Jostling Mars Rice's Sudan Meetings
KHARTOUM, Sudan – Sudanese security officers roughed up members of Condoleezza Rice's (search) entourage Thursday and spoiled the African nation's hopes of showing off a new peace deal and improving a bruised reputation with the United States.
The secretary of state gave Sudan's foreign minister a 90-minute deadline to make a personal apology, and he met it.
Sudan got no promise from Rice that the United States would push to lift economic sanctions or remove the nation from the State Department's list of countries that sponsor terrorism.
Rice also visited a vast refugee camp in the western Darfur region (search), site of mass killings and the eviction of villagers by what the United States contends were government-backed Arab militiamen.
She held a private session with female refugees, some of them rape victims, who say they face threats of violence despite international pressure on Sudan (search) to stop attacks on women when they leave the camp to find food or fuel.
Rice had the delicate task of encouraging the new unified government, which emerged after two decades of civil war, while still holding Sudan's leaders responsible for the newer conflict and refugee crisis in Darfur.
Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir retained his post in the new government, and Rice agreed to see him at his ultra-secure walled compound in Khartoum. Problems began when guards held up part of Rice's motorcade, stranding her Arabic-language translator, some senior aides and reporters at the gate.
When the officials were finally allowed through, some found themselves barred from entering the building for the meeting. As Rice senior adviser Jim Wilkinson tried to get in, guards repeatedly pushed and jostled him, and at one point he was shoved into a wall.
"Diplomacy 101 says you don't rough your guests up," Wilkinson said afterward.
Reporters, whom guards reluctantly allowed into the meeting for a planned photo session, were harassed and elbowed, and guards repeatedly tried to rip a microphone away from a U.S. reporter.
Ambassador Khidir Haroun Ahmed, head of the Sudanese mission in Washington, attempted to smooth over the situation on the spot. "Please accept our apologies," he told reporters. "This is not our policy."
But there was another scuffle moments later.
The reporters were told not to ask questions, over State Department objections. When NBC diplomatic reporter Andrea Mitchell tried to ask el-Bashir about involvement with alleged atrocities, guards grabbed her and muscled her toward the rear of the room. Other reporters and a camera crew were also pushed out as Rice and el-Bashir watched.
"It makes me very angry to be sitting there with their president and have this happen," Rice told reporters afterward. "They have no right to push and shove."
Mitchell, the wife of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, said later that no one from Sudan had gotten in touch with her to apologize.
Sudan has long sought better relations with Washington, which pulled its ambassador from Khartoum during the Clinton administration.
Rice's visit to the sprawling Abu Shouk refugee camp, the second-largest in the region, went more according to plan.
After a bumpy and dusty ride from the airport, she was surrounded by children reaching for her hand and chanting: "Welcome, Welcome, Oh Condoleezza."
In the area she toured, some of the 55,000 displaced Darfur villagers had tried to add cheer to the hot, sandy expanse by planting pink and magenta flowers outside the doorways of their plywood and canvas huts.
Rice said the Sudan government has come up with a plan to stop attacks on women and she will insist it be followed.
Sudan's former Arab-led government denies involvement in the violence in the Darfur region, but the United States and international organizations say the military sent helicopter gunships to bomb small villages before raiders swept in with horses, guns and knives.
War-induced hunger and disease have killed more than 180,000 people and driven more than 2 million from their homes in Darfur.
Rice said that "a genocide was committed here."