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Sudanese FLight Ban May Disrupt U.N. Humanitarian Aid Efforts

By John Lancaster
The Washington Post
KHARTOUM, Sudan

A U.N. plan to ban international flights by Sudanese aircraft would disrupt humanitarian relief efforts in a country ravaged by famine and civil war, according to an internal U.N. document.

Under pressure from the United States, the U.N. Security Council this month is scheduled to consider a flight ban as punishment for Sudan's failure to turn over three suspects in the attempted assassination of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a visit to Ethiopia in June 1995.

But U.N. officials in Khartoum said the consequences of the ban would far exceed its intended - and relatively modest - goal of curbing international flights by Sudan Airways or other Sudanese aircraft. That is because Sudan lacks aircraft maintenance facilities, which means most of its commercial planes must be flown abroad for servicing.

A ban on international flights, therefore, according to the U.N. document, would prevent Sudanese aircraft from undergoing required maintenance, and that would ultimately prevent them from flying on domestic routes, or at least from doing so safely. The disruption of domestic air service would prevent international aid agencies from delivering food and medicine, cut off communication and commerce between the capital and outlying areas, and seriously disrupt U.N. efforts to repatriate refugees, the document said.

"In a country as vast as the Sudan, not only internal travel but also internal distribution of humanitarian materials, specifically medicine and also food, is done by air," said the Dec. 4 report by Christophe Jaeger, the senior representative of the U.N. Development Program in Khartoum.

"The deterioration of air services in the country will affect directly the programming and delivery of humanitarian assistance and implementation of development assistance from the United Nations agencies as well as from the rest of the international community and other actors," it said.

Such conclusions are not likely to be welcomed in official Washington. U.S. officials describe Sudan as a haven for international terrorists and have pushed hard for the sanctions. But since the U.N. Security Council voted in August to impose the flight ban, several council members - notably France, Russia, and China - have expressed reservations about it. The council has delayed implementation pending further study of its effects.

Last week, an envoy from the U.N. Department for Humanitarian Affairs, Claude Bruderlein, arrived in Khartoum to gather more information on the humanitarian effects of the flight ban that is likely to "substantiate" Jaeger's conclusions, U.N. officials said. A copy of Jaeger's report, stamped "confidential," was made available by an individual who strongly opposes the U.N. sanctions plan.

Sudanese officials deny that they knowingly harbored any of Mubarak's would-be assassins. They say, moreover, that Sudan is a vast country with porous borders, that Sudanese police have made good-faith efforts to capture the terrorists - including a plea to the international police agency Interpol - and that there is no evidence any of them are still in the country.

"People are very bitter" about the proposed sanctions, said Abdel-Rahman Khalifa, the country's public prosecutor and the head of a committee that investigated the Mubarak case.