February 16: A UN special envoy on human rights met Sudanese officials for talks on government abuses, including charges of slavery. Sudanese justice minister Ali Mohammed Osman Yassin urged the envoy, Leonardo Franco, to bring “fairness and objectivity in his reporting,” the state-run Omdurman Radio reported.
17: Democratic Republic of Congo (DCR) president Laurent Kabila arrived in Khartoum for an unannounced visit and discussions with president Omar el-Bashir, a press report said. President Kabila, whose country has since last August been gripped by a conflict between his forces and a mainly Tutsi-initiated rebellion that began in the east, went into private talks with Gen. Bashir, the Al-Rai al-Aam daily said.
19: UN special representative for children and armed conflict Mr Olara Otunnu has set off for tour of Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi, lasting almost three weeks. Mr Otunnu told a United Nations news conference that he would visit Rwanda before heading to Burundi. After spending a day and a half in Nairobi, he would then head to Khartoum on March 2. From Khartoum, Mr Otunnu would tour rebel-held southern Sudan for a week
19: The owner of a pharmaceuticals plant flattened by US missiles in August wants the Sudanese government to return control of the site to his company. Khartoum newspapers quoted Saudi-based Saleh Idris, owner of the Shifa plant, as saying he was unhappy that the government was still controlling access to the site and arranging visits to it without informing the company.
22: A malaria epidemic in Sudan is the result of last year's US missile attack on the country's main pharmaceutical factory, the foreign minister said. “We have an acute shortage in malaria-treatment drugs and other drugs,” foreign minister Mustafa Osman Ismail said in a statement to the official Sudan News Agency.
27: A meningitis epidemic has killed 175 people in Sudan since December, with more than 1,000 cases counted, the World Health organisation has said. “WHO is very worried,” spokesman Mr Gregory Harl said, adding that the incidence of meningitis in Sudan represented fully half of all cases reported in Africa since January.
March 2: Sudan and the DRC have denied that Khartoum had troops in the DRC following reports that a “Sudanese soldier” had been captured by the Congolese rebels and taken to Uganda. “The government of Sudan didn't and will not deploy troops in DRC. It's support to this friendly neighbour is purely political,” Sudan embassy spokesman in Nairobi, Al Mansour Balad said.
2: The death toll from an attack at Akoch Payam village in northern Bahr el Ghazal has risen to 35. Seventy-five 75 people were abducted, many are still missing , 200 houses burned and hundreds of livestock looted.
2: WFP is facing critical shortages of non-cereal food for Sudan for the March-December 1999 period in its latest Sudan update. “If these commodities are not made available in the near future, the gained improvements in the nutritional situation will be reversed, the report warned.
March 3: Many people died of hunger in parts of southern Sudan last year partly because a UN agency that co-ordinates relief in the war-torn region bungled the job, an aid group has said. OLS, an umbrella for about 40 UN and private aid agencies, failed to adequately assess the needs of the people and to control food distribution, Doctors Without Borders said in a report.
3: The executive director of UNICEF and WFP together with the UN Emergency Relief Co-ordinator have said they were disappointed over MSF-France's “inaccurate and unbalanced criticism” of OLS and its efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Sudan. In a joint statement, they said that in 1998 , OLS members worked to turn around famine and reduce malnutrition rates from a high 45-50 per cent to 10-15 per cent in most affected areas.
3: Fifteen OLS agencies have started distributing about 4,000mt of seeds in southern Sudan with a view to fostering self-reliance and reducing dependence on food aid, UNICEF said. In a statement dated February 28, 1999, UNICEF said the programme was targeting 500,000 households in Bahr el Ghazal, Upper Nile and Equatoria. UNICEF is providing 1,150mt of seeds for the programme, it said.
5: A Sudanese government warplane bombed a rebel-held town in southern Sudan and extensively damaged a hospital, an aid agency said. A lone bomber dropped 24 bombs in Yei, about 160 kilometres southwest of Juba, which is the largest southern town still controlled by the government, said Dan Effie, a spokesman for Norwegian People's Aid (NPA), which operates the hospital.
7: The NPA agency has vowed not to close a hospital in south Sudan despite repeated aerial bombing by the Sudanese government. The NPA hospital at Yei was so badly damaged in the last attack it will have to remain closed for around two months, Mr Halle Jorn Hanssen, NPA secretary general said.
7: The SPLA has decided to release two Swiss and two Sudanese Red Cross workers detained by the SPLA. The SPLA spokesman in Nairobi, Mr Samson Kwaje, said that two other Sudanese citizens who accompanied the Red Cross workers when they were detained would stay in SPLA custody.
