PRESS BRIEFING BY EMERGENCY RELIEF COORDINATOR
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
9 March 2005
Briefing correspondents this afternoon on his recent visit to the Sudan, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said 2005 was a “make or break” year for the country. There was no other place in the world where so many lives were at stake.
“2005 is really the year of the Sudan”, he said, noting that if all went well, there could be a historic turn for the better for 6 million internally displaced -- five times more than those displaced by the Indian Ocean tsunami. If it went badly, there could be a situation of mass death and suffering for millions.
During his visit, Mr. Egeland said he held talks with high-level government officials in Khartoum, met with SLA (Sudan Liberation Army) and JEM (Justice and Equality Movement) guerrillas in southern Darfur, and saw the SPLM (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement) leadership in Rumbek.
In Darfur, he was struck by how well the humanitarian work was faring, and how the myth was still continuing that nobody was doing anything in Darfur. Nothing could be further from the truth, he said, stating “this is not Rwanda”. There were now 10,000 humanitarian personnel working there, risking their lives everyday. In Rwanda, he said, the international community left shamefully when the people were in their greatest need. The humanitarian community was flocking into Darfur, and so too now was the African Union.
Among the refugee camps he visited in Darfur was Kalma, which had been the symbol of humanitarian neglect last summer. It had been there that people came from all over Darfur to die. Today, the nutrition, health and education situation was better in that camp of more than 100,000 displaced than it was in the general population before the war. He had the same indications from all major camps in Darfur. Unfortunately, he said, that was where the good news stopped in Darfur.
In the areas beyond the camps, the killing continued, and women were systematically abused and raped. Large villages had been torched to the ground as late as December and January, many months after the Government, in its agreement with Secretary-General Kofi Annan, had pledged to stop all attacks against civilians and to rein in the militias. In Labado, where he had visited, 280 huts were burnt down, before and during Christmas, and more than 100 people had been massacred. That had been an operation undertaken by government forces and Janjaweed militias. Janjaweed militias also had attacked Hamada in January, where over 100 had been killed and thousands displaced.
In Labado, he also saw a courageous group of 90 African Union soldiers, who had instilled enough security in that village for 10,000 people to return. That showed that another myth -- that the African Union Mission was impotent -- was wrong. The African Union Mission was a tremendous success, where it had deployed. But rather than 2,000 soldiers and police, there should be 10,000, he said. If there was a sizeable African Union force in place, the killings, gender-based violence and other atrocities would definitely go down dramatically and immediately.
The prospects for Darfur were very bleak, he said, noting that nobody was tilling the land in the countryside. The conflict was paralysing nomads, cattle herdsmen and the farmers. So, instead of having 2 million displaced, there could be 3 or 4 million people to feed in a few months.
The situation in south Sudan, where he had also visited, was very different, he noted, because the political pressure and security elements that were lacking in the Sudan were or would be in place in south Sudan, as a result of the North/South peace agreement. However, the sort of money received for Darfur was not forthcoming for south Sudan. So far, a third of the money needed for Darfur had been received ($261 million out of $691 million), most of that was food and most of that came from the United States. In south Sudan, 5 per cent of the $563 million needed had been received so far. Noting that donors were sitting on the fence, he said peace would not succeed if the money to assist returnees was not received.
While he had returned from south Sudan with hope, the window of opportunity was closing because the rainy season would begin in May, and then it would not be possible to move in that part of the country. Therefore, one dollar received today would be worth twice as much as one dollar received in June, because that would be period when humanitarian personnel would be paralysed, and food drops would have to be done from the air instead of trucking them inside south Sudan.
Asked if the Security Council was an asset or handicap in the current situation, given the entrenched positions of some Council members on the issue of sanctions and the International Criminal Court, Mr. Egeland said that the Council was a major asset, which had to come forward more decisively. The Council being late in 2004 meant that access came too late that year. But when the Council finally “woke up” to the situation in Darfur, the humanitarian community gained access. “Every time we have been able to move, it has been because we have had pressure from the Security Council and others.”
He could not believe that the Council would not now come up with strong pressure on the parties. There should be some sort of sanctions, he stated, saying that, in this day and age, people should not be getting away with mass murder. He hoped there would be a united international front telling the parties that there would be a “big carrot” if they did what they should and agree on a comprehensive peace agreement and respect the ceasefire, and there should be a “big stick” on all of them if they continued to fail their people.
As for whether the African Union forces should have the mandate to use firepower to implement the will of the Council to protect civilians, he said that what had impressed him about the African Union forces was that they were more risk-taking than those in the United Nations. However, their mandate was limited -- they were there to observe and report, and protect themselves and the humanitarian workers. He hoped they would also interpret the mandate in order to defend the civilians that were flocking around them, and the mandate should reflect that. They could use firepower now to defend themselves, and they should also be able to use firepower to defend civilians, in his view.
He added that there was a joint mission taking place with the African Union and the United Nations. It was important now that the one force that was there -- the African Union force -- be strengthened. In that regard, the United Nations, the United States and the European Union could do more to help the African Union deploy. At the same time, the African Union leaders should give more forces, he said, noting that if the Sudan was their number one priority, they should not be so slow. He hoped that countries with large armies would deploy, and do so soon, saying “we needed 10,000 African Union forces yesterday”. The African Union must be set up better to deploy such a force.
Turning to the camps, he said that they were relatively safe inside. The camps were huge because people flocked to them, believing they would be relatively safe inside them. During his visit, he had spoken with women in the camps, who said they had no trust and confidence in security outside the camps, or in government forces. There were few attacks inside the camps, compared to outside. If women went outside the camps, the chances were high that they would be raped or pillaged, or even killed.
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