17 June 2004 United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today announced plans to travel to strife-torn Sudan, where reports indicate more than 150,000 people have crossed into Chad fleeing atrocities in the Darfur region, itself home to a million internally displaced persons, many at high risk of dying from malnutrition or disease.
“I myself expect to visit Sudan soon,” the Secretary-General told reporters as he arrived at UN Headquarters in New York. “It is the responsibility of the Government to protect the population and we need to encourage it and must insist it does it.”
On the humanitarian situation, he said the UN is “rushing to get as much supplies on the ground before the rains come.”
In addition, the UN is pressing the Sudanese Government “to allow humanitarian workers – UN and NGO [non-governmental organization] – to be given free access to Darfur and allow supplies and equipment to come in,” he said.
“We have also asked the Sudanese Government to take steps to contain the Janjaweed militia, who are doing quite a lot of the killing and destruction of the lives of the people in the region.”
While there have been improvements, he said, “much more needs to be done.”
Pressed as to whether the situation constitutes a genocide, Mr. Annan said that, based on the reports he has received, he could not at this stage term it as such. “There are massive violations of international humanitarian law,” he added.
The Secretary-General said he discussed the issue with high-level representatives of the Khartoum Government during his recent trip to São Paulo, Brazil.
Meanwhile yesterday in Washington, D.C., Jan Egeland, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, discussed the Darfur crisis with members of the United States Congress, Government officials, representatives of US non-governmental organizations (NGOs), members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressman Frank Wolf.
He told them that the biggest threat now facing civilians – especially children – was the diseases that would spread if clean water was not available, and urged them to do all they could to alleviate needs created by the crisis.
Mr. Egeland also met with InterAction, a consortium of humanitarian NGOs, and urged the organizations to redouble their efforts to save thousands of lives in Darfur. During the discussion, the NGOs described the many obstacles they still face in delivering aid, including slow visa processing for staff wishing to get into Sudan and delays in getting urgently needed supplies and equipment through customs.
Video of press encounter [14mins]