Andrew Natsios, Administrator of the US Agency for International Development, the US’s highest ranking aid official, gave an amazingly frank press conference yesterday regarding the situation in Darfur, Sudan – the transcript is available here.
Natsios’s reason for the press conference was simple: USAID and others have 80,000 tons of food ready to distribute to the 900,000 refugees internally displaced within Darfur. The food, medical supplies and tents need to get to refugees in the next couple of weeks, because the rainy season is coming. The spring rains will make roads impassible and make aid delivery impossible. Natsios says teams are ready to go and could be in place in a couple of days.
There’s one problem: the Sudanese government won’t issue visas. Natsios is demanding that they issue visas and travel permits that allow a team of 28 aid workers to travel from Khartoum to Darfur. His press conference appeared to an attempt to force the Khartoum government to choose between issuing the visas or be seen as blocking critically needed aid.
Natsios’s statements on Darfur appear to offer US government confirmation for a number of statements made by organizations like Human Rights Watch. Asked whether he believed that the Sudanese government was arming the Janjawid, Natsios responded:
“I have had members of the Sudanese Government tell me that they armed – this was last fall – they armed the Jingaweit militia. They told me that. They said there were hawks in the administration that supported that and they did it last year.”
Asked whether the situation in Darfur represented a genocide, Natsios gave an answer that, for a US government official, was surprisingly direct:
“This is clearly an ethnic cleansing campaign. Genocide has a particular meaning, which is that you are out to exterminate an entire population because of their religion or their race or their ethnic group. It does not appear to us right now that that term is appropriate. However, the atrocities that have been committed — the mass rape, systematic rape of women, many of whom have been branded, according to the Human Rights Watch report are branded after they’re raped — and this is done in a systematic basis. This is not soldiers out of control. So by the razing of villages, the creating of a large displaced population and the attacks on women, it is — the atrocities are very real.”
He was very careful about terming the situation a genocide, a term which would obligate the US to a particular course of action as a signatory to the UN genocide convention:
“The United Nations — and I’m only quoting their reports — Mukesh Kapila talked about pre-genocide conditions. Kofi Annan used the same apocalyptic language in the statement he made on the 10th anniversary. I only refer you to their comments.”