Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Mark Malloch Brown on China and Darfur: 25 February 2008

(Transcript prepared by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Robin Lustig (RL): Five years ago tomorrow on the 26th of February 2003 rebel fighters seized control of a town in the Sudanese region of Darfur, the Government mounted a counter insurgency operation backed by Janjaweed militia men and since then an estimated two hundred thousand people have been killed and two and a half million have had to flee from their homes. The news tonight from Darfur is depressingly familiar; more fighting, thousands more people fleeing for safety. But on the diplomatic front there are signs of movement, China is now apparently doing more to put pressure on its allies in the Khartoum Government to allow the full deployment of a twenty six thousand strong multi national peace keeping force under the joint auspices of the United Nations and the African Union. Yesterday in a rare departure from past practice China's Special Envoy to Darfur, Liu Giujin, made a public appeal for a quick resolution to the crisis.

Liu Giujin (Chinese Special Envoy to Darfur): The people there in Darfur have already suffered too long. We need a, a quick solution, we need the war and conflicts and its sooner the better.

RL: Well we'll be hearing what the British Foreign Office makes of that in a moment but first the latest from the region itself. Annette Rehle is the spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR just across the border from Darfur in Eastern Chad. So I asked her what their latest information is.

Annette Rehle (UNHCR, Eastern Chad) (AR): Well actually our team has sent another mission to the border with Sudan this morning and I just got the report from them that more refugees have arrived from the Jabel Moon area which has been attacked by Antonov planes, by the Sudanese military and by Janjaweed burning down all remaining IDP sites and villages to the ground so that Jabel Moon residents had to go to, to Eastern Chad for their security.

RL: But just to be clear this movement was the result of air raids from Government planes and attacks by pro Government Janjaweed militia?

AR: Yes that's correct, at least this is what the interviews with the refugees we've conducted so far already told us. They were attacked by Antonov planes bombing their sites, then they tried to flee, when ever they tried to leave their place then they encountered the Sudanese ground forces, the military, and on their way from where they came from to the Chadian border they were harassed and even shot at by Janjaweed.

RL: And can you give us some idea of the scale, are you talking about hundreds or thousands of people?

AR: No we are actually talking about thousands, it's actually very difficult to, to tell how many there are because they are scattered over an area of let's say thirty to thirty five kilometres alongside the Eastern Chadian border in small villages, under trees, in the open so even for our teams it's very difficult to go and find them.

RL: But those who do make it across the border in to Chad are they then safe there and are they then in a position where they can be helped by relief agencies, have adequate medicine, food and shelter?

AR: Right now where they are they are not safe, we can not say that they are safe because they are too close to the border and last week we also had some incursions with the Janjaweed coming across the border and even helicopters flying over where most of the refugees are right now, so they don't feel safe there. And what our team has seen so far to date is that the refugee centres start to move a little bit more inside Chad.

RL: That was Annette Rehle of the UN refugee agency in Eastern Chad. So with more fighting how much real diplomatic progress is there? The New York Times reported over the weekend that China has become shifting its position on Darfur, stepping outside its diplomatic comfort zone. So I asked the Foreign Office Minister Mark Malloch Brown has it?

Mark Malloch Brown (MMB): Yes the Chinese Special Envoy was here last week for meetings with me and, you know, I think we've seen this for some time, China supported the big Security Council resolution in the middle of last year so they've kind of been with us but they are getting more vocal and more public in terms of putting pressure on the Sudanese to comply with the UN resolution.

RL: So was Stephen Spielberg wrong then to pillory them in the way that he did?

MMB: Well look I, I, I feel that, you know, civil society, entertainment leaders use the leverage points they have and the upcoming Olympics was one he wanted to employ but, you know, I've been very clear that we've got to work with the Chinese in Sudan, I think they're a force which can be a critical lever on Sudan for better action. And let, let's be clear though at the moment there is a tactical meeting of minds between China, ourselves and the US on trying to get implementation of the current Security Council resolution, we've all found common interest in trying to get compliance from rebels and Government alike with the resolution.

RL: And all this talk of perhaps improvements in the diplomatic climate come just as there are reports from the ground of renewed fighting, of air strikes in Western Darfur, of up to ten thousand new refugees fleeing out of Darfur towards the border with Chad.

MMB: Yes, I mean, this is very unsettling and disconcerting and it's not the first time that the diplomatic direction seems to be in the opposite direction to an actual deterioration on the ground. I think much of this deterioration is peculiar to an isolated but never the less extremely dangerous and unwarranted event which is rebel incursions in to Chad with the intent of overthrowing the Government of Chad, incursions which clearly enjoyed a significant measure of support from the Sudanese Government in Khartoum and which have now, inevitably, been reacted to by the Chadian side. So this upsurge in fighting in Western Darfur is very much related to what the military situation in Chad and we hope doesn't itself reflect a long term deterioration in the situation inside Darfur itself.

RL: The Sudanese media have been reporting that the Chinese envoy to Darfur told the Government in Khartoum just a couple of days ago that he had a message to give them from London saying that the UK Government wants to improve relations with Khartoum. Did you pass a message of that kind?

MMB: I did it's not, if, if you like it's not a kind of new message to the Sudanese, it will be a third party testimonial if you like, a confirmation of what they've heard directly from me which is a view that the Sudanese need to recognise we're not going to compromise on our objectives which is peace in Darfur both a, a political solution to the problem and the right for refugees to go home and, similarly, a solution of the north south problem. So we're not going to compromise on those basic principles but we are acknowledging that the very high level of distrust between the Sudanese and ourselves in which they choose to interpret everything we do as part of a kind of wider conspiracy against their, their interests as a Government we, we recognise that we just need to talk to them more, we need to have better relations so that when these incidents come up they can ask us why something's happened rather than immediately jump to the conclusion that it's part of an intent on our side to kind of undermine them as a Government. And so better relations but no compromise on our objectives which is a just settlement in Darfur and in the south.

RL: So when then realistically do you believe there might actually be a full and complete deployment of this hybrid international force and some prospect of peace and security in Darfur?

MMB: Full deployment with bases built and everything else isn't going to happen until the very end of the year I suspect but all round everything is frustratingly slow and difficult but in general is moving in a slightly more positive direction.

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