There was a time when visits to Darfur were uncertain affairs, fraught with danger. These days – as long as you travel with the right people and stick strictly to the right route – they can be as comfortable as a coach trip.
The African Union delegation plane touched down in El Fasher, North Darfur’s capital, at 9.35 a.m. on Tuesday. We were on the bus heading back to the airstrip at 4.40 p.m.
In between, the members of the African Union’s peace and security council visited the governor’s walled-in compound, where ambassadors watched tribal dancing and a PowerPoint presentation (complete with CD-ROM handout).
The next stop was the heavily secured UNAMID peacekeeping headquarters. Next, a razor-wired police station, 200 metres outside a displacement camp, where around 40 residents had been waiting for two hours to talk to the delegates.
Forty-five minutes later, the 18-vehicle convoy of buses, 4×4s and armed escorts drove slowly through Abu Shouk camp. Then there was one final stop at the governor’s to eat dinner and admire his collection of gazelle and exotic birds. The AU ambassadors and women in the party received souvenir mats…
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So, is it now inevitable that Sudan’s oil-producing south will decide to split away from the north as an independent country in a looming secession referendum in 2011?
That was the conclusion of some observers of a bluntly worded exchange of views between two leading lights from the north and the south at a symposium in Khartoum on Tuesday.
Sudan’s Muslim north fought a two decade civil war with southerners, most of them Christians and followers of traditional beliefs. The 2005 peace deal that ended that conflict set up a north/south coalition government and promised a referendum on southern secession.
Sudan’s foreign minister Deng Alor told journalists at the symposium most of his fellow southerners, embittered by decades of northern oppression and imposed Islamic values, “overwhelmingly” wanted independence. Only a miracle would change their minds, he said, going on to appeal for a “peaceful divorce” should the south choose to split…
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