Sudan Expels U.N. Envoy for Comments on Army

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The United Nation's top envoy to Sudan is being expelled. The government in Khartoum is accusing Jan Pronk of demonstrating "enmity" to the Sudanese army by stating that it has recently suffered heavy losses in Darfur — and that the army's morale is low.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne in Kabul.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep in Washington.

The chief United Nations envoy in Sudan has been ordered out of the country. The government in Khartoum is unhappy with the way that Jan Pronk described the Sudanese army. He said it has recently suffered heavy losses in Darfur and that the army's morale is low.

We're going to get more of this story from NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, who's on the line. And, Ofeibea, this all starts with a blog entry. And who knew that U.N. diplomats were keeping blogs, but there it is. He said these things on the blog and what happened then?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: A very detailed blog, actually, that dates back to October the 14th. And in it, as you said, Jan Pronk, who is after all the top U.N. official in Sudan, said that the Sudanese army had suffered defeat at the hands of rebels in Darfur - a very sensitive issue.

He also said that soldiers were refusing to fight and that some generals had been fired. And it seems that perhaps when the military hierarchy in Sudan got wind of this Web blog entry, they were furious and fired back, speaking to the government and saying Mr. Pronk has overstepped his mandate. We can't allow him to say such things.

Mr. MUSTAFA ISMAIL (Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sudan): It is not his right to comment. His role as personal envoy to the secretary-general should be neutral to help solving problems rather than creating problems.

INSKEEP: That's the Sudanese minister for foreign affairs. Now, Ofeibea, this all happens while the government in Khartoum is arguing over peacekeepers in Darfur. They're resisting U.N. peacekeepers and it does make you wonder, are they looking for reasons to be unhappy with the United Nations right now?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, they've had a very, very prickly relationship with the Jan Pronk. He's been there for two years as Kofi Annan, the secretary general's, special representative. And he has been championing this U.N. force to replace an African Union force in Darfur which is completely overstretched under assault and cannot protect the population, because ultimately we're talking about what Washington has called genocide in Darfur over the past three years.

And Jan Pronk has been instrumental in trying to push for a U.N. force. But the Sudanese government, as you heard the foreign affairs minister there, Samani Al-Wasiyla, the president and the army are saying absolutely not. That would be an invasion of our sovereignty and we cannot allow that to happen.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, is the situation in Darfur getting even worse?

QUIST-ARCTON: Absolutely. There was a peace deal between the government and one main rebel faction back in May. We're talking five months now. But of course some other Darfur rebels factions did not agree. So fighting has escalated. This means that civilians, as ever, are suffering. We're talking about 200,00 already dead; 2.5 million have been displaced.

The situation in Darfur is getting worse and worse. So this expulsion may even complicate matters.

INSKEEP: Okay, that's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton speaking to us this morning from Johannesburg, South Africa. Ofeibea, thanks.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

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