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Distrust Between Sudanese Government, UN Agencies Hampers Aid

  • Raymond Thibodeaux

There appears to be growing antagonism between the Sudanese government and U.N. and Western aid agencies. The rift often makes it difficult for aid workers to deliver food and medicine to many of the nearly two million people displaced by violence in the country's volatile west.

The Sudanese government has accused the United Nations and many nongovernmental relief organizations of bias in their dealings with the humanitarian situation in Sudan's Darfur region.

Newspapers in Khartoum, Sudan's capital, often criticize UN and Western aid agencies for exaggerating human rights abuses by Sudanese authorities while downplaying similar abuses by soldiers from Darfur's two main rebel groups.

Hussain Karshoum heads Darfur's humanitarian affairs commission, the relief arm of the Sudanese government. Mr. Karshoum oversees relief efforts in dozens of camps near Nyala for tens of thousands of people displaced by the Darfur crisis. He says there is distrust on both sides.

"The UN agencies are very skeptical about any act that is carried by the Sudan government," he said. "Vice versa from the Sudan perspective on the UN acts, there is always an allegation that the UN agencies are waging war against the Sudan government and have a very destructive role."

Jan Pronk
UN envoy to Sudan Jan Pronk faced a hostile Sudanese press at a recent news conference, where he was accused of skewing his reports to the UN Security Council on the Darfur crisis with the aim of spurring the council to impose sanctions against Sudan.

"The United Nations has been dealing with the issue of Darfur only for political maneuvers and to impose sanctions on the government rather than tackle the issue for the humanitarian and social perspective," he said. "Why is the UN raising the flag of violations and tarnishing the image of the country?"

"The UN was late here, too late," responded Mr. Pronk. " You had a major war between the north and the south and the United Nations did not deal with it. Then you got the Darfur violence starting early in 2003 and the UN was not involved until the 27th of July. What the UN was doing was giving food, trying to bring water, trying to bring sanitation."

The Khartoum government allegedly has arrested scores of aid workers, almost exclusively local hires for Western relief agencies, for spying and other offenses. On a recent visit to the police headquarters in Nyala, VOA learned that at least two Sudanese aid workers for Western aid agencies had been arrested for spying. One man, who worked for Doctors Without Borders in Nyala, said he'd spent at least 40 days in the jail and has yet to be tried.

AU peacekeeper watches over refugees at Darfur camp.
One of the reasons aid workers run afoul of the Sudanese government is that they are often the first to report human rights abuses by police officers or Arab and rebel militias in and around the region's vast network of refugee camps.

When fighting broke out recently between rebels and government backed Arab fighters in the Darfurian city of Tawila, aid workers were among the first to alert the African Union peacekeepers.

The nearly two years of violence in Darfur, which the Bush administration has called genocide, has claimed more than 70,000 lives and driven two million people out of their homes.

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