for internally displaced.

Throughout the trip, Annan focused on the inter-relationship of three major issues-security, political progress and humanitarian support. In Darfur, he stressed repeatedly the need for more security, both as a precondition for political settlement and for needed expansions in the delivery of humanitarian aid.

On the security issue, he stressed four points:

- The need for rapid expansion of AMIS (African Union Mission in Sudan)

- The need for an expanded mandate for the AU force to cover the protection of civilians

- The importance of dealing with the rape and gender-based violence issue. (Although some Janjaweed have been arrested for rape, the government is still following a "shoot the messenger" approach that fails to acknowledge the scope of the problem.)

- The need for more human rights monitors throughout Darfur.

On the political side, he stressed:

- The importance of making the Naivasha Accords work in the South. This will require a sharp increase in resources, as well as rapid development of political and security structures in the south.

- The hope that Naivasha can produce a "peace momentum" that could help serve as the basis for a peace agreement in Darfur. Both Annan and Pronk expressed hope that progress could be made during the next round of AU sponsored talks, which start on June 10 in Abuja. They noted that the AU has appointed a very skilled negotiator and that officials in Khartoum (have) indicated that they want the war over. There are two major obstacles to productive talks: an unwillingness or inability of the rebel groups to unify behind a negotiating stance and the government's refusal to reign in the Janjaweed.

Addressing the humanitarian aspect of the problem, Annan noted that:

- While humanitarian services in Darfur have improved dramatically, there is still a food gap there. What's more, insecurity and government obstruction of relief agencies is making it difficult to reach needy populations outside of camps. During the rainy season, the international community will have to feed three million people in Darfur.

- Annan praised the cooperation between the UN and humanitarian agencies, but Pronk complained of a lack of coordination among agencies. He also acknowledged that the tough working conditions in Darfur have made it difficult for agencies to recruit and retain adequate numbers of experienced staff members.

- In south Sudan, there are still urgent food requirements in some areas and those requirements will increase as refugees and displaced people continue to return in large numbers. There must be proper planning for these returns.

The three of us were impressed with Kofi Annan's quiet firmness, his steady focus on core issues and his personal graciousness. We also share his combination of hope and discouragement. While there are clear advances in both Darfur and the south, much remains to be done. The Khartoum government is difficult to deal with, and human rights abuses, particularly rape, continue, as Nick Kristof, who was on the trip, is detailing in a series of columns in The New York Times.

We assured the Secretary General that we and other NGOs will continue to advocate and work for improved security, political progress toward peace and the expansion of humanitarian services to help meet the needs he highlighted throughout the trip. We look forward to working with you toward those ends.

Tom Arnold, Concern
Ken Bacon, Refugees International
George Rupp, International Rescue Committee