Rice in Sudan Expected to Push for End to Darfur Violence
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Sudan visiting refugees in war-torn Darfur. Earlier she held talks with the government in Khartoum, where she demanded action to end the massacres and other violence that have driven more than two million people from their homes. NPR's Jackie Northam is traveling with the secretary.
Jackie, the US has described what has been happening in Darfur as genocide. Did Secretary Rice maintain that line with the Sudanese today?
JACKIE NORTHAM reporting:
She did. She met with the foreign minister, she met with the vice president, and she made it very clear that there were--she wanted the violence in Darfur to stop, because everything else--if they want to lift sanctions against Sudan, anything like that--it all depends on stopping the violence here. So we're uncertain if she actually said the word `genocide' in the private conversations. She did say it the other day, though, that what happened here and what is continuing to happen here in Darfur is genocide.
WERTHEIMER: Any reassurance from the Sudanese about ending the alleged government support for the Janjaweed militias?
NORTHAM: What she got from President Bashir is that, you know, there are conditions on this. First of all, they would like the rebels in Darfur to lay down their arms as well as the Janjaweed. The other thing is, he said that the--you know, the Sudanese government would like to disarm the militias, the Janjaweed, but it can't because its planes are grounded.
WERTHEIMER: The UN says the number of attacks has diminished because the militias have basically run out of villages to burn. Are you hearing the same kind of thing from the US officials?
NORTHAM: Senior State Department officials with us are saying exactly that. However, at the same time, they're saying the attacks against women remain disconcertingly high, and this is women in all the camps here that go out to get water or go out to get wood for fires and that type of thing. There's continual violence against them--rapes, attacks, beatings, that type of thing. State Department officials also say, though, since African Union monitors have come into this region and they go out with the women and that, that the attacks have decreased, but they're still, again, very, very high.
WERTHEIMER: Jackie, where are you now?
NORTHAM: I'm actually in Abu Shouk. It's one of the largest refugee camps in Darfur. Condoleezza Rice is meeting with women's groups here. She's meeting with African Union members. In some ways, it's sort of a show camp. It's closest to the runway here, so her large jet can get in here. But unfortunately, we're not seeing the camps that are just scattered all over this vast region of Darfur.
WERTHEIMER: Jackie, I understand that you and the other reporters who are traveling with the Secretary of State had something of a run-in with Sudanese officials back in Khartoum. What happened?
NORTHAM: Well, it did get very, very ugly. There was supposed to be press availability for the meeting with Secretary Rice and President Bashir, and what happened at one point was a television correspondent started asking President Bashir, you know, why are you allowing these killings to go on in Darfur? Why are you still supporting the Janjaweed, the militia? And at that point, she was grabbed, microphones were ripped out. It got quite ugly, and there became questions about, you know, freedom of the press, and the Sudanese officials saying, `We don't have it here. You know, would you be able to go ask your president questions?' And we all said, `Well, yes, actually.'
So it did get very, very ugly. After that, we were due to fly out here to Darfur. Secretary Rice got on the aircraft, came back to the press section, and she was furious. She said she demanded an apology from the Sudanese government before we arrived in Darfur, and, in fact, we did get it just as we were touching down here from the foreign minister.
WERTHEIMER: Jackie, thanks very much.
NORTHAM: Thank you, Linda.
WERTHEIMER: NPR's Jackie Northam reporting from a refugee camp in Darfur.
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