The UN has admitted that Sudanese rebels were transported aboard a UN aircraft last month, but said it was "an isolated incident and not part of a broader pattern". The issue arose after a hostage crisis in early February when four staff and associated personnel were held for eight days by pro-government militia members who claimed the UN had transported three rebel leaders on another flight, Britain's 'Financial Times' reported. UN officials admitted to the paper that rebel commanders may have travelled on UN aircraft on several occasions. "We are talking about hundreds and hundreds of relief workers. There are situations where there are counterparts who play dual [humanitarian and military] roles," it quoted one relief worker as saying.
UN spokesman Fred Eckhard, said on Friday the report was "essentially correct". Though an internal investigation of the hostage incident in Old Fangak from 2-10 February was still being finalised, it confirmed that the UN's Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) did transport three rebels on one of its planes, and that this had triggered the hostage incident, he said. "It is also correct that OLS has tightened its procedures to keep this kind of thing from happening again. In our view, that was an isolated incident and not part of a broader pattern," Eckhard added.
Turabi warns of "third force"
The government on Sunday extended the state of emergency in Sudan, decreed by President Omar al-Bashir on 12 December to the end of this year. The cabinet said the decision had been taken "to enable the government to execute its programmes", but that it would commit itself to external openness and give priority to citizens' interests, Sudanese television reported. Former speaker of parliament Hassan al-Turabi - who is now marginalised - has called on the people to use their power to protect Sudan's constitution from violation "if the regular forces fail to do so". Turabi, quoted by the Sudanese newspaper 'Al Ray al-Amm', attacked the constitutional court's decision, which he said had failed to protect the constitution from "oppressive forces and a coup d'etat". He warned that continued confusion within the Congress party "would bring about a third force from the armed forces or the street to fill the gap".
Power struggle to continue
The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) on Monday forecast that the Bashir-Turabi power struggle would continue for the foreseeable future, and that despite Bashir's "coup" having placed him in the ascendancy, he had been unable to translate this into outright dominance. With the rebels' threat on the wane, "the challenges that have helped to hold together the uncomfortable alliance within the elite are beginning to recede", it said. Both Bashir and Turabi were trying to position themselves to head whatever political system would emerge to succeed the old authoritarian, wartime regime. "This would suggest that the crisis played out in December could be only the first round of a more serious political conflict that is potentially destabilising, especially if fuelled by foreign interference," the EIU added.
Political association law passed
The government on Sunday approved a political association act, stating that political parties or organisations who had not yet registered must do so before they can become active within Sudan. They would also have to sign an agreement to abide by the constitution, and to avoid resorting to force or violence for political gain, Sudanese television reported. The law stipulated that any 100 citizens eligible to vote could submit an application to form a political party.
Garang calls for revamp of opposition NDA
The leader of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M), John Garang, on Friday called for a shake-up of the opposition umbrella National Democratic Alliance (NDA). He claimed its future and that of Sudan could hinge on decisions taken at the current meeting of the NDA leadership in the Eritrean capital Asmara. Garang said the current organisation of the NDA was "paralysing" its decision-making. It must "revamp and revitalise" to exploit divisions in Khartoum as a result of the Bashir-Turabi power struggle, AFP reported. The SPLM is the largest of eight opposition groups in the NDA coalition, a grouping perceived to have been weakened by Sadeq al-Mahdi's Umma Party having held its own bilateral negotiations with the government.
Government continues diplomatic offensive
Meanwhile, Sudan's recent emphasis on improved diplomatic relations continued with Foreign Minister Mustapha Osman Ismail announcing on Tuesday that Sudan and Tunisia had agreed to restore normal relations during next month's Afro-European summit in Cairo. On Monday, Khartoum received the new French ambassador Dominic Vono and resumed its dialogue with the European Union, which will include discussion on religious freedom, constitutional developments, democracy and regional relations, Suna news agency reported. The EU and member countries have opted for a policy of "constructive engagement" in an effort to persuade Sudan to adhere to international norms.
NGO deplores militia raids
Christian Solidarity International (CSI) on Tuesday alleged that the pro-government Popular Defence Forces (PDF) enslaved 188 southern Sudanese women and children during raids on three villages in northern Bahr el Ghazal at the weekend. A PDF unit of some 1,300 men on horseback attacked Malith on 10 March, looting the village and enslaving an estimated 70 people after repelling the SPLA, CSI alleged in a statement. The unit then moved southwards and enslaved 50 people at Rup Deir before being repelled by the SPLA, it added. A second PDF unit from the Atiat garrison moved down the Wau-Khartoum railway line and attacked Majok Kuom on the morning of Sunday 11 March, capturing about 68 women and children in the process, CSI claimed. It said four representatives of the NGO and independent journalists had seen for themselves the "charred remains" of Malith after the attack. The raids marked "the most recent of a series of grave violations of the current UN-brokered ceasefire in northern Bahr el -Ghazal," the statement said.
Concern at food relief gaps left by NGO withdrawals
WFP said on Tuesday it was particularly concerned over the effect of gaps in supplementary and therapeutic feeding programmes that would result from certain NGOs discontinuing work in SPLM-held areas of southern Sudan. They were forced to pull out after refusing to sign a memorandum of understanding with the rebels' relief wing, the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association (SRRA). While the agency would ensure uninterrupted food aid distributions in all areas affected by the departure of World Vision - which, until 1 March, was in charge of emergency food aid distributions in Tonj and parts of Gogrial counties in Bahr el Ghazal - there would be gaps in therapeutic and supplementary feeding for malnourished children, WFP said. UNICEF has also indicated that the withdrawal of World Vision and German Agro-Action (GAA) "may affect food security in these areas in the long term", an OLS report added.
Apart from feeding programmes, the provision of agricultural input and seeds might also not be covered in time to avoid negative consequences, the WFP report stated. The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is to examine more fully the impact of the withdrawal of NGOs in south Sudan.
CARE welcomes release of kidnapped workers
The NGO CARE has welcomed the safe recovery on 9 March of two of its workers kidnapped on 2 January in an ambush between Bentiu and Mayoum in Unity State by unidentified gunmen. The agency thanked the UN and the SRRA for their assistance in securing the release of the two men, staff member Kwak Makwak and consultant Santino Deng, said CARE's East Africa and Middle East director Jon Mitchell. Two other CARE workers perished in the ambush.
Government signs new $30 million oil deal
The government on Sunday signed an oil exploration deal with a transnational oil consortium covering around 70,000 square miles in central Sudan. These include the Adar Yel oilfields near Melut in Upper Nile state, Reuters quoted the state-owned 'Alwan' newspaper as saying. The consortium, Melut Petroleum Company, is due to spend US $30 million exploring and developing the concession over three years. An independent Canadian-commissioned mission reported in February that oil had become a key issue in the civil war, and that extraction by the Canadian firm Talisman in Upper Nile was linked to government human rights abuses against civilian populations.
War costs cloud otherwise bright economic outlook
Sudan's oil exports were expected to reach US $1.7 billion this year, more than double the estimated earnings in 1999. Combined with a recovery in agricultural exports, this would leave Sudan with a trade surplus of some US $230 million, its first such surplus in over 20 years, the Economist Intelligence Unit forecast on Monday. The overall current account would remain in deficit, however, as foreign oil firms recouped investments and repatriated profits, and as an improved relationship with the IMF caused Sudan to pay more in servicing its external debt, the EIU said. While increased export volumes and high government expenditure expected to drive GDP growth to around 7 percent this year, the war would remain "a heavy burden on state finances" and hold back privatisation, which was an integral part of Khartoum's economic liberalisation policy, the report added.
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