8: Sudan's president has reshuffled his cabinet, bringing four new faces into the government, the official news agency SUNA reported. President Bashir appointed chief spokesman of the army, Lt. Gen Abdul Rahman Sir Al-Khatim, as the new minister of national defence.
8: Gunmen in southern Sudan have offered to free some of the people they abducted last month, including two Swiss citizens working for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Sudanese news agency, SUNA, has said. The armed men, currently negotiating with the ICRC, said they would release the two Swiss nationals and two Sudanese Red Crescent employees but keep holding three local government employees, the agency said.
8: Sudan has told the United States that it was not involved in an attack last week on the vacant US embassy building in Khartoum, a Khartoum newspapers reported. The Akhbar al Youm daily, quoting an “executive source”, said Khartoum had told the US diplomatic mission to Sudan, based in Nairobi, Kenya, that it was “not connected” with the shooting on the US embassy building in the Sudanese capital by “anonymous” gunmen.
9: The SPLA and southern factions loyal to the Khartoum regime have agreed to observe a cease-fire, an official of one of the factions said. Teny Youk of the United Democratic Salvation Front (UDSF) and a state minister in an interim governing body, said SPLA leader Col. John Garang himself gave instructions for the accord, calling for a comprehensive cease-fire across south Sudan, to be signed.
10: The Sudanese government has sent at least 1,000 recruits to war fronts where its forces are fighting the SPLA and its allies in the opposition National Democratic Alliance. president Bashir attended a ceremony for the departing convoys of popular Defence Force fighters, a paramilitary force formed in November 1989 to fight alongside the regular armed forces against the SPLA..
12: Rich nations warned all sides in Sudan's long-running civil war that relief aid could dry up unless they made faster steps towards peace. Officials from 20 nations, the UN and the European Union met for a day in Oslo and urged talks to settle a conflict between rebels and the Islamist government that began in 1983. ”The participants voiced their concern that the current aid flow from the donor community to Sudan would be difficult to maintain in the long run.
13: The government of Sudan and rebels in the south of the country have agreed to stop using anti-personnel land mines in a civil war now entering its 16th year, a senior UN official said. Mr Otunnu, president Bashir and Col. Garang agreed to his proposal to end use of the mines.
14: Unicef has proposed to the government of Sudan, a plan of action to combat slavery, considering that efforts by Non-Governmental Organisations to buy back slaves from traffickers, was not the way to stamp out the scourge. Last month, Sudan invited Unicef to investigate the phenomenon of slavery on its territory, following widespread reports of the Swiss-based NGO, Christian Solidarity International, buying back thousands of slaves in order to give them back their freedom.
15: Since 1995, CSI and more recently Christian Solidarity Worldwide have been buying the freedom of slaves in Sudan. The Unicef and a number of other people have raised serious objections against this activity, arguing that this fuels the market, promotes slave raids and continues the vicious circle.
UN strategy under fire
The way the UN and the international community have handled the protracted war in Sudan is increasing being criticised for being ineffective and begging for major changes to bring forth a lasting solution.
Among the latest to voice their concern over a strategy that has miserably failed to end what is believed to be the world's longest war, is the Inter-Church Coalition on Africa (ICCAF), a consortium of Canadian organisations working on/in Sudan.
Among ICCAF's affiliate members are Emmanuel International, Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quarkers), Christian Reformed World Relief Committee and Freedom Quest International.
In a document entitled “Cries from the heart: Who will stop the Genocide in Sudan?, ICCAF urges the UN to take a significantly more pro-active political role on Sudan, which would require, inter alia, a full time Special Representative of the Secretary General.
“What is needed now is focused political action by the international community, led by the UN Security Council,'' states the ICCAF document, which then poses: “If international action can make a difference in Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo then why not in Sudan?''
The report was officially released in Ottawa, Canada, on February 24, 1999, just three months since some four large relief organisations opted to advocate for a more practical approach to tackling the Sudanese civil war. Representatives of CARE International, Oxfam, Doctors without Borders and Save the Children, all of whom have projects in Sudan, towards the end of last October, met the Security Council members at Sweden's UN mission to press their campaign.
“Humanitarian assistance alone, in a political vacuum, will not solve Sudan's problems nor stop the next famine. What we need is the political will to end the war,” said Guy Tousignant, secretary general of Care International.
Specifically, the four agencies called on the UN to “generate a forceful and positive lobby for peace that would include shuttle diplomacy, followed by summit level meetings and a full time special representative for UN Secretary –General Kofi Annan in the area''.
The ICCAF paper asserts that some of the worst forms of human rights abuses in the world today occur in Sudan.
The abuses, the report points out, take different forms including genocide, economic and social isolation, slavery, forced starvation, rape, displacement and arbitrary imprisonment.
