KHARTOUM, (Reuters) – Donors began meeting on Tuesday to pledge money to rebuild Sudan after a devastating north-south civil war, but the event was overshadowed by the separate conflict in Darfur being left off the agenda.
Khartoum is at loggerheads with the international community over Darfur, a four-year-old conflict which Sudan’s largest donor Washington calls genocide, a term Khartoum rejects.
The government refused to allow Darfur to be on the agenda and at the last minute cancelled a compromise meeting to be held separately on Monday, U.N. officials and diplomats said.
Donors have already pledged some $4.5 billion to rebuild Sudan, ruined by two decades of civil war, after a north-south peace deal in January 2005. But most of that money has not appeared and the south complains much has been redirected to Darfur.
The meeting — dubbed the Sudan Consortium — had hoped to address that issue, in addition to getting the original pledges renewed and securing fresh promises of cash. But the cancellation of the Darfur meeting meant some donors withdrew high-level participation.
“While it is unfortunate that the government has chosen to cancel today’s meeting on Darfur humanitarian access issues, the path to resolving these concerns remains clear,” said a U.S. statement released at the opening ceremony late on Monday night.
The Darfur conflict began in early 2003 when rebels took up arms, accusing the government of neglect. Khartoum then armed brutal militia known as Janjaweed, who murdered, pillaged and raped civilians. Experts estimate 200,000 have been killed and millions uprooted from their homes.
The United States said Sudan should be more generous and faster in handing out visas to aid workers in Darfur, should remove costly levies on humanitarian equipment and release assets held up in customs.
Sudanese Humanitarian Affairs Minister Kosti Manyebi said the government was worried the Sudan Consortium would be “hijacked” by Darfur’s political issues and had requested it be postponed until after the donor meeting. “(The government) is happy to address it after the Sudan Consortium,” he told Reuters.
Donors were furious at the last minute cancellation of the Darfur meeting and many focused on Darfur during their presentations at the opening ceremony.
Sudan is at odds with the United Nations over its refusal to allow significant numbers of U.N. troops to support a cash-strapped and ill-equipped African Union mission in Darfur.
Khartoum feels the international community has a colonial agenda behind U.N. deployment, including regime change.
The United Nations says Sudan agreed to a joint U.N.-AU force for Darfur in a meeting in the Ethiopian capital last year. But Khartoum said it had only agreed to a small U.N. support package as part of a hybrid operation.
The meeting will travel to south Sudan’s capital Juba on Wednesday.