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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 July 2005, 21:52 GMT 22:52 UK
Scuffle row overshadows Sudan visit
By Jonathan Beale
BBC News

US journalist Andrea Mitchell is taken out of a meeting in Khartoum, Sudan
One of the US journalists was escorted out of a meeting
It seemed rather silly and inappropriate that a scuffle between US officials and press with Sudanese security staff should overshadow a visit aimed at highlighting the humanitarian crises in Darfur.

But the spat over media access to a meeting between Condoleezza Rice and President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan gave us an insight into the kind of government he runs.

It all started when we arrived to

witness the opening diplomatic pleasantries of that meeting at the president's palace in Khartoum.

The Sudanese camera crews and reporters were allowed in without much fuss, but those of us travelling with the secretary of state were barred by men who had clearly been told to keep the foreign reporters at bay.

We frankly don't appreciate being manhandled at the front door... We think our reporters should get as much access as possible
Jim Wilkinson
Adviser to Ms Rice

Ms Rice's staff began to protest, we began to try to push our way past the door, but the security staff still would not budge.

A formal complaint was made by state department spokesman Sean McCormack.

Ms Rice's senior advisor Jim Wilkinson - a red-headed Texan with by now a mood to match the colour of his hair - accused the Sudanese of ignoring the basic principles of good diplomacy.

"We frankly don't appreciate being manhandled at the front door... We think our reporters should get as much access as possible... they were promised access.

"Diplomacy 101 [the basics] says you don't rough your guests up," he fumed.

Mr Wilkinson could later be seen wagging his finger at senior Sudanese ministers.


Of course, after such a strong protest it was impossible for the Sudanese security to ignore us.

Eventually a man in a military uniform - and there were plenty of those - reluctantly obliged with the warning that we were not to ask any questions, which is a bit like asking an alcoholic not to raid the minibar left wide open.

Condoleezza Rice, lefts, meets Sudanese President al-Bashir

So that was exactly what US television network NBC's Andrea Mitchell (spouse of Alan Greenspan, no less) did with a question along the lines of: "How can we trust a rogue like you?"

The petite but fierce Ms Mitchell was dragged out of the room and the rest of us soon followed, with a bemused Condoleezza Rice looking on.

Later on the plane, the secretary of state told us that she thought the behaviour of the security staff had been outrageous.

Another complaint was lodged, followed by a phone call on the plane from the Sudanese Foreign Minister, who assured her that the security staff would be "dealt with".

It was the first time we felt sorry for them.


It is not hard to see why the hundreds of thousands of people living in Darfur's refugee camps give outsiders such a warm welcome.

The throng of refugee children at the Abu Shouk camp who greeted Ms Rice by chanting "welcome, welcome oh Condoleezza" may have seemed a tad staged, but these people clearly do not trust their government.

Condoleezza Rice visits the Abu Shouk refugee camp in Darfur, Sudan
Ms Rice spent about an hour talking to people in the camp

True, Sudan does have a "new" government of national unity, but it still contains many of the same old faces who presided over what the US believes was a genocide.

The refugees believe their own security is better guaranteed by the African Union troops who are arriving to "monitor" the camps, rather than the truckloads of Sudanese military - who have been complicit in the killings.

President Bashir did reassure the US secretary of state that he was clamping down on the violence and restoring security.

But UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, UK foreign secretary Jack Straw and former US Secretary of State Colin Powell have all heard that one before.

Maybe Ms Rice will have to make another visit to make sure he sticks to his word this time. But then it may quite some time before she returns.

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