|A Sudanese security chief blocks Jimmy Carter from meeting ethnic African refugees yesterday in Darfur. Carter strayed from his security detail and walked into a town to talk to refugees. (ALFRED DE MONTESQUIOU/ASSOCIATED PRESS)|
His path blocked in Darfur, Carter confronts security
Prohibited from meeting refugees
KABKABIYA, Sudan - Former President Jimmy Carter confronted Sudanese security services on a visit to Darfur yesterday, shouting "You don't have the power to stop me" at some who blocked him from meeting refugees of the conflict.
Carter, 83, wanted to visit a refugee camp in South Darfur but the UN mission in Sudan deemed that too dangerous.
Instead, he agreed to fly to the World Food Program compound in the North Darfur town of Kabkabiya, where he was supposed to meet with refugees, many of whom were chased from their homes by militias and government forces.
But none of the refugees showed up, and Carter decided to walk into the town, a volatile stronghold of the pro-government janjaweed militia, to meet refugees too frightened to attend the meeting at the compound.
He made it to a school where he met with one tribal representative and was preparing to go farther into town when Sudanese security officers stopped him.
"You can't go. It's not on the program," the local security chief, who gave only his first name as Omar, yelled at Carter, who is in Darfur as part of a delegation of respected international figures known as "the Elders."
"We're going to anyway," an angry Carter retorted as a crowd began to gather. "You don't have the power to stop me."
But UN officials told Carter's entourage the Sudanese state police could bar his way.
Carter's traveling companions, billionaire businessman Richard Branson and Graça Machel, the wife of Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, tried to ease his frustration and his Secret Service detail urged him to leave.
"I'll tell President Bashir about this," Carter said, referring to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
Omar, the security chief, said Carter had already breached security once by walking to the school and would not be allowed to breach security again.
"We are in the security field. We're not that flexible," he said after the confrontation ended.
Carter later played down the encounter, saying the security chief was only doing his job.
"But it's true that I'm not accustomed to people telling me I can't walk down the street and meet people," he said after returning to a United Nations compound in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state.
Branson said some refugees had slipped notes in his pockets.
"We [are] still suffering from the war as our girls are being raped on a daily basis," read one of the notes, translated from Arabic.
The note said that on Sept. 26, a group of girls had been raped and a refugee had been shot two days ago. Branson said it had been handed over by an African man.
For the most part, the refugees in Kabkabiya appeared too frightened to speak to the visiting delegation.
Most of the community leaders the mission met during its two-day visit to Darfur appeared to be government-vetted, and several African delegates said they had been intimidated by authorities into turning down invitations from "the Elders."
"This illustrates the challenges that communities and humanitarian workers face in Darfur," said Orla Clinton, spokeswoman for the UN Mission in Sudan, who witnessed the incident.
More than 200,000 people have been killed since the conflict in Darfur began in 2003 when African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government, accusing it of decades of neglect. Sudan's government is accused of retaliating by unleashing a militia of Arab nomads known as the janjaweed - a charge it denies.
The visit by "the Elders," which is led by Nobel Peace Prize laureates Carter and Desmond Tutu, is largely a symbolic move by a host of respected figures to push all sides to make peace.
The group made Darfur its first mission, trying to use its influence at a crucial time in the conflict.
A peacekeeping force of 26,000 United Nations and African Union troops is to begin deploying later this month and new peace talks between the government and rebels are set for the end of the month in Libya.
Tensions in Darfur are running high after rebels overran an African Union peacekeeping base in northern Darfur over the weekend, killing 10 in the deadliest attack on the beleaguered force since it arrived in the region three years ago.
Carter accused the international community of neglect for taking too long to mobilize over Darfur.
"Because of Iraq, this crisis had been simmering at a lower level," he said.
But he said he disagreed with Bush and others who called the killings in Darfur a genocide.
"Rwanda was definitely a genocide; what Hitler did to the Jews was; but I don't think it's the case in Darfur," Carter said. "I think Darfur is a crime against humanity, but done on a micro scale. A dozen janjaweed attacking here and there," he said, noting many refugees have survived the violence.
"I don't think the commitment was to exterminate a whole group of people, but to chase them from their water holes and lands, killing them in the process at random," he said. "I think you can call it ethnic cleansing."