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Annan Witnesses 'Heart-Wrenching' Dafur

In Darfur, Annan Witnesses 'Heart-Wrenching' Situation of Displaced Sudanese

New York, May 28 2005 8:00PM

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today toured a camp for displaced persons in the war-ravaged Darfur region of Sudan, where he was greeted enthusiastically by thousands of people who gathered peacefully to convey their desire for a more secure existence.

In the southern town of Nyala, tens of thousands of people lined both sides of the road leading to Kalma camp to greet the Secretary-General. Women ululated, children smiled and waved, and men held up banners, including one that read, "Yes, yes for talk, war criminal people to ICC," a reference to the
International Criminal Court, the world's only permanent forum for holding individuals responsible for mass crimes.

Another sign said simply: "Welcome, no life without protection."

More than 100,000 people are living at the Kalma camp, having been forced to flee by attacks on their villages and towns.

Recent disturbances have limited the access of relief workers to the camp, where the Secretary-General heard first-hand accounts of continued insecurity and rapes of women and girls.

Mr. Annan would later describe what he had seen during his trip to Darfur as "heart-wrenching" during an airport press encounter upon returning to Khartoum from Darfur in the late afternoon.

While in Kalma, he heard from a camp leader who spoke of recent deadly attacks and then appealed for protection from being detained for having voiced his concerns. The Secretary-General immediately asked for -- and received -- assurances a Sudanese minister traveling with him that the man would not suffer retribution, according to a UN spokeswoman.

If the Kalma camp offered a glimpse of the problems still plaguing Darfur, the Secretary-General's next stop, in Labado, provided some cause for hope. There, roughly 60,000 of the town's inhabitants had fled violence and attacks last December, but half have recently begun to return under the protection of the African Union (AU) for
there.

Some 30,000 people have returned to the leveled town -- which Mr. Annan reached by helicopter -- to restart their lives.

In Labado, the Secretary-General heard a briefing from the area's AU commander, who has provided forces to ensure security for the returnees. Their discussions were dominated by concern over the great need to improve security in the area -- the same subject covered by Mr. Annan in Kalma Camp.

The Secretary-General walked around the devastated town strewn with the remains of burnt and gutted mud huts. One woman standing in front of a roofless mud hut where she plans to restart her life talked about the attack that had forced her family to flee and said she still lived in fear.

Prior to leaving Darfur, the Secretary-General said his trip had provided a "useful" opportunity to witness the situation first-hand. "I've seen things on the ground for myself and I've had the opportunity to thank the Wali" -- or governor, Haj Aba El-Manna Idriss -- "for the reconciliation efforts that he is doing here, bringing the tribes together, working with them so they can live in harmony and working with the African Union troops and the police to ensure security for the IDPs (internally displaced persons)."

Mr. Annan emphasized the need to ensure security not only for humanitarian relief efforts "but also for eventual reconstruction and recovery." He added that the international community is hoping for peace in Sudan "and we should really press hard at the political level in Abuja to get the long-term agreement that is required."

Back in Khartoum, the Secretary-General said his talks with Mr. Idriss had covered a range of issues. "In my discussions with him, I summed up that we have four problems: security, political, humanitarian and development," he told reporters at the airport.

Mr. Annan added that he had emphasized the importance of providing security for the IDPs, "security for us to gain access to the needy, and security for the people to be able to return to their villages and begin to pick

On the issue of justice, he said: "We also needed their understanding that those who commit crimes, those who are attacking the same people should be dealt with."

He added that his appeal was met with understanding, by the Wali, who said "they are setting up courts and they have arrested people that they are going to put on trial." UN human rights training was also discussed.
"I also encouraged him to press ahead with his reconciliation efforts," the Secretary-General said, emphasizing that local efforts to achieve peace will reinforce peace talks in Abuja.

Mr. Annan repeatedly stressed that peace will provide other benefits to Sudan. "I noticed some economic activity in Khartoum, but if we were to get true peace, investors would come," he said. "We will have a real opportunity and real potential here. And I suspect that the leaders here are beginning to agree with that."

Asked whether the Government had done enough to improve security, the Secretary-General said it "realizes that we need to do more because the situation is not acceptable."

On the AU force, Mr. Annan said that it was doing a competent job. "They think they are making a difference and, indeed, they are. They understand what is required."

Asked to describe the situation, he said it was "heart-wrenching."

"What we need to do is to create an environment, a security environment, that will encourage the people to go back home. To go back and plant, to go back and pick up their lives and begin to recover. We don't want to see a situation where they are in camps for years and years and years as we have seen in other situations. And so it is very urgent that we take the right steps and ensure that we get them back to their villages."

Mr. Annan also met with Sudanese Vice-President Taha and Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismael, and later said they had agreed on "the urgency to re-energize the peace negotiations in Darfur, accepting the fact that that is the real means of bringing long-term stability."

Looking forward to talks scheduled for 10 June in
Secretary-General said delegations must attend "not only prepared with their own positions, but prepared to remain there and resolve the conflict before they get away."

Sunday, the Secretary-General is traveling to southern Sudan.

ENDS

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