Freivalds speaks out on Sudan

Back in July, when some of the world was finally starting to wake up and take notice of the growing humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan, Sweden's Social Democratic government came under a storm of criticism for not speaking out against the Sudanese government's handling, or lack of handling, of the situation.

Sweden has been relatively active in Africa over the past few decades, said critics, so why was the government silent now? Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds was acting Prime Minister at the time and gave a half-hearted condemnation of the Sudanese government and the roving pro-grovernment militias, the janjaweed.

Now, with Prime Minister Göran Persson back at the helm, Freivalds has been let off the leash a bit and on her trip to Africa this week, she started to crank up the pressure on Sudan.

On Monday, prior to leaving South Africa for Sudan, she said that if Sudan’s government fails to bow to international pressure and increase efforts to resolve the situation in Darfur, she would be in favor of sanctions against the country. She added that if there was a feeling that there was no will to fulfill international demands for actions, then other measures would have to be considered.

Freivalds’ comments came on the same day that United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan was due to report to the Security Council on what, if any, progress had been made in returning stability to Darfur since the Council gave Sudan a 30-day ultimatum on July 30th.

Following meetings with her Sudanese counterpart Mustafa Osman Ismail, Freivalds said that the Sudanese government appears ready to accept a larger international peacekeeping force in Darfur, but “the lion’s share remains to be done”.

Whether Freivalds’ talks in Sudan, or U.N. pressure on the government, will have any real effect is an open question. The janjaweed are allegedly acting with the implicit approval of the ruling party, and the atrocities continue. Tuesday saw rebels kidnap 22 volunteers who had joined a program to vaccinate people affected by the fighting.

So far, the 18-month conflict between the government and two rebels groups has forced at least 1.4 million civilians from their homes and left between 30,000 and 50,000 dead.

Judi Lembke