WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said yesterday its diplomats had found worsening conditions, including water shortages, at camps for displaced people in Darfur and urged Khartoum to reverse a decision to expel 13 aid groups.
The State Department repeated it would hold Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir responsible for each death caused by the expulsion of the major aid groups this month.
The US Embassy’s charge d’affaires in Khartoum, Alberto Fernandez, and officials from the US Agency for International Development, travelled over the past week to El Fasher in northern Darfur and visited the Zam Zam camp to get a first-hand look at the impact of the expulsions, the department said.
“This crisis has been exacerbated by the March 4 and 5 expulsions,” concluded the department, providing details of the trip by Fernandez and other US officials.
The US officials found resources, particularly water, at Zam Zam had been further strained by the recent arrival of 36,000 people fleeing fighting in the past two months between armed groups and the Sudanese government in Darfur.
The conflict in Darfur, which has displaced more than 2.7 million people, flared when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government in 2003. International experts say at least 200,000 people have been killed in Sudan’s western Darfur region. Bashir’s government says 10,000 have died.
The State Department said the United Nations and remaining NGOs were looking at how to provide assistance to fill the gap created by the departing aid agencies, and said Sudan must help too.
“We urge the Government of Sudan, in close cooperation with the UN and NGOs, to move quickly to address water, land, and other urgent issues,” the department said in a statement.
Khartoum ordered the aid groups out after the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague issued an arrest warrant against Bashir for atrocities committed in Darfur. The Sudanese government accused them of helping the ICC.
The United States, which does not belong to the ICC, has said those responsible for atrocities in Darfur must be held to account, with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying Bashir could have his day in court.
But former US special envoy to Sudan, Andrew Natsios, argued that the ICC’s warrant had made the situation worse.
“Advocates of the recent ICC decision believed it would pressure Bashir and his government to behave better. It has already done the opposite,” wrote Natsios, the Bush administration’s former envoy, in an article for the website of Foreign Affairs magazine.
“Instead of trying to bring Sudan to the gates of some just and democratic Eden, the West must encourage the Sudanese to work out a limited and practical settlement that tries to bring a measure of security and stability to this very fragile state,” he added.
State Department spokesman Robert Wood repeated the US view over the ICC decision and urged Bashir to turn himself in.
“We want to see those who commit these types of atrocities held accountable — I don’t think I can be any clearer on that,” Wood told reporters.