David Miliband

Foreign Secretary

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Monday 14 July, 2008

24 Hours in Khartoum

Written on Sunday 13 July

Massive heat at 1.30am (35°C) is the first welcome from Sudan. Britain's history in Sudan is better regarded in the country than outside - at least that is one conclusion from 24 hours in Khartoum. Sudan is pivotal to a key part of Africa. Put another way, instability in Sudan has regional consequences. The three conflicts in Sudan - North/South, Sudan - Chad (West - East), and Darfur are linked and destructive. They were the focus throughout my day of meetings from the President down.

Sudan last had elections in the 1980's; the largest party are not represented in the government, and while the civil war was ended by the groundbreaking Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, the agreement was not comprehensive enough to cover the entire country. Since then Darfur has also been the scene of death and destruction that has rightly claimed the attention of the world. 

 Resolution in Darfur depends on political negotiation between the government and rebel groups. Britain is ready to support that. But we also know that the proliferation of rebel groups (to about 20 now) does not mean that there is growing representation of popular Darfuri opinion; that depends on the real engagement of Darfur Civil Society. My meeting with NGOs showed the pressing humanitarian need - to better access to food and medicine for people in need. That requires  both government and rebel groups to show responsibility. It also requires strengthening of the UN/AU force - 10,000 strong, but short of the 26,000 promised and subject to a vicious and deadly attack the day before I arrived. 

The challenges of Sudan come together at next year's elections, and the possible secession of the South means danger for all concerned. I came away from Khartoum very concerned about the imminent risk of even higher levels of instability. The problems are profound and challenging even in a peaceful situation - think of water resources along the Nile. But the solution has to be more than just political, and must include economics; the oil boom is a boom but its effects are limited mainly to the Capital.  And the ability of politicians to reach compromises is weak despite the efforts of some parts of Civil Society.

The newspapers outside Sudan are full of stories about the International Criminal Court and war crimes in Darfur. The UK is a strong supporter of the International Court and encourages all to engage with it. I will have more to say if there are developments in the week. 

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blah blah blah blah blah. What we need is Thatcher back. I never thought I'd say that. But give the old bird her dues, she stood up for this country and would be in places like Zimbabwe and Sudan in a shot. And if the army is overstretched, I'm sure she'd be more than happy to go in there herself to sort it out. And she didn't care about public opinion cos she knew the public are institutionally thick. Unlike the spineless runts running the country now who are too scared about losing their jobs to show any backbone. No offence Dave. I used to be Labour to the core - not anymore mate.

Posted by Justin on July 14, 2008 at 03:47 PM BST #

Well let's hope that the International Criminal Court's charge against Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir charged with genocide and other crimes prevails. A strong message needs to be sent to all who commit crimes against the defenseless people and all those who are currently plotting such evils.

Posted by N Hodges on July 14, 2008 at 04:23 PM BST #

The volume of blog updates from Mr Miliband is to be applauded, but they too often fail to give new insight to anyone who already has an interest in international affairs, and who but someone already interested in international affairs is likely to be keeping a close eye on the FCO Bloggers? If the main things drawn from a post from the Foreign Secretary are that he has a strange grasp of the English language "massive heat"?, and will not only state the obvious "The problems are profound and challenging...", but do it twice "Sudan is pivotal to a key part of Africa. Put another way, instability in Sudan has regional consequences." and that he does it quite clumsily, then perhaps there should be a bit more meat to what is being said. The Foreign Secretary should perhaps look to the profound and moving words we have from the staff of the High Commission in Zimbabwe, or to the friendly insights provided by Sarah Russell, because if the laudable frequency of the posts here could be combined with the substance of some of the other groups of posts, then people reading Mr Miliband's blog would benefit far far more, and that is - I take it - the principal purpose of the FCO Bloggers project.

Posted by Francis James Leo Osborn on July 15, 2008 at 02:58 PM BST #

Mr Osbone - Aren't you rather pessimistic? At least Britain remains interested in the people of Sudan and neighbouring areas' plight - more so than seems obvious from other members of the G8. The saga of the long suffering people of Dafur clearly justifies sympathy from all concerned and interested in humanitarian issues and crisis - so whatever Britian is offering to these poor folks should be applauded: at least it remains focussed and interested in assisting - more than can be said of any other nasion.

Posted by LizevJ on July 16, 2008 at 09:32 AM BST #

I withdraw my last comment and apologise. I was just frustrated with what seems to me a lack of progress sometimes.

Posted by Justin on July 18, 2008 at 10:31 AM BST #

You said, "Britain's history in Sudan is better regarded in the country than outside". I would be interested if you could expand on that statement having recently been in the Sudan.

Posted by Stuart Hurlbut on July 26, 2008 at 11:16 AM BST #

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