Several recent articles reported incorrectly that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Sudan in more than 25 years. Vice President George H.W. Bush made a three-day trip to Sudan in March 1985. (Published 7/9/04)
The Sudanese villagers in this western region of Darfur were bombed. They were raped. Their huts were burned and their grain pillaged. Now, those who fled the chaos say they are being silenced.
The Sudanese government dispatched 500 men last week to this sweltering camp of 40,000 near El Fashir, capital of North Darfur state, the refugees and aid workers said. The men, some dressed in civilian clothes, others in military uniforms, warned the refugees to keep quiet about their experiences when Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan visit the region this week.
Darfur has been the scene of more than 16 months of conflict between residents of the region and Arab militiamen backed by the government. Aid workers say 30,000 people have been killed by the militia and more than 1.2 million forced to flee their homes.
"They kicked us and said, 'Stop talking,' " said Malki Ali Abduallah, 25, who fled the fighting six months ago with six children and a cooking pot. "I said, 'No, no, no. I am angry. I am tired. I don't want to be quiet.
"You already stole my life. What else can you take?" she recounted saying, sweating in the 115 degree midday heat as 40 people gathered around her in support, many telling similar stories.
Near the crowd, however, stern-faced men wearing safari outfits, pilot sunglasses and leopard-skin slippers listened in and made calls on cell phones. The villagers and the aid workers said the men were among those dispatched by the government.
The men also told the villagers that they would impersonate victims when the U.S. and U.N. delegations arrived and tell them that the government had done nothing wrong and that rebels operating against the government in the region were to blame, the villagers and aid workers said.
Sitting under the shade of plastic sheeting strung around branches, Tarni Ahmed, 35, mimicked the pose the militias make when they point their assault rifles. Then she raised her arms and turned up her palms.
"They took the food from my mouth. They grabbed the clothes from my body," she said, drawing a cheering crowd whose members started to say, "yes," in Arabic. Her voice grew louder and tears streamed down her face. "These things are very bad in my heart. I won't stop speaking. Let them shoot me."
Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) visited the camp Sunday to survey the humanitarian crisis, which the United Nations and other aid agencies have said will kill hundreds of thousands from famine and disease if Sudan fails to allow greater access to the area and rein in the marauding Arab militiamen, known as Janjaweed. Four pickup trucks carrying dozens of militiamen raced around the area as the U.S. delegation toured the camp.
Powell's visit will be the highest-level U.S. visit to Sudan since Cyrus R. Vance, Jimmy Carter's first secretary of state, visited during a layover in 1978. Powell's visit is meant to send a strong message to the Sudanese government and threaten U.N. sanctions.
The United States is investigating whether the Sudanese government is responsible for genocide because three African tribes, the Fur, the Zaghawa and the Massaleit, have been targeted during the fighting.
Annan, who is under pressure to take a firm stand after his apologies for not doing enough to stop a genocide in Rwanda in 1994, is also expected to press the Sudanese government to disarm the militia and open up access to aid groups.
Also Sunday, President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said the administration had asked Libya for help in getting aid to Darfur, the Reuters news agency reported.
"We're working with others, with the Libyans, to try to get a third route for supplies to get into Darfur. And we've been putting a lot of pressure on the Sudanese government to stop the Janjaweed militia from doing the horrible things that they're doing in that region," she said on "Fox News Sunday."
The fighting in Darfur began last year when groups of students and activists rebelled against the central government, demanding greater attention to development and more power. The Darfur rebels captured the military town of El Fashir, killing 75 soldiers and seizing weapons. The government then armed Arab militias and bombed villages.
Apart from the Darfur crisis is Sudan's civil war. The United States pressed the government and rebels in the country's south to reach an agreement to end 21 years of war that killed more than 2 million people.
The congressional delegation led by Wolf and Brownback met with the governor of the region, Yusuf Kibir, who blamed the Darfur rebels for the crisis. "We didn't start the shooting," he said. "It was the rebels."
Wolf warned that a war crimes tribunal could be set up for Darfur. He mentioned the former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, who has been indicted by the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone for crimes against humanity, and former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, who is on trial in The Hague for atrocities committed during the Balkan wars.
Brownback also urged an end to the violence. "Stop the killing of the innocent," he said.