Sudan

Sudan intimidating aid workers in Darfur, U.S. official says

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State's Negroponte says Sudan facing further international isolation

By Stephen Kaufman, USINFO Staff Writer

Washington -- The Sudanese government appears to be intimidating humanitarian aid workers in Darfur deliberately, the State Department's second-highest official told reporters April 23. He warned that "time is running out" before Sudan will be subjected to further isolation due to its failure to allow international peacekeepers access to the region.

Deputy Secretary John Negroponte, whose April 16 visit to Sudan included meetings with President Omar al-Bashir, said Sudan's record in allowing humanitarian access to those in need is "not encouraging."

"The denial of visas, the harassment of aid workers and other measures have created the impression that the government of Sudan is engaged in a deliberate campaign of intimidation," he said.

Negroponte added that despite being encouraged by Sudan's agreement earlier in April with the United Nations to facilitate humanitarian operations, the Bush administration has not "seen any improvement" since the agreement was made, and it will continue to closely monitor the situation.

"[W]e've heard some examples of them actually even creating additional complications for humanitarian workers since that time," he said, such as requiring aid workers to leave the country for a prescribed period if they move from one humanitarian agency to another.

The deputy secretary was speaking in Washington after visiting Sudan, Libya, Chad and Mauritania April 11-19 to discuss ways of ending the crisis in Darfur and relieving the suffering there.

He said he was not encouraged by his meeting with Bashir, and expressed skepticism over Sudan's willingness to follow through on its verbal commitments.

"I think that the feeling I had after I left is, 'Well, whatever they say, we just better wait and see if they actually implement what it is they agreed to,'" Negroponte said.

The deputy secretary said the violence in Darfur increasingly is linked to instability in Sudan's neighboring states, including Chad, where many Darfur refugees have fled.

The violence on each side of Sudan's border has a tendency to feed on itself, he said "in part because there are refugee groups that cross from one side to the other," and also because, in the case of Chad, there is widespread belief that both countries "supported groups that are carrying out acts of violence in the other."

Negroponte said Chadian officials expressed concerns to him over the risk of violence spreading to their territory. "They used the phrase, "We're concerned about the 'Darfurization' of Eastern Chad," he said.

Sudan must disarm Jingaweit militias that are dependent on it for support, he said. Likewise, "all nonsignatory rebel groups must cease their attacks, put down their arms and come to the negotiating table."

Negroponte said the May 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement offers Sudan "great promise and opportunity," but it can be realized only with the "active cooperation" of the Sudanese government, including the deployment of a hybrid U.N.-African Union (AU) force to provide security, and allowing full access for humanitarian aid workers.

"[I]f these improvements do not take place, President Bush has made it clear that the alternative for Sudan is even further international isolation," he said.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, who accompanied the deputy secretary on the trip, said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had asked the Bush administration for additional time before measures, such as punitive sanctions, were taken.

"[T]he belief is that Ban Ki-moon is hoping that due to the negotiation process that he's had with the government of Sudan, the AU and the U.N., that this heavy support package that was agreed to will actually be implemented," she said.

But the next step, Frazer said, "is to get the government of Sudan to quickly also agree to the hybrid force itself."