The United States Monday voiced serious concern over the refusal of the Sudanese government to allow United Nations emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland to visit Darfur. The decision comes amid new violence in the western Sudanese region.
The State Department says the Sudanese decision to bar Jan Egeland from Darfur is deeply disturbing and of serious concern, and says it will raise the issue with the Khartoum government and other concerned parties as a matter of urgency.
Egeland, the U.N.'s top humanitarian coordinator, is currently in southern Sudan assessing international relief efforts in that region. He sought permission from Sudanese authorities to go to Darfur but was denied, prompting a formal protest from the United Nations mission in Sudan.
At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said the motives for the Sudanese decision are hard to fathom given the degree of need for outside assistance in the region:
"There is a crying humanitarian need to address in Darfur, and that's why it is so hard to understand why a government would refuse to allow a senior U.N. official responsible for providing relief to a region to help its own citizens," said Adam Ereli. "This certainly sends the wrong signal about where the government of Sudan stands on the issue of humanitarian relief and cooperation with the international community."
The spokesman said the United States would be in touch with the United Nations on the issue and with Sudanese authorities through the U.S. embassy in Khartoum.
Egeland, who says he has also been barred from visiting Khartoum, has told reporters he thinks Sudanese authorities do not want him to see the latest wave of what he terms "ethnic cleansing" against black African villagers in southern Darfur.
The Norwegian U.N. diplomat said recent attacks by pro-government "Janjaweed" militiamen in the area have caused thousands of people to flee their homes.
He also said he had been told by Sudanese officials that a Darfur visit by him would be too sensitive because of the recent uproar over cartoon caricatures published in Europe of the Prophet Mohammed, but he dismissed it as just an excuse.
The Darfur conflict erupted three years ago when local rebels took up arms against the central government.
Khartoum authorities responded by aiding Arab militiamen, who mounted a scorched-earth campaign in the region. The conflict has left nearly 200,000 people dead and displaced at least two million more.
The Sudanese government has been resisting international efforts to expand and reconfigure a 7,000 - member African Union observer mission in Darfur, making it a full-fledged U.N. peacekeeping force.
Spokesman Ereli defended the United States' level of engagement on Darfur, saying it is an issue senior administration officials work on "every single day."
A senior diplomat who spoke to reporters here said despite the latest surge in Darfur violence it is not of the same magnitude as it was in 2004, when former Secretary of State Colin Powell termed it genocide.
He also reiterated the United States does not intend to contribute ground troops to the envisaged U.N. force, saying that would create more problems than it would solve and that the answer to the crisis is concerted international engagement.