Home | News    Monday 12 July 2004

Sudan ’s Darfur crisis must be resolved before it can expect new aid-Germany

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(Updates 1239 GMT story with new el-Bashir, Fischer comments.)

KHARTOUM, Sudan, July 12, 2004 (AP) — Germany and the European Union want the Sudanese government to settle the conflict in Darfur province before they render new aid to Sudan , German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Monday.

Speaking after talks with Sudan ’s president and foreign minister, Fischer told reporters they had an "earnest and very open discussion" where he had said that as soon as there was peace in Darfur, Germany and the E.U. would again become involved.

"But Darfur must be resolved," Fischer said.

Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir said after the meeting that the situation in Darfur had "improved tremendously" and that his government had begun to "spread troops in the province in order to achieve security and stability for its inhabitants."

The western province of Darfur has become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the U.N. A rebellion by the inhabitants of African origin led to a counter-insurgency by government troops and pro-government Arab militia. An estimated 30,000 people have been killed and more than 1 million people have been driven from their homes.

Aid and rights groups accuse the Khartoum government of backing the Arab militia that are responsible for the bulk of the looting, destruction and ethnic evictions. The government has denied the charge. In visits earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the government must rein in the militia and allow people to return to their homes.

El-Bashir promised them his government would disarm the militia.

Last week Powell warned the government that if it did not act immediately, it could face sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council.

Fischer however said that "it is not now the time to talk about sanctions," and that issue did not come up in his talks with el-Bashir and Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail.

Ismail has criticized the idea of sanctions, saying they would only complicate efforts to resolve the situation.

Fischer said the Sudanese government must not be allowed to escape responsibility for its people.

"The humanitarian catastrophe must be prevented," he added, saying the Sudanese government must "disband the Janjaweed militia and arrest those responsible in Darfur and open up humanitarian aid routes."

Fischer rejected Sudanese newspaper reports that Germany was helping the insurgents in Darfur.

"We are supporting no rebel group, and we are supporting no rebellion," Fischer said.

Fischer arrived in Khartoum on Sunday on a plane carrying 3.5 tons of medicine for Darfur. The aid, which is enough for 1,000 people for a month, will be dispensed by the German Red Cross.

Fischer was accompanied by Deputy Foreign Minister Kerstin Mueller, who said that the Sudanese "government must now negotiate."

Fischer was scheduled to fly back to Germany Monday, but Mueller was due to visit Darfur to assess the situation.

If humanitarian workers cannot provide enough aid to an estimated 2 million people in the Darfur region, the death toll could surge to 350,000 by the end of the year, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The crisis stems from long-standing tension between nomadic Arab herders and African farmers. Two African groups took up arms in February 2003 to fight for autonomy and greater state investment in the neglected province.

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