IRC's President Tours War-Torn Sudan with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
George Rupp, president of the International Rescue Committee, joined a small group of humanitarian agency heads who accompanied UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on his visit to Sudan’s war-torn state of South Darfur and the southern rebel stronghold of Rumbek last weekend.
The visit highlighted burgeoning hope and ongoing strife in a country that has experienced over 20 years of civil war. More than 2.4 million people have been displaced by the Darfur conflict alone, including the 110,000 now living in overcrowded Kalma Camp, where the delegation made a stopover.
The delegation also visited Labado, where villagers who fled a December 17 militia attack were returning to begin anew against the backdrop of destroyed homes and charred fields. “Already, more than 12,000 people have been able to return and the community is coming alive,” said Rupp. Virtually all of them seemed to have gathered around the central square to greet the Secretary General, he said. “They were cheering wildly a word of welcome to Kofi Annan and were clearly deeply appreciative of the fact that that the African Union provided the core security which was allowing them to restart their lives.”
Annan talked with some of the people who had returned about their experiences and later described their stories as "heart-wrenching." He told Rupp it was important for relief agencies to facilitate both security and development for the returnees.
Rupp and his counterparts, Ken Bacon, president of Refugees International, and Tom Arnold, chief executive of Concern Worldwide, reported that Annan was both encouraged and discouraged by the trip. In a report to the heads of other humanitarian organizations, they said the Secretary General was left with a sense that the government wants to end the war in Darfur and that implementation of the January peace agreement between north and south Sudan is on track. However, they noted, Annan is worried that neither Darfur nor the south are getting the resources they need.
“There is no infrastructure in South Sudan, so support from the international community is very much needed,” said Rupp. “Yet, ironically, international aid has decreased following the peace agreement.”