Swedish aid minister turned away from Darfur

Swedish Aid Minister Carin Jämtin was on Wednesday blocked from carrying out a planned visit to Sudan's war-torn Darfur region by local officials, the Swedish foreign ministry told AFP.

Jämtin was in Khartoum when the governor of Al-Fashir, the capital city of the Darfur province, informed her delegation that they were not welcome even though their visit had been approved in advance by the Sudanese government, ministry spokesman John Zanchi said.

The governor, Osman Yusuf al-Kabir, “used a few excuses but … what Carin Jämtin has said is that it is because they are very negative to an expanded international presence in Darfur, and it is well-known that that is something Sweden supports,” Zanchi said.

The UN Security Council voted last week to speed up plans to deploy peacekeepers to replace the cash-strapped African Union mission in Darfur, where war, disease and famine have claimed up to 300,000 lives in three years.

Sudan’s President Omar al-Beshir warned in a speech at the Arab summit on Tuesday that Khartoum would not accept the deployment of foreign troops in the region.

Al-Kabir gave three reasons why the Swedish delegation was not welcome: cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed had been printed in the Swedish media; the visit was scheduled during the month of the prophet’s birth; and the minister’s security could not be assured.

“We must of course reflect further on the real reason for the governor’s actions, and I think it has to do with the UN mandate and a general fear rather than an attack on Sweden or something like that,” Swedish news agency quoted Jämtin as saying from Khartoum.

“I have already expressed my dissatisfaction, I did so when I landed yesterday and was met by the Sudanese minister for development cooperation,” she said.

Her visit to Sudan is scheduled to end on Friday.