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News briefs, part 2

Relief Workers, U.S. Officials Call Southern Sudan `Another Somalia'

The Washington Post


In this continent's seemingly endless cycle of civil war and famine, relief workers, U.S. officials and others are calling strife-torn southern Sudan "another Somalia."

Television pictures emerging from southern Sudan are eerily similar to the images that six months ago made Somali towns like Baidoba and Baardheere synonymous with mass starvation -- there are the emaciated people, the stick-like limbs, the hollow eyes of the malnourished children.

The stories being recounted about southern Sudan by recent visitors also echo the horrors once heard about Somalia -- hundreds of thousands of people in desperate need of food, and relief assistance blocked by senseless warfare and violence. Once-thriving villages have become ghost towns. Other villages have swelled tenfold with refugees fleeing a decade-long, brutal civil war. Hospitals are clogged with innocent victims -- mostly women, children, the elderly.

And as with Somalia last fall, voices are being raised calling for a large-scale foreign intervention to stop the Sudanese people's suffering.

"The Clinton administration has to deal with this issue quickly," said Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-Va., a member of the Select Committee on Hunger, who visited parts of southern Sudan this week. "There is no place in Africa now that is more critical in terms of famine. ... You've probably lost more people there (in southern Sudan) than you have in Somalia."

Earlier this week, Jim Kunder, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development's office of foreign disaster assistance, called southern Sudan "the most silent of the major humanitarian crises around the world today."

Key differences between Somalia and southern Sudan make the Sudanese case seem at once more intractable and more easily forgotten. For one, the war in Sudan has raged largely hidden from view for a decade, pitting the hard-line Moslem fundamentalist military government in Khartoum against black Christians and animists who make up most of the population of the south and are fighting for autonomy.

"It's a very different situation" from the war that devastated Somalia, said Robert Hadley, information officer for the United Nations' Operation Lifeline Sudan, which has been working to provide relief to the area since 1989. "Somalia collapsed very quickly, and it was a central-government collapse," occasioned by the ouster of longtime strongman Mohamed Siad Barre in January 1991. Sudan, Hadley said, is "not collapsing from the top down."

According to Hadley and other reliable accounts, Khartoum has relentlessly bombed civilian population centers in the south, usually with old Soviet-made cargo planes flying at 12,000 feet or higher over rebel-held areas and dropping 500-pound bombs out the back cargo hatch. "It's very ineffective, and it's very, very messy," said Hadley. "It's a very, very brutal weapon."

Wolf said he visited the village of Kajo Kaji near the Ugandan border, which had been the target of recent bombing. The congressman said he saw 10 bomb craters in the village. He also said he found old people and women in hospitals suffering from shrapnel wounds. Wolf last visited southern Sudan in 1988 and `89, and said now, "This thing is going down. The people are very demoralized."

Unlike Somalia, an established relief operation has operated for years inside southern Sudan. In addition to the U.N. operation that includes World Food Program flights, several private relief organizations have been working in the region. But the humanitarian efforts have been hampered by the fighting, and both the Khartoum government and the southern rebels have forced relief agencies to negotiate areas of access.

The Washington Post


Russian President Boris Yeltsin and parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov held talks Thursday night on resolving a constitutional dispute, but failed to reach agreement on how to divide political power.

The one-hour Kremlin session was the first substantive meeting between Russia's two most powerful politicians since a showdown last December. It followed a call by Yeltsin for a political truce that would freeze the present balance of power between the executive and legislative branches and postpone a referendum on constitutional reform scheduled for April 11.

Presidential spokesman Vyacheslav Kostikov later said preparations for the referendum will continue, along with a search for a compromise. Two meetings between Yeltsin and Khasbulatov have been scheduled for next week.

The president's advisers appear to be split on whether to push ahead with the referendum, which Yeltsin had hoped would give voters a chance to choose between a presidential and a parliamentary form of government. Some contend the referendum is essential to put an end to the power struggle with the conservative-dominated parliament. Others fear it will exacerbate the political tensions caused by a worsening economy.

A politician who owes his power to his ability to manipulate parliament, Khasbulatov has succeeded in chipping away at Yeltsin's authority over the past year even though his own popularity in the country is negligible. He stunned Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt at a meeting this month by declaring that the president was not "up to the job" and should give up much of his power to the parliament.

Before Thursday's Kremlin session, which was attended by Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin, Yeltsin told reporters it was necessary to avert a political crisis that had the potential of "blowing up the country." He called for a "moratorium on all fistfights" in 1993, but said the "people" would have the decisive word if he and Khasbulatov were unable to reach agreement.

In exchange for dropping the idea of a referendum, Yeltsin has proposed holding parliamentary elections in 1994 and presidential elections in 1995, a year early. Khasbulatov has demanded simultaneous elections for both branches in 1994 and wants to strengthen the legislature.