Monday, August 10, 2015

From my Journal for March 17 & 19: Dealing with Government treatment of darfur IDPs in Mayo Camp, Khartoum

March 17: Shit is getting pretty near hitting the fan here. Spent the evening hearing reports of police violence against Darfur displaced persons at a camp near Khartoum. We made plans to be part of a dip convoy to the camp first thing tomorrow morning. Then we hear that eight have been killed and the violence is continuing. Tried to reach someone in GOS to ask them to intercede. Nothing accomplished. Tomorrow, at nine, off we go. The thugs are out of the closet and daring us not to dance with them.

March 19: Been an interesting 24 hours. Began yesterday with meeting a group of Western diplomatic colleagues at the Dutch embassy. We rendezvoused and set off for Mayo Camp to see if there was anything we could do to help the Darfur refugees there. We heard that some were being taken elsewhere and that the violence had continued through the night. The government now admitted to three killed, two women and a man. But we had reports that 15 had been killed and more wounded. The government was clearly trying to get rid of the camp before it attracted any more attention to the war in Darfur. We – US, French, British, Dutch and others – wanted to get there before they could do any more harm or erase the evidence. We failed. A couple of miles or so from the camp, near a market on a road full of traffic, we ran into a police roadblock, laid just for us. Not waiting for the usual bullshit explanations, I jumped from the car and started walking down the road. The police caught up to me. They tried to tell me that I could not go on, that I did not have permission. As the others caught up to me – I also had my bodyguards – I explained that we did not need permission. I said I would continue walking down the road. They said they could not allow that. I said they would have to detain me to stop me and continued walking. The police began to threaten and I paused to allow my security to explain to them that they could not impede or touch a diplomat. Things got heated. I made some calls to government people who eventually told me that I had permission. I also took a picture of the police block. This led to the police seeking to take my camera away from me. I eventually agreed to erase the picture and before being physically assaulted by a plainclothes policeman who was threatening me – he was a thug – I gave the police a memory chip that I had switched for the real one. A police general arrived with a pickup full of plainclothes thugs. He explained that the police were carrying out an “operation” at the camp and needed more time to “clean up.” They could not allow us to go any further for our own security. He assured me everything would be okay in a few hours and we could return then. We then agreed to turn back. As we were doing this, a UN team got a bit closer to the camp via another route and smelled tear gas and saw people fleeing. Later, a team did reach the camp but found it by that time deserted. Also latter, the foreign minister passed a message saying he was angry with me for trying to force the police to let us through. I rejected his position and instead said that we were protesting our treatment by the police.

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