U.N. Admits Sudanese Militia Was Aboard Flight
Admitting it ferried pro-government militia leaders aboard its relief planes in the Sudan, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said that Operation Lifeline Sudan “did transport three militia members on one of its planes and this in fact triggered [a weeklong hostage crisis] last month.”
He said procedures have been tightened “to keep this from happening again, and it was in our view an isolated incident and not part of a broader, more general pattern.”
Among the procedures, the U.N. will issue identity cards to Sudanese relief partners to prevent the transport of fighters on its aircraft again--which could compromise the neutrality of the U.N.
Eckhard made his comments in response to an article in the Financial Times of London. Four people--two Kenyan pilots, an American and a Sudanese relief official--had been taken hostage in the Upper Nile region in southeastern Sudan and were released Feb. 10 and Feb. 11.
At the time, the pro-government Sudanese newspaper Akhbar al-Youm newspaper said the plane was being held by a pro-Khartoum militia led by Gabriel Tanginya.
Tanginya was said to be angry because another U.N.-chartered plane had transported three of his commanders in February to an area where they were detained by militias loyal to the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the paper said.
Intensive talks were then conducted until the four hostages were released.
Civilians are caught in fighting between the government and their allies and an array of rebels, campaigning for autonomy for the largely Christian south from the predominantly Muslim north. More than 2 million people have died in the fighting and resulting famine since 1983.