Sunday, March 25, 2007

Soldiers bar U.N. official from Darfur refugee camp

Source: CNN.

KASSAB, Sudan (AP) -- Sudanese soldiers barred the U.N. humanitarian chief on Saturday from a Darfur refugee camp whose residents have been raped and attacked by gunmen suspected of belonging to pro-government militias.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon failed, meanwhile, to persuade Egypt to push Sudan's leader to accept a U.N. peacekeeping mission in the region.

The convoy carrying humanitarian chief John Holmes was halted at a checkpoint about a mile outside the Kassab refugee camp, and he was told he lacked the proper papers for a visit there.

"I'm frustrated, annoyed, but it's not atypical of what happens here," Holmes told journalists traveling with him. He said he had obtained all the necessary clearances from the government in Khartoum.

Other U.N. officials working in Darfur said that aid workers and U.N. staff members were regularly blocked from doing their work at army checkpoints, and that Sudanese authorities had recently confiscated costly satellite gear from one convoy.

The soldiers at the checkpoint briefly prevented a car carrying journalists from leaving after Holmes turned back. The journalists were allowed to leave only after the troops confiscated a videotape from a U.N. television cameraman.

The Sudanese army spokesman, Sawarmy Khaled Taat, initially said he believed there had been a mixup and that the U.N. had not obtained the proper permission for Holmes' visit.

But later Saturday, Sudanese authorities in El Fasher, capital of North Darfur, apologized, saying the incident was an individual mistake by Sudanese military intelligence personnel manning the checkpoint at Kassab, home to more than 25,000 refugees in a region under tight control of the janjaweed militia and government forces.

Holmes accepted the apology, the U.N. said.

In need of aid are some 4 million people in Darfur caught in the midst of fighting between rebels, the government and the pro-government janjaweed. More than 200,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million displaced in four years of fighting, and the Arab janjaweed are accused of widespread atrocities against ethnic African civilians.

Ban, who is in Egypt on a Mideast tour, said he had asked President Hosni Mubarak during a morning meeting to press Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to accept the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Mubarak did not comply with the request.

Aboul Gheit said talks were needed between al-Bashir's government and rebels who were not part of a peace agreement signed last year with another rebel group.

"Without getting them together in one agreement, any talks over international forces cannot be crystallized," Aboul Gheit said.

The United Nations has failed to persuade Sudan to accept the deployment of a "hybrid" force of 22,000 U.N. and African Union troops.

Al-Bashir reneged on a November agreement to accept the UN-AU force and claimed last month that U.N. troops were not needed because the 7,000 AU troops already in Darfur can maintain order.

Egypt has a small military force with the AU in Darfur.

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