Carter, Tutu publicly criticize Sudan for Darfur violence
Comments follow two-day visit by the 'Elders'
KHARTOUM, Sudan - Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, and several other prominent figures gave Sudan's government a rare upbraiding on its own turf yesterday, criticizing it for the violence in Darfur.
Foreign visitors usually speak cautiously about Darfur's misery while on Sudanese territory to avoid irking the government.
But the group of prominent personalities, including former statesmen and international officials, was sharp and direct in closing comments after a two-day tour of Darfur. Their visit was the debut mission of a group known as the "Elders," chaired by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who are trying to use their influence to bring peace to conflict zones. Mandela was too frail to join the trip.
In an interview, Carter said the Sudanese government was responsible for the "crime against humanity" in Darfur, accusing government-backed Arab militias known as the janjaweed of "ethnic cleansing" in black villages.
Carter, 83, got into a confrontation with the head of national security in the town of Kabkabiya on Wednesday because he was being blocked from meeting any of the ethnic African refugees, and his security entourage urged him to let the feared state police have their way.
His delegation struck a sharp tone at a news conference with Sudanese journalists in Khartoum early yesterday.
Tutu said he was appalled by the "unbelievable squalor" of living conditions for the refugees he visited in southern Darfur. Mandela's wife spoke out against widespread rape of women refugees and the Sudanese government's indifference.
Graca Machel said she raised the problem during the group's meeting with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir late Wednesday.
"I have to confess it was the most depressing moment of our conversation," she said. "The government doesn't seem to have an understanding of what it means for women to say 'We are being raped.' "
Carter urged the government to cease air raids on Darfur civilians. "There is no reason for the government to continue to bomb people," Carter told the unusually mute Sudanese reporters, who didn't ask a single question at the press conference.
At least 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been displaced since ethnic African rebels in Darfur took up arms against the Arab-dominated central government, accusing it of discrimination and neglect.
Hours before Tutu visited the Darfur town of Nyala on Wednesday, a gunbattle broke out between government forces and followers of the sole rebel chief who had signed a peace agreement with Khartoum, the UN said. Six people were killed.
The delegation vowed they would do more than be outspoken to help resolve the conflict.
"We are hoping not to be seen as another tourist group seeking photo opportunities," Tutu said after the group held its second meeting with Bashir.
The group urged all of Darfur's splintered rebel factions to accept new peace negotiations due to open in Libya later this month. They also drew up a list of recommendations for world leaders, along with the United Nations and African Union, which will be mediating the peace talks.