KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudanese government officials manhandled U.S. officials and journalists on Thursday outside talks between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, prompting Rice to demand an apology.
Sudanese guards and officials shoved U.S. journalists away from the meeting and slammed the wooden doors to his palace in their faces.
Some U.S. officials were also obstructed for several minutes before the Sudanese agreed to allow Rice and aides in. The media were later allowed to briefly witness the talks.
Sudanese officials were not immediately available for comment on the scuffle.
Journalists on Rice”s flight said she told them she expected the apology before landing in Darfur, which is approximately 90 minutes away by plane.
"It makes me very angry. To be sitting there with their president and have this happen," she told reporters on her plane before leaving Khartoum for Darfur.
"They have no right to push and shove," she added. A senior Rice aide was seen pointing his finger angrily at Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail after the meeting and a senior Sudanese diplomat repeatedly apologized to the journalists.
"Don”t ever touch our journalists again," the aide, Jim Wilkinson, said inside the meeting.
"Diplomacy 101 says you don”t rough your guests up," he later told journalists.
Inside the meeting, a Sudanese official grabbed a radio reporter”s equipment and unplugged it to prevent the meeting being recorded.
During the meeting, Bashir, who remains Sudan”s leader after the installation of a coalition peace government, and Rice discussed the violence in the western Darfur region where rebels are fighting the government.
The United States has described the violence in Darfur as genocide.
Bashir told Rice; "We do not want to go to back to war in any part of the country."
Rice told Bashir the United States supported what she called the new "unity government."
Before arriving early on Thursday morning, Rice said she would seek to strike a balance between helping consolidate the coalition peace government and holding Sudanese accountable for the violence in Darfur.
Rice said she was particularly concerned women were still being raped in the conflict, which began in early 2003.
She has demanded the new government speak out against the abuse and punish the attackers, and, to highlight the U.S. concern, she will meet rape victims at one of the largest camps.
Twice the number of television journalists are traveling on her plane than is typical for her foreign trips and she plans to give four interviews to U.S. networks while she is in the Abu Shouk camp.
The camp has swelled in the year since Rice”s predecessor, Colin Powell, visited. It now has about 50,000 residents, says the United Nations.
Rice also met John Garang, the leader of former southern rebels, who was made vice president in the new peace government. She hopes Garang can help end the Darfur violence.
The new government was sworn in on July 9 after the settlement of a two-decade-old north-south civil war.
But the separate Darfur conflict persists in the remote west of Africa”s largest country.
Tens of thousands have died and more than 2 million have been forced from their homes in the violence. Washington says Bashir”s government has supported Janjaweed militias who have killed and raped villagers and burned their homes. The violence has dropped off this year but Andrew Natsios, a top U.S. aid official traveling with Rice, said the dip was largely because most villages had already been razed.
He said he suspected the government was still giving material support to the Janjaweed. But he said the government no longer sent gunships to assist militia attacks.