Tensions Mount Between U.N., Sudan Government

The Sudanese government has ordered top U.N. envoy Jan Pronk out of the country after he reported some of the government's military failures against Darfur rebel groups on his blog. BBC reporter Jonah Fisher talks with Alex Chadwick about the deteriorating relations between the U.N. and Sudan.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. After the spinach scare, more people now want their food grown closer to home. We'll hear about the blossoming local food movement later on in the program. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick.

First, to news from Sudan and the crisis in the Darfur area. The government in the capital of Khartoum has ordered the chief U.N. envoy - this is a Dutch diplomat named Jan Pronk to leave the country. Mr. Pronk wrote in his personal blog, last week, that rebel forces in Darfur have beaten back government troops in two recent battles. The Sudan government says Mr. Pronk is an enemy now and must leave.

Jonah Fisher is in Khartoum for the BBC. Jonah, has Mr. Pronk left Sudan yet?

Mr. JONAH FISHER (BBC): On Sunday he was given 72 hours to leave the country, but it looks like he'll be leaving much, much before that and he'll be heading straight to New York for consultations with the Secretary-General. But certainly, no one here in Sudan is expecting Mr. Pronk to come back. The Sudanese government have made is quite clear that they consider his mission here, over.

CHADWICK: You know, even a spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says Mr. Pronk should not be writing these things in his personal blog. What gives here?

Mr. FISHER: Well, this isn't the first time that Mr. Pronk's personal blog has got him into trouble. And Mr. Pronk has been told before by officials in New York to stop writing his blog. That it had become something of an embarrassment. But he persisted all the same and he persisted with extremely frank comments about his analysis of the situation in Darfur.

That's why when Mr. Pronk arrives in New York - probably later today or tomorrow - he won't be guaranteed a sympathetic reception. Some people will be saying to him I told you so. You should have been writing these sort of comments on the Internet.

CHADWICK: Well, let's review what he said. He said there were these two recent battles, and we've had independent reporting that indeed those occurred and that government troops did suffer some losses. He writes that the government continues to deal with the Janjaweed, that's the Arab militia that's been terrorizing the people who live in Darfur in extremely brutal ways. They've created two and a half million refugees. Maybe 200,000 killed in this conflict. There's nothing inaccurate in what's he's saying, is there?

Mr. FISHER: Not really, no. The - what Mr. Pronk is saying is being backed by journalists who've been in the area. I personally have been in the area in the last month and have seen very similar things to what Mr. Pronk is talking about. I think what they're so upset about is they regard this as stepping outside of his role as the head of the United Nations in Sudan, that it isn't up to him to be providing this sort of information about the fate of the Sudanese military. For the last six weeks they've been attempting to achieve a military solution, pursuing rebel movements, and really that seems to have achieved very little apart from displacing tens of thousands more people from their homes in Darfur and driving them out towards camps.

CHADWICK: There was a very powerful piece last night on 60 Minutes, which included probably illegal incursion into the Darfur area by an American journalist and a former U.S. diplomat in the region. That diplomat said he thinks that the U.S. government is actually complicit because it relies on the government of Sudan for information in the war on terror and so it's not as tough with Sudan as it should be. Do people in Khartoum believe that's true?

Mr. FISHER: Well, the relationship between Sudan and the United States is a very complex one. On the surface, the United States shuns Sudan. It regards it as a state sponsor of terrorism, there are American sanctions on Sudan. But on the other hand, there's an acknowledgement that the United States needs Sudan's help. Of course, Sudan has, in the past, hosted terrorists such as Osama bin Laden and there are still people here who have links to terrorist organizations.

But on the surface - and certainly in the public domain - it's a hostile relationship. Sudan regularly denounces the United States and its intentions towards Sudan. And in return, the United States have adopted a fairly hostile attitude to Sudan, in trying to persuade it to accept the United Nations peacekeepers in Darfur.

CHADWICK: The government has rejected the presence of those peacekeepers and now it's thrown out the U.N. envoy. You wonder who's going to be there to watch things.

Mr. FISHER: Well, that's a very good point. And the situation in Darfur now, is there are very few people - few independent people in the key areas. The African Union - who are the current peacekeeping mission there - have just 7,000 men on the ground across a vast area. And those men are largely denied access to any of the sensitive areas in Darfur where military activity is taking place.

There's a vast aid operation in Darfur as well, but all the aid workers have had to pull out of those most dangerous areas because so many of them are getting killed and caught up in the violence. So we're in a situation now, where there are large parts of Darfur which are physically off limits to all international organizations.

There are just the rebels and the Sudanese Army and Militia operating there, so it's very difficult to say exactly what's going on there. We just have the stories of the people who've fled and they're quite horrific stories of villages being bombed and militias going in and clearing out everything on the ground.

CHADWICK: The BBC's Jonah Fisher in Khartoum, Sudan. Jonah, thank you.

Mr. FISHER: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: And there's more coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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