Nairobi (CNS.News.com) - Following a U.S. diplomat's recent visit to rebel-held areas of southern Sudan, the Sudanese government has now barred American diplomats from entering the country in protest against the visit.
During her visit, Dr. Susan Rice, the assistant secretary of state in charge of Africa, denounced the Khartoum government over gross human rights abuses including slavery, abductions, rape and bombing of civilian targets.
Rice, who was on a tour of four African nations, was accused by the Sudanese Islamist government of failing to seek Khartoum's permission before traveling to the war-ravaged southern town of Rumbek, where Rice called for an end to the "heinous" practice of slavery. Dr. Rice also visited Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.
U.S. embassy officials in Nairobi last Thursday confirmed that the Sudanese government had imposed the ban on both arriving and departing U.S. diplomatic staff.
"They are not going to allow any of our people to return there. They sent us a diplomatic note yesterday (Nov. 21) in which they said they were annoyed with Susan Rice's visit and they were canceling all multiple exit and entry visas for all American officials,'' said Tom Hart, a US embassy public affairs spokesman in Nairobi.
The United States has no resident diplomatic officials in Sudan because of what Washington calls security concerns, but the United States does send accredited officials to Khartoum to attend to urgent diplomatic situations.
The U.S. Embassy in Khartoum is open but there has been no U.S. ambassador to Sudan since 1997. The embassy was closed after the U.S. accused Sudan of sponsoring terrorism and of failing to guarantee security to American diplomatic staff.
The US. charge d'affaires in Sudan, Raymond L. Brown, is based in Nairobi, capital of neighboring Kenya, but he regularly visits Khartoum.
The Sudanese Foreign Affairs ministry said it was demanding an explanation from the American government as to what was the significance and meaning of Rice's visit to the rebel-controlled region.
''We have officially asked the United States charge d'affaires to provide a clear and frank explanation as to the significance of the visit of the American official to southern Sudan without seeking permission from the government,'' Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail was quoted as saying.
Until an explanation is given, he said, American officials will not be allowed to visit Sudan.
An official at the Sudanese embassy in Nairobi who declined to be named warned that other measures will be taken against the U.S., but he declined to give details.
''Sudan is not taking this kindly. America should know that Sudan has a lawfully constituted government, which is a member of the United Nations and should be respected. I am sure more measures will be taken against the United States,'' said the official.
Last week, after Rice returned from Sudan, she made a scathing attack on the Sudanese Islamist government, accusing it of bombing villages in the rebel-held Southern Sudan, which had left several people dead and others maimed.
Addressing a press conference, Rice said the Sudanese government was wantonly killing innocent civilians, among them children and asked the international community to put pressure on Sudan to stop the heinous bombings.
"The people are paralyzed with fear. The bombings have terrorized and traumatized them, " Rice said, adding that she visited a mission hospital which was bombed earlier this year.
The United States is the biggest single donor of humanitarian assistance to southern Sudan and has donated around $1.5 billion in aid to the rebel-held areas in the past decade.
She said incidents of rape, torture, slavery, and abduction continue to be reported in the villages saying the government was not prosecuting those behind these inhuman activities.
"The government of Sudan must put an end to the heinous practice of slavery and the brutal raids on innocent civilian population," Rice said when addressing diplomats, legislators and businessmen in Nairobi on Tuesday. The United States accuses Sudan of promoting international terrorism.
Sudanese President Says U.S. Biased
Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir, speaking at a six-nation regional summit that started in Khartoum last Thursday, accused the United States of interfering in its internal affairs by supporting rebels in a 17-year-old civil war.
''We strongly condemn and reject the American intervention in our domestic affairs,'' el-Bashir told the gathering of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development.
He claimed that the United States was not neutral in Sudan's civil war and had allegedly provided material, moral, logistical and political support, to the rebel groups.
Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail said his country was considering other punitive measures against the United States if it did not provide an explanation for Rice's visit to the rebels. He did not elaborate. He also said that American interference was prolonging the war and delaying a peace settlement between the rebels and the government, who have been holding talks under the auspices of IGAD but continue to fight.
The rebels took up arms in 1983 to press for increased autonomy or independence for the predominantly Christian and animist south, which has been traditionally dominated by the Muslim and Arab north. An estimated 2 million people have died due to fighting, diseases and hunger related to the conflict.
The IGAD-sponsored peace talks began three years ago to discuss separation of state and religion and a form of administration in southern Sudan prior to a referendum on self-determination and the management of oil resources.