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Tension In Rice Visit To Sudan

CBS News Reporter Charles Wolfson is a former Tel Aviv bureau chief for CBS News, who now covers the State Department.

There was some tension in Khartoum Thursday, as Sudanese security personnel shoved senior staff of visiting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice - as well as media covering her visit - intended to pressure the government to do more to help the millions of refugees who fled during the 'ethnic cleansing' of 2003 and 2004.

CBS News Reporter Charles Wolfson reports the trouble with Rice's staff and the reporters traveling with the Secretary of State developed after her meetings with President Omar Al Bashir, Foreign Minister Mustafah Osman Ismail and first Vice President John Garang De Mabior - the former rebel leader who took office 11 days ago.

Sudanese security forces began pushing Rice's senior staff and some members of the press corps, to keep them out of the room where the meeting occurred, at a time when photo ops and media statements might typically happen.

"American officials were grabbed at the front door and manhandled," said Jim Wilkinson, a senior adviser to Rice. "Diplomacy 101 says you don't rough your guests up."

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Khidir Haroun Ahmed, head of Sudan's mission to the U.S., soon afterward was apologetic in his comments to reporters, saying the security personnel actions were "not intended to prevent you from doing your job."

On her plane before leaving to visit a refugee camp in Darfur, Rice told reporters the Sudanese security forces "have no right to push and shove" and indicated she would seek a formal apology from the Sudanese government.


Click here to hear Wolfson's report on the incident.

That apology came an hour later, as her plane landed at the El Fasher airport in the province of Darfur, when the foreign minister called to apologize for the treatment of her staff and the reporters present for the incident.

Next stop for Rice Thursday is the Abu Shouk refugee camp near El Fasher, where Rice will encounter more than 50,000 people being supported by the international community. The U.S. alone has spent $700 million in the past two years on food and other humanitarian aid, according to Andrew Natsios, Director of the Agency for International Development.

Briefing reporters aboard Rice's plane, Natsios said the humanitarian and security situation in the region has "stabilized." Child mortality rates are dramatically lower and violence has decreased in the region's villages, in part because, he said, 2,000 villages in the area has been either completely or partially destroyed by the Jinjaweed militia during fighting in 2003 and 2004. One disturbing sign noted by both Natsios and Rice is that there is still a "disturbingly high level of violence against women."

According to Natsios, the Abu Shouk camp is the second largest in Darfur. Two weeks ago, it had an estimated 71,000 residents but the Sudanese government has since moved some of them to a new camp nearby.

To grasp the continuing severity of the humanitarian crisis, Natsios says out of a total population of 5 million in Darfur, there are two million people in such camps, including 1.8 million inside Darfur and about 200,000 just across the border in Chad. The Abu Shouk camp had about 40,000 residents a year ago when Secretary of State Colin Powell visited.

How many died in the fighting? "Nobody knows," said Natsios. He estimates the number in the "hundreds of thousands."

During her three-hour long stop in Darfur Thursday, Rice will meet with officers who lead the African Union peacekeeping force and representatives of aid organizations who work in the camps. Rice will also have a private meeting with a small group of women who live in the camp.



What's your opinion? Charles Wolfson welcomes comments from readers of Diplomatic Dispatch and can be reached at cwp@cbsnews.com.
By Charles Wolfson
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