Analysis: U.N. official laments Darfur aid

By ISAAC KARDON  |  Nov. 22, 2006 at 10:00 AM
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UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- After leaving Sudan with some very harsh words, the U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator has issued a forceful call to action on the deplorable conditions in Darfur.

Speaking Tuesday at his office at U.N. World Headquarters in New York, Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland decried the persistent strife in Sudan and took the international community to task for its weak response.

"Many more people have become armed to the teeth in these recent weeks in preparation for new battles in which the civilian population will inevitability be caught in the crossfire," he told United Press International. "We see a repeat of the buildup of 2003 and 2004 when, really, Darfur was burning. And we see that the relative quiet of 2005 is definitely over."

The Norwegian humanitarian relief chief, who leaves his post at year's end, has made several visits to the embattled nation and rallied international concern for what the United States has called "genocide" in the country's Darfur region.

"There seems to be a deliberate attempt to inject suffering on the civilian population," said Egeland, whose estimates of the scope of the crisis have grown alarmingly since he first visited and publicized the conflict two and a half years ago.

Before leaving the Sudanese capital of Khartoum early this week, Egeland held a news conference Saturday in which he described a worsening state of affairs, pegging the number of people in need of relief aid at four million.

Despite his consistent calls for intervention and relief from the United Nations, the situation in Sudan has deteriorated steadily. Current figures have the death toll at more than 200,000 with an estimated 2.5 million displaced since the start of the ethnically motivated warfare in early 2003.

Egeland is not expected to mince words when he confronts the Security Council Wednesday, where he will likely excoriate that body's inaction as well as what he sees to be a paltry overall U.N. effort in Sudan.

Tentative approval has been struck on a deal to replace the ineffectual African Union forces -- only 7,000 soldiers with generally poor training and organization -- with a beefed up force of 20,000 joint AU and U.N. troops.

The existing force was described in The Times Online by a senior AU officer as a "laughing stock".

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir had been both reluctant and overtly hostile to earlier overtures, but last week agreed in principle to the "hybrid" force. Their full approval is necessary, but as they continue to send mixed signals, it remains to be seen if they will resist deployment.

At one point last spring, Egeland himself was banned from visiting the Darfur region by a secretive Sudanese government.

Accordingly, the undersecretary will likely criticize not only the United Nations' efforts, but also those of the Sudanese, Libyan, and other local governments whose commitment to peace and stability has been called into question. Egeland issued them a stern rebuke in his Saturday statement, saying "national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity."

As might be expected in perpetually strife-torn Africa, the regional dynamics have not helped much. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, frequently an agent provocateur in other arenas, has added fuel to the fire by calling the intentions of the international community into question.

"Reject any foreign intervention," he told a meeting of Sudanese officials and members of a Darfur rebel faction. He added: "Western countries and America are not busying themselves out of sympathy for the Sudanese people or for Africa, but for oil and for the return of colonialism to the African continent."

A great deal of the humanitarian outrage surrounding the Sudanese situation has developed from a perceived lack of interest from the developed world, but it is relevant to note that there have been internal obstacles to surmount as well.

"I am now afraid that too much time will be lost on an international tug-of-war of words relating to the composition of the force or the intricacies of an AU-United Nations relationship when people are dying every single day for the lack of basic physical protection," Egeland told UPI. "Let's cut through it, get an effective force immediately."

His more poignant comments, however, were made in response to the horrific violence, widespread starvation, refugee crisis and political instability that have led the conflict to be described by many as a full-blown genocide.

"How can anybody shoot a 2-year old girl through the neck? How can any man do that deliberately? This is terror. I do not know any word for it; it is defined as terror," said Egeland, referring to a visit to a hospital in western Darfur that led him to describe the situation as one of "inexplicable terror."

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