Sudan blocks top UN official from Darfur / Norwegian NGO forced to leave Darfur refugee camp / Rebel attacks in S. Sudan threaten aid delivery – UN

Ten semi-related stories from throughout the day (most from within the past few hours):

(Many, many thanks to Eugene for being able to post some of these earlier.)

From the UK’s “Times”…

Sudan has barred the United Nations’  top humanitarian official from visiting Darfur, raising fears that the government is trying to obscure the current extent of the violence and hardship in the region.

Jan Egeland, the UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, said his aircraft was turned away from the southern Sudanese town of Juba on Sunday and that he was forced to book a seat on a commercial flight from Uganda before being told that he was not welcome in the country.

“I’ve been barred from going to south Darfur, west Darfur and also I have been told that I am not welcome in Khartoum,” Mr Egeland told Reuters news agency. “I think it is because they don’t want me to see how bad it is in Darfur.”

Endemic violence, perpetrated by government-funded militias, is the greatest obstacle to the UN mission in Darfur, a region in the west of Sudan, as large as France, where more than three million people need aid to survive. An ethnic war, between Arab fighters and black African Sudanese farmers, broke out in 2003 and has killed more than 300,000 people.

Mr Egeland said his difficulties in reaching Darfur were evidence of the strains under which the UN and other aid agencies are working.

“This is symptomatic of the everyday problems my colleagues face in Darfur, trying to feed nearly three million Darfuris to whom we are a lifeline,” he said.

The United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) said it “regrets” the government’s decision not to allow Egeland into Darfur and Khartoum as part of his five-day visit to assess the humanitarian relief operation in South Sudan and Darfur. Sudanese government officials were not available for comment.

In what is believed to be an unrelated development, the Sudanese government also refused to extend the mandate of the Norwegian Refugee Council, which runs the Kalma refugee camp in Darfur and shelters more than 100,000 people.

Astrid Sehl, a spokeswoman for the charity, said it had been negotiating with local authorities for two months before being told their told their contract, due to expire tomorrow [Tuesday], would not be extended.

“We don’t know why, they’re not telling us why,” she told Times Online. “We’re going to have to leave 100,000 extremely vulnerable people. This has huge humanitarian consequences.”

According to Ms Sehl the security situation has deteriorated in Darfur in recent weeks, with the increasingly frequently attacks by the Janjaweed, Arab militias believed to be funded by the government.

She said Sudanese authorities were also becoming “quite creative” in the use of paperwork and bureaucratic measures to make the running of the aid programme more difficult. Petrol has been rationed and some aid workers have been given three-day visas, forcing them to leave the country twice a week to have them renewed.

The violence in Darfur started in early 2003 after local farmers rebelled against the Sudanese government, claiming that Khartoum discriminated against Sudanese of African origin in favour of ethnic Arabs.

Vicious repression followed, and the government is accused of directing Arab militias in a campaign of rape and widespread killing against the ethnic Africans. More than 300,000 people are thought to have died of disease and hunger since the fighting began, and a further 2 million have fled their homes.

Around 2,300 peace-keeping troops, sent by the African Union, are in Sudan, keeping a shaky ceasefire that has been in place since April 2004. Last year, the International Criminal Court launched an investigation of war crimes committed in the region. The US government has already described the disaster as “genocide”.

From AFP…

The UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, Jan Egeland, has been refused access to Sudan’s troubled province of Darfur, although he has the necessary visa, the United Nations said on Monday.

“Mr Egelend has been informed that he is not welcomed in Darfur or Khartoum,” said Dawn Elizabeth, the spokesperson for the Sudanese office of the co-ordination of humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“We had a (Sudanese) visa allowing us to travel to Darfur, but something is obviously wrong here,” she said by satellite phone from the Bor district in southern Sudan.

Elizabeth is travelling with Egeland, the UN humanitarian relief coordinator, who has sharpened his criticism of Khartoum for the worsening situation in Darfur.

Plane denied landing rights

Egelend was scheduled to travel to either Nyala or El Geneina in Darfur on Monday, before proceeding to the capital Khartoum for talks with officials there.

“This highlights the problems that humanitarian operations are still facing in the Darfur,” she added.

Officials, who refused to be named, said the government had taken the action to “prevent Egeland access to see the latest situation after a recent upsurge in violence in Darfur.”

