British ambassador to Sudan summoned over hunger and Abyei comments

October 18, 2011 (Sudan Tribune)

Sudan’s Foreign Ministry summoned the British Ambassador to Khartoum on Tuesday, over comments made on his blog regarding the prevalence of hunger in the country, lack of progress on the disputed region of Abyei and other issues.

Sudan’s official news agency (SUNA) said that Nicholas Kay had apologised to the foreign ministry for his article in which he asked: "How do you celebrate World Food Day in a country where hunger stalks the land?"

The British Embassy in Khartoum confirmed to Sudan Tribune that Kay met with the undersecretary of the ministry of foreign affairs Ambassador Rahamtalla Mohamed Osman describing the meeting as ’cordial.’

The Embassy said, ’The Ambassador understands the government’s concerns and will take them into account for future blogs.’

Kay observed in a blog post on Monday that "the past month has seen a further half a million people fall into food insecurity," due to "both natural forces – poor rains– and man-made causes, such as conflict," in Sudan’s regions that border newly independent South Sudan.

The British diplomat regretted that civilians continue to suffer from the armed conflict in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan as result of government’s refusal to allow aid groups to reach the affected populations there.

"Miscalculation, pride and an exaggerated sense of strength bring suffering to tens of thousands. In the very states that should be planting and growing food for much of Sudan and South Sudan, the fields are abandoned. The bitter seeds of future hunger have been sown," he further wrote on his blog.

In the last month there have been regular protests in Khartoum against the rising price of food. Across the Nile in Omdurman a university has been closed after student protests last week.

Kay writes that the protests in the capital indicate that it is not just in the periphery were hunger is an issue calculating that in the last month food prices have increased 20%-25% in the capital.

"The international community, including the UK, aims to feed 5.2 million Sudanese this year," he said.

Considering the price rises the ambassador commented that it is "little wonder Khartoum has seen protests in the last few weeks. And little wonder the Government’s No1 worry is the economy, as President Bashir told the National Assembly last week."

Since August, apart from the spread of conflict from South Kordofan into Blue Nile state, where opposition forces aligned to South Sudan have refused to disarm, political events in Sudan have been more notable for what has not happened than what has, according to the ambassador.

He noted that there has been "no progress on Abyei (the Interim Agreement has not been honoured and Sudanese forces have not been withdrawn despite the impressive deployment of Ethiopian forces by UNISFA); the broad-based government in Khartoum has not been formed; and no clarity has emerged on how the Constitution will be revised."

"In the absence of obvious progress on these, diplomats draw their conclusions from things that have happened: more restrictions on the press, including the closure of newspapers; continuing detention of human rights defenders; the visit of the President of Iran; etc."

Ibrahim Ghandour, spokesperson of the ruling National Congress Party and Secretary of Information, stated Tuesday that he met with the Ambassador Kay and briefed him about the NCP’s vision to address a number of issues and reviewed the general situation in the country.

This is the first time that Sudan’s foreign ministry has requested a meeting with the British ambassador regarding the blog but not the first time he has been criticised for his comments.

In August a newspaper called for him to be expelled after he wrote that it was the Sudanese government’s choice, "whether the national budget for the intelligence service continues to be higher than the budget for education."


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