Tags: U.S. | Condemns | Shooting | Down | Red | Cross | Plane

U.S. Condemns Shooting Down of Red Cross Plane in Sudan

Monday, 14 May 2001 12:00 AM

"It is the responsibility of the Sudanese government to guarantee security to humanitarian and other relief agencies working in any part of Sudan," said a public affairs official at the U.S. Embassy here who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"Whereas we are waiting for investigations to establish the cause and motive of the shooting, the Sudanese government stands blamed for the act," the official added. The embassy in Nairobi oversees Sudan in the absence of a fully operating mission in Khartoum.

The State Department said earlier that "any attack on humanitarian relief operations is an outrage. We condemn it most strongly. These operations are very important for the welfare of countless Sudanese civilians."

The Red Cross suspended its operations in the area, until investigations to establish why the aircraft was targeted are completed.

A representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Nairobi, Nathan Kahara, said more details would be released once the probe is over.

"It is a tragedy that has left the organization dumbfounded," he said.

The death of the Danish co-pilot of the Red Cross plane, Ole Friis Eriksen, 26, dealt a fresh blow to the relief organization, after six of its employees were shot and their bodies mutilated with machetes just last month in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The last Red Cross casualties before that occurred in 1996, when three aid workers were killed in Burundi.

The Red Cross said a blast rocked the passenger plane after it descended to counter a cabin pressure problem, while on a routine flight from northern Kenya to Juba, a government-held town in southern Sudan, encircled by rebels.

"That's when an explosion was heard and the co-pilot died almost instantly with a severe head injury," said ICRC spokesman Michael Kleiner in Nairobi.

Another pilot in the plane managed to return the nine-seater plane to its point of departure in Kenya. The two pilots were alone on board.

Eriksen's body was initially flown to Nairobi, and has since been flown home to Denmark.

"It's a shock and comes very fast after we had to digest what happened in [Congo]. It's a bit too much," Kleiner said.

"In both situations it was a clearly marked vehicle," he said. "The protected emblem of the Red Cross was not respected."

Kleiner said he had no information on who fired at the plane, but rebels who have waged an 18-year-long war for more autonomy in the south accused the government.

The ICRC said attacks on its aircraft were very rare, and it had obtained all the necessary clearance from both government and rebels for the regular weekly flight.

Sudan is Africa's largest country. An estimated 2 million people have been killed or starved to death during the almost two decade-long civil war between the Arab Muslim government and African Christian and animist southerners.

Sudan's main rebel movement blamed the attack on the government.

"It must have been the government of Sudan forces or the militia that are roaming that area," Sudanese People's Liberation Army spokesman Samson Kwaje said in Nairobi.

"The whole idea of the government is that no service should be going to people in south Sudan," he claimed.

Kwaje said only government forces were equipped with the kind of anti-aircraft weapon that would have been required to damage a plane flying at around 8,000 feet.

But the Sudanese government blamed the incident on the rebels. "The area where the incident took place lies under the control of the rebel movement and we do not have troops in the area," armed forces spokesman Lt. Gen. Mohamed Bashir Suleiman said.

Sulaf al-Din Saleh, the government-appointed aid commissioner, said the state was investigating the incident, but absolved the armed forces.

In January, hundreds of government-backed militiamen on horseback looted a Red Cross clinic in the rebel-held village of Chelkou. Six months earlier, a bomb dropped by a government military aircraft damaged an ICRC plane parked on Chelkou's airstrip.

Earlier this month President Bush appointed a U.S. Agency for International Development representative, Andrew Natsios, as special humanitarian coordinator to monitor aid deliveries in Sudan.

Natsios is tasked to make sure the authorities do not siphon off assistance as aid agencies have alleged.

"My administration will continue to speak and act for as long as the persecution and atrocities in Sudan last," Bush said at the time.

Since 1989, the U.S. has provided about $1.2 billion in aid to Sudan. Some of the money has gone to civilians in government-controlled areas, but most has been spent on areas held by or contested by the SPLA.

Washington has put Sudan on its list of nations sponsoring terrorism. On May 3, Sudan was elected back onto the U.N. Commission for Human Rights. On the same day, the U.S. lost its seat.

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It is the responsibility of the Sudanese government to guarantee security to humanitarian and other relief agencies working in any part of Sudan, said a public affairs official at the U.S. Embassy here who spoke on condition of anonymity. Whereas we are waiting for...
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Monday, 14 May 2001 12:00 AM
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