On Sunday, Egeland told reporters that the Khartoum government had denied his plane landing rights in the southern town of Juba, forcing him to delay his trip by more than six hours and eventually use a commercial flight from Entebbe.

By Marc Lacey of the “New York Times”…

The government of Sudan today [Monday] blocked a planned visit by the United Nations’ top humanitarian official to the western Darfur region, prompting the official, Jan Egeland, to accuse Khartoum of attempting to hide the dire conditions there.

The Sudanese government offered various explanations for the decision not to allow Mr. Egeland, who is the under secretary general for humanitarian affairs and the United Nations’ emergency relief coordinator, to visit Khartoum, the capital, or Darfur, the region where a war has raged for three years.

A Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Jamal Ibrahim, said the visit, which was scheduled to begin today, was merely postponed because it would have coincided with the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. He also said in an interview with BBC that it would not have been safe for Mr. Egeland, a Norwegian, to visit the country given the recent controversy over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published in a Danish newspaper.

But the United Nations said that the trip had been planned well in advance and that the objections from Sudanese authorities appeared to be politically motivated.

“I think it is because they don’t want me to see how bad it is in Darfur,” Mr. Egeland said in an interview with Reuters in southern Sudan, which operates semi-autonomously and did give approval for Mr. Egeland’s visit.

In the latest wave of attacks in Darfur, Mr. Egeland said thousands of people have been chased from 60 villages by government-backed Janjaweed militias. He said the deteriorating security environment has made it increasingly difficult to provide assistance to the more than two million displaced people living in camps in Darfur and across the border in Chad.

The United Nations said the governor, or wali, of South Darfur, where Mr. Egeland had been scheduled to visit, had opposed his arrival there. In addition, the United Nations said the Sudanese government’s representatives to the United Nations stated that Mr. Egeland would not be welcome in Darfur or Khartoum.

Relations between the Sudanese and the United Nations are particularly sensitive now because of the world body’s plans later this year to take over the running of the African Union peacekeeping mission currently under way in Darfur. Underfunded and limited in its ability to quell the violence, the 7,000-strong African Union force is viewed as more neutral by the Sudanese, who oppose the arrival of any Western troops in Darfur.

Prompted by the government, Sudanese citizens have taken to the streets on several occasions to protest United Nations forces, which they often equate with an American role in Sudan.

Mr. Egeland has played a major role in focusing international attention on Darfur, which he declared the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in early 2004. Although he has stopped short of calling the conflict a genocide, as the Bush administration has done, Mr. Egeland has laid much of the blame for the suffering there at the feet of government officials. Sudanese authorities, in turn, contend that antigovernment rebels stoke much of the chaos in Darfur but earn little international wrath for their role.

Mr. Egeland said his planned trip was intended to draw attention to and raise money for the displaced people of Darfur and other nearby conflict zones. The aid operation in Darfur and southern Sudan, which is emerging from nearly two decades of war, amounts to $1.5 billion a year. Before arriving in Sudan, Mr. Egeland visited northern Uganda, where rebels have abducted thousands of children and forced them to fight on their behalf.

Also from AFP…

Sudanese authorities have refused to extend the mandate of the Norwegian non-governmental organisation Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), which heads the main refugee camp in Darfur, sheltering some 100 000 people, the organisation announced on Monday.

The NRC “fears for the security, the lives and the health to the extent that all humanitarian aid destined for 100 000 children and adults will be deprived of management and coordination”, Jens Mjaugedal, head of the organisation’s international division, said in a statement.

“We have not received an explanation why our presence is no longer desired,” he said.

Although other NGOs will remain in the camp, NRC’s departure will cause coordination and supply problems for medicines and food, Mjaugedal said.

NRC, whose mandate ends on Tuesday, said that despite worsening conditions in recent months, it had hoped “to fully continue its work but now is deprived of this possibility”.

It called on the Norwegian government and the United Nations to put pressure on Sudan to facilitate the work of aid organisations.

NRC is one of Norway’s largest NGOs, with 1 300 people working for refugees and displaced persons.

The civil war in Darfur has resulted in more than two million displaced people and refugees.

The UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, Jan Egeland, was earlier on Monday refused access to Darfur, although he has the necessary visa, the UN said.