The report notes: “The Government of Sudan fundamentally and blatantly discriminates- often with unspeakable brutality- against African, non-Muslim Sudanese and Muslim Sudanese who resist the government's Islamist ideological orientation.”
It adds: “Sudanese rebel groups such as the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), are also responsible for serious human rights violations, but the principal perpetrator of abuses is the government.”
The ICCAF document further laments that: “Despite years of documentation of these and other crimes against humanity in Sudan, and the fact that they constitute genocide as it is defined in the Genocide Convention, the international community has done almost nothing either to expose this crime against humanity or prevent it from relentlessly progressing towards its completion.”
Among the personalities quoted as the eye witnesses to the human rights abuses in Africa's most expansive state are Paride Taban, the Catholic Bishop of Diocese of Torit, Jeff Drumtra, a senior policy analyst with the US Committee for Refugees, former World Vision Sudan director Bruce Menser and Dr. Haruun Ruun, the Executive Secretary of the New Sudan Council of Churches.
Bishop Taban is quoted as wondering why the international community has chosen to ignore the genocide in his motherland: “Recently, we heard that the President of Yugoslavia was to pull out his troops or face the wrath of NATO…And what about us in Sudan? Are we not worth human life (sic) to be protected from the Sudanese air force by the imposition of a no-fly zone..?''
Human rights violations in Sudan, states ICCAF report, occur in the context of a 16-year civil war, the latest in a series of civil conflicts since independence in 1956.
The war has killed an estimated 1.9 million people and displaced another 4.5 million. The causes of the conflict are rooted in a complex mix of political, economic, religious, cultural and racial issue.
While the war is often defined as pitting Muslim against Christian, Arab against African and northerner against southerner, the reality is much more complicated and ambiguous. Not only African Sudanese in the south, but also Muslims in the north, are fighting against predominantly Arab government. There are also serious divisions among southern Sudanese. Muslim Sudanese from the north also fight on the side of African Sudanese in the south, most of who are Christians and traditionalists.
The report notes with regrets that the world's primary intervention in Sudan continues to be humanitarian and the provision of relief aid which, although it literally saves lives, does little if anything to address the reasons why Sudan needs aid in the first place.
Provision of food aid alone is “like fattening a cow for slaughter,” the report quotes Bishop Taban as saying.
Late last year, ICCAF petitioned the Canadian Minister for Foreign affairs, Hon Lloyld Axworthy, regarding the activities of the Canadian company, Talisman Energy Inc. in Sudan.
The petition questioned the justification of the company's partnership with the Government of Sudan, which stands accused of genocide, among a host of other crimes against humanity.
Mysterious epidemic ravages Sudan
A mysterious epidemic is spreading like a wild fire, claiming hundreds of lives in southern Sudan's Lakes Province and Yirol County.
The newly-appointed Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Rumbek, Monsignor Ceasar Mazzolari said in Nairobi the epidemic was first reported in December last year but so far there has been no international intervention to bring it under control. Bishop Mazzolari was speaking on arrival from an extensive tour of the war-torn expansive state.
The symptoms of the killer-disease, said the Comboni missionary, are headache, diarrhoea and intestinal complications, which in the eyes of a layman, may appear like malaria.
“It is highly contagious epidemic and kills its victims within 24 hours,” said Mazzolari, pointing out that in the month of January alone, the epidemic claimed 580 lives”
“The figure could be much higher because the above cases were only in the central areas accessible to our personnel,” he said.
“The situation is distressing as the disease is spreading fast in the extremely harsh climatic conditions. The lack of water has further complicated matters”
Bishop Mazzolari identified the worst hit areas as Rumbek, Cuibet, Tonj, Thiet, Yirol, Agangrial, and Wulu, an area of about 45,000 square kilometres.
He said the diocesan health co-ordinator, Dr Brigitte Bayer of Malterser (A German Non-Governmental Organisation), has already notified his counterpart at the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association (SRRA) Dr Valerio Ahou about the situation.
“I believe they have proceeded to inform UNICEF though there has been no response so far,” he said.
Together with the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) commissioner of Rumbek, Paul Mayom, and SPLA health co-ordinator Dr Samuel Mayak, Bishop Mazzolari appealed for immediate intervention from anywhere to help avert further crisis.
“My office is ready and willing to give any support within our means to any organisation or individual willing to help fight the epidemic'' Mazzolari said.
SUDAN CATHOLIC INFORMATION OFFICE
Bethany House, P. O. Box 21202, Nairobi, Kenya
tel. +254.2.562247 or 569130, fax 566668
For further information, please contact:
Fr. Kizito, SCIO, tel +254.2.562247 - fax +254.2.566668 - e-mail: SCIO@MAF.Org