Sen. Obama Visits Darfur Refugees in Chad

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama traveled to Chad on Saturday to speak with refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan. The situation in Darfur has deteriorated since a peace deal in May fractured the rebels and increased violence.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This weekend Senator Barack Obama was in eastern Chad, where he visited with refugees from the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan. The Illinois Democrat was on a two week fact-finding tour of Africa. He stopped in Chad to highlight the worsening situation in Darfur. Despite a peace agreement signed in May, serious fighting has resumed between Sudanese government forces and Darfur rebels. Michael Cavanaugh reports.

MICHAEL CAVANAUGH reporting:

After a morning visiting with refugees from Darfur at a camp in eastern Chad, Barack Obama called for the U.S. to take the lead in bringing U.N. peacekeepers to the Darfur region.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): I think what struck me was how anxious and eager the people in the camps are to get the U.N. protective force on the ground. I think there's a sense that without that U.N. protective force, they will never be able to go back home. And they continue to feel vulnerable because the border is so porous.

CAVANAUGH: Obama's trip coincided with a U.N. Security Counsel resolution on Thursday. It called for the dispatch of over 20,000 peacekeepers into Darfur to replace the 7,000 African Union troops now struggling to keep the peace there. But under the resolution, the U.N. would only send troops to Darfur only with the blessing of the Sudanese government, and Sudan has rejected this and its president, Omar al-Bashir, has called the U.N. resolution illegal.

Instead, according to the African Union, the Sudanese government is sending more soldiers into Darfur and several days ago began a military offensive just north of the Darfur town of El Fasher. Sudanese troops pushed rebel groups back from three villages. The A.U. reported at least 20 civilians have been killed and at least a thousand more displaced from their homes.

These people will join the more than two million citizens of Darfur currently living in camps around the region. In May the Sudanese government signed a peace agreement with some rebel groups, and President Bashir has vowed to crush the rebel movements that did not sign. Those rebels are mobilizing for a long war.

Tajadine Bashir Neum(ph) is representative of one of those groups, the Justice and Equality Movement.

Mr. TAJADINE BESHIR NEUM (Justice and Equality Movement): We expect it will be very intense and very fierce fighting. This fighting will continue. (Unintelligible) bombard the areas, but our people are ready to die because they know they're dying for a future where the rights for people of Darfur will definitely come.

CAVANAUGH: Bashir Neum claims that those rebels that did sign the accord acted against the wishes of the Darfur people.

Mr. BESHIR NEUM: The peace has been rejected by the people of Darfur, by the refugees, unless you have a reasonable peace, a peace that will solve or will address at least some of the causes of the fight, but not a peace that will make people go back to these places.

CAVANAUGH: But as Senator Barack Obama finished his visit with the refugees in Chad, he stressed the need to get some kind of peace quickly. If we wait too much longer, he said, I think it's fair to say the people we have seen today and the people in Darfur will be in an even worse situation then they are right now. In Abeche, Chad I'm Michael Cavanaugh for NPR News.

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