From Bloomberg…

Sudan’s government has barred the United Nations’ emergency relief coordinator from visiting the nation’s Darfur region to assess the humanitarian needs and violence there, the UN said.

Under-Secretary-General Jan Egeland, who is in southern Sudan, was informed yesterday [Sunday] that he would not be “welcome” in Darfur or the capital, Khartoum, spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said. Egeland, who received a visa to enter the country, flew into southern Sudan on a commercial fight after his UN plane didn’t receive government permission to land, Bunker said.

Sudanese envoy Yasir Abdelsamal said it was all a misunderstanding. Egeland was asked to postpone his trip to Darfur for up to two weeks because officials there weren’t prepared for his visit, and he would be welcome in Khartoum, the envoy said.

“If we gave him a visa, they cannot say he wasn’t welcome,” Abdelsalam said.

Bunker said Sudan’s government gave no reason for the decision to bar Egeland. The UN said in a separate statement that the governor of South Darfur “strictly opposes” the visit.

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Physicians for Human Rights said in a report that as many as 400,000 people may have died in Darfur since early 2003 in a campaign of organized violence against farming settlements. U.S. officials have described the attacks as genocide.

Egeland will travel from southern Sudan, where rebels and government waged civil war for more than 20 years until signing a peace accord in January 2005, to neighboring Chad, Bunker said. Thousands of villagers have crossed the border to escape the violence in Darfur.

From IRIN…

Sudanese authorities have denied the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, permission to visit the strife-torn western region of Darfur, a UN spokeswoman said on Monday.

“We are disappointed that he will not be welcomed in Darfur,” said Stephanie Bunker, spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). “He [Egeland] has had several successful missions in the past.”

Egeland is on a nine-day mission to Chad, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda. He started a five-day visit to Sudan on Sunday, which would have incorporated Darfur and southern Sudan.

Egeland arrived in Juba, the capital of southern Sudan, from Uganda on Sunday. He travelled by barge overnight with a group of internally displaced persons returning to their homes in the southern town of Bor. He then travelled to another southern town, Rumbek, where he was due to have talks on Monday with representatives of the Government of Southern Sudan, according to other UN sources.

Bunker said Sudan’s permanent mission at the UN in New York indicated over the weekend that Egeland would not be welcome in Darfur or in the capital, Khartoum.

The Darfur conflict erupted in early 2003 when the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army and the smaller Justice and Equality Movement took up arms against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum to end what they call the neglect and oppression of the mainly black inhabitants of Darfur, a semi-desert region the size of France. The Sudanese government responded by backing Arab militia known as the Janjawid.

Humanitarian workers estimate that more than 180,000 people have been killed in the violence and nearly two million forced to flee their homes.

On 21 March, the representative of the UN Secretary-General in Sudan, Jan Pronk, called for the deployment of a vigorous UN peacekeeping force in Darfur to replace the current African Union (AU) mission, saying killings, rape and human rights abuse in the area continued to threaten peace in the country.

Khartoum is opposed to the proposed transfer of the peacekeeping responsibility in Darfur from the AU to the UN.

From the BBC…

Sudan has prevented the United Nations’ top humanitarian official from visiting the troubled Darfur region.

Jan Egeland told the BBC he thought the government did not want him to see the latest wave of “ethnic cleansing” against black Africans in South Darfur.

He said thousands of people had fled after 60 villages were attacked by pro-government Janjaweed militias.

More than two million people have sought refuge in huge camps following three years of such attacks.

The Sudanese government is trying to stop the UN from taking over the peacekeeping mission in Darfur from the under-funded African Union.

Strong critic

The United Nations Mission in Sudan has lodged a formal protest against the government’s refusal to allow Mr Egeland’s flight to land.

Sudanese foreign ministry spokesman Jamal Ibrahim said the government had asked Mr Egeland to delay his visit because it coincided with a holiday to mark the birthday of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.

He said that in the light of the Danish cartoons row, it would not be sensitive or safe for a Norwegian such as Mr Egeland to visit.

The BBC’s Jonah Fisher in Sudan says Mr Egeland is known for his willingness to speak his mind and has been a strong critic of the government’s role in Darfur’s violence.

