I’ve just taken a call from David Cameron. It was a very crackly line from Sudan where (as noted yesterday) the Conservative leader has been seeing for himself the terrible situation that continues to unfold in the Darfur region. He, with Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, met with members of the Khartoum regime and expressed the international community’s outrage at the continuation of violence and the failure of the regime to fulfil its basic humanitarian responsibilities.
Sudan’s government has long suggested that it has nothing to do with the attacks on the Darfur people by the janjaweed militia. The reality is very different. David Cameron told me that he had talked to refugees who had been attacked by men getting out of helicopters. Only the Sudanese regime has helicopters. He described refugee camps that appear to stretch for miles. He and Andrew Mitchell spent time listening to heart-rending stories of people being driven out of their homes and of many, many people losing loved ones. Estimates of the death toll range from 200,000 to over 400,000. David Cameron praised the work of Oxfam and its provision of water and basic sanitation to the camp he visited. It should encourage UK donors, he said, that their international giving is having life-saving effects.
The party leader also met with a Nigerian leader of the African Union peace force. Although the force is doing as well as it can it is too limited in size and has inadequate logistical support. David Cameron hopes that the force will soon be complemented with extra troops from the UN and from nations with highly-trained soldiers. He highlighted the importance of air support for some sort of no-fly-zone and of deployments from Muslim nations like Pakistan that would avoid inflaming Islamic opinion within Sudan. The British armed forces are too stretched, he suggested, to commit troops but Britain should be prepared to share specialist expertise and technology. In due course, he concluded, some of the regime leaders responsible for Darfur should be tried at the International Criminal Court.
The Telegraph has a piece and photographs from a reporter travelling with Mr Cameron.
It is very welcome that David Cameron has been in Darfur and I hope he puts this issue at the top of the political agenda when he returns. I have an American friend working in one of the IDP gatherings and her regular emails are desperately depressing and a terrible rebuke to a world that said ‘never again’ after Rwanda. For regular news from Sudan I recommend the Coalition for Darfur blogspot.