Mr Egeland said the rebel Sudan Liberation Army also had some responsibility for provoking the latest attacks in the Janana area.

He said the Sudanese government, guerrilla forces and ethnic militia groups were all responsible for the current instability in Darfur, which had put tens of thousands of civilians at risk.

He was due to meet aid workers and speak to people displaced by the conflict.

Mr Egeland also warned that hopes for peace in the south of the country were being damaged by continuing violence.

A peace deal last year officially ended 21 years of conflict between the northern Muslim government and rebels from the Christian and animist south.

On Saturday Mr Egeland visited Uganda, where he described the activities of rebels in the north of the country as “terrorism of the worst kind anywhere in the world”.

Fear of attack

Ahead of his visit to Darfur, Mr Egeland, the UN’s top humanitarian co-ordinator, said UN relief efforts were being undermined by poor security.

“We are being attacked and our humanitarian services disrupted all the time,” he told AFP news agency.

In early 2004 he labelled Darfur the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Millions of people had fled their homes as militia rampaged through villages, burning, killing and raping.

There are no official figures on how many died in what the US called a genocide, though estimates range from between 100,000 to 400,000.

Our correspondent says that almost two years on, the media spotlight has gone but the crisis is far from over.

Fearing militia attacks, two million people live in overcrowded camps totally dependent on international agencies for food and water.

The violence has less intensity but has become more complex, our correspondent adds.

New rebel movements have formed and existing ones have split and fought each other.

Pro-government militia continue to attack villages and camps with, according to many observers, the backing of the Sudanese army.

The government denies backing the Janjaweed and blames the violence on the rebels who took up arms three years ago.

Rebel movements from eastern Chad now use Darfur’s anarchy as their base, creating insecurity in border areas.

From the AP…

The United Nations on Monday protested what it said was a decision by Sudan to bar the U.N.’s top humanitarian official from visiting the capital and the troubled western Darfur region.

Jan Egeland, U.N. under-secretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, said the government was trying to prevent him from seeing the deteriorating situation in the troubled Darfur region.

A Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, denied that Egeland had been barred from visting.

A statement from the U.N. mission in Sudan said Egeland’s flight into Sudan was not given authorization to land Sunday and that Sudanese officials had expressed opposition to his visit.

Egeland had been scheduled to visit southern and western Sudan from Sunday to Thursday to assess relief operations.

He did visit southern Sudan, which is administered by the Government of Southern Sudan, a partner of the Khartoum government that has its own leadership.

Egeland said he was told that visiting Khartoum and Darfur, in the Muslim north of the country, would be too sensitive because publications in his nation, Norway, were among those that published offensive cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

“They claim that my nationality is a problem because of the cartoons and me being a Norwegian. This is just an excuse,” he told The Associated Press by telephone. “I can only believe that they don’t want me to see how bad the situation has become for the civilian population in South Darfur, in West Darfur.”

He noted that he had been barred from visiting Darfur in 2004 “when ethnic cleansing was at its worst.”

The United Nations has described Darfur as the site of the world’s gravest humanitarian crisis. The 3-year-old conflict setting the Arab-dominated government and militias against ethnic African tribes has left some 180,000 dead – most from disease and hunger – and displaced another 2 million from their homes. Sudan’s government and rebels in Darfur have made little headway in peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria.

President Omar al-Bashir said in a speech to parliament Monday that resolving the Darfur conflict was his nation’s top priority.

“The peace that we have received with joy (in southern Sudan) remains incomplete until we achieve a solution in Darfur,” he said.

He said the government would work to end the suffering of civilians and reach a political settlement that included all parties involved in the conflict.

“There cannot be a solution that ignores the rights of anyone or suppresses anyone. A permanent solution is the one that embraces all and resolves all the problems of Darfur,” he said.

Egeland said he had been supposed to bring more resources to humanitarian workers who, he complained, were finding it increasingly difficult to reach civilians affected by the violence.

He called the ban part of “an endless string of constant administrative obstacles to our work,” saying non-governmental organizations trying to work in Darfur were fnding it hard to receive work permits, fuel and other necessities.

“My biggest worry is that all our achievements and advances – in one of the biggest and most effective humanitarian operations anywhere in a war situation – are now being undermined,” Egeland said.

The U.N. mission’s statement said the governor of South Darfur, one of the western states scarred by the conflict, had stated his opposition to Egeland’s visit. It also quoted Sudan’s representative to the United Nations in New York as stating that Egeland would not be welcome in Darfur or Khartoum.

Mission spokesman Khaled al-Hitti said it was “unlikely” that the Sudanese government would change its mind about letting Egeland resume his planned itinerary in Darfur and Khartoum.

By Reuters’ Opheera McDoom…

The U.N.’s top humanitarian official in Sudan Jan Egeland said the government barred him on Monday from visiting Darfur to prevent him seeing poor conditions there.

The apparent snub comes as Sudan is under international pressure over violence in Darfur that has made aid deliveries impossible in large parts of its vast western region.

“I’ve been barred from going to south Darfur, west Darfur and also I have been told that I am not welcome in Khartoum,” Egeland, U.N. under-secretary for humanitarian affairs, told Reuters during a visit to southern Sudan.

“I think it is because they (the Sudanese government) don’t want me to see how bad it is in Darfur,” he added.

Tens of thousands have been killed and more than 2 million, mostly non-Arabs, have been driven from their homes during more than three years of rape, killing and pillage in Darfur.

The United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) said it “regrets” the government’s decision not to allow Egeland into Darfur and Khartoum as part of his 5-day visit to assess the humanitarian relief operation in South Sudan and Darfur.

Sudanese government officials were not immediately available for comment.

Egeland described the situation as an “eerie reminder” of 2004, when aid workers were denied access at the point when the situation in Darfur was at its worst.

SECURITY PRECARIOUS

“This is symptomatic of the everyday problems my colleagues face everyday in Darfur, trying to feed nearly 3 million Darfuris to whom we are a lifeline,” he said.

Egeland was speaking in southern Sudan, where he earlier said attacks by Ugandan rebels and a delay in aid payments were threatening the delivery of assistance to millions still suffering after the end of a north-south civil war.

“The security of humanitarian workers is precarious,” Egeland said.

He urged the governments of Uganda, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo to stop attacks by Ugandan rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) on aid workers and civilians.

The cult-like LRA, which has waged a 20-year-long insurgency in northern Uganda, has bases in Sudan and Congo. Humanitarian work in southern Sudan could be paralysed if the LRA is not stopped, Egeland had told journalists.

Former southern Sudanese rebels from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and the Khartoum government signed a peace deal last year to end the north-south civil war, Africa’s longest, which claimed 2 million lives mainly through disease and hunger.

Also by Opheera McDoom (from earlier)…

Ugandan rebel attacks and a delay in aid payments are threatening the delivery of assistance to millions in need in Sudan’s south, a senior United Nations official said on Monday.

Jan Egeland, U.N. under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, is on an Africa tour also scheduled to include a visit to Sudan’s troubled western Darfur region. But that visit was in doubt on Monday due to a disagreement with Khartoum officials.

Speaking in the southern town of Terekeke, Egeland said Ugandan rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) were attacking civilians and aid workers.

“The security of humanitarian workers is precarious,” Egeland said, urging the governments of Uganda, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo to stop the attacks.

The cult-like LRA, which has waged a 20-year-long insurgency in northern Uganda, has bases in Sudan and Congo.

Former southern Sudanese rebels from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Khartoum government signed a peace deal last year to end Africa’s longest civil war.

Hundreds of thousands of southern Sudanese, who fled fighting during a war that claimed 2 million lives, had returned home but were still in danger from the LRA, Egeland said.

Humanitarian work could be paralysed if the LRA was not stopped, he told journalists.

An attack in late March on a U.N. site in Yambio in south Sudan, most likely by LRA rebels, pushed peacekeepers into their first deadly exchange of fire.

Egeland urged the international community to deliver on pledges of up to $4.5 billion to reconstruct Sudan after the civil war.

“As of today, we have only one fifth of what we need this year and the rains are coming,” he said.

The rainy season begins in May and turns dirt tracks into quicksand, making aid delivery by road virtually impossible.

Egeland’s Darfur trip was in doubt on Monday as government officials refused to allow him to visit the rebel-held town of Gereida. That conflict is separate from the former war in south Sudan.

The U.N. official is also due to visit Sudanese refugees in neighbouring Chad.