Isakson: Hope, but much work left, in Sudan

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said Monday there are “signs of hope” in troubled regions of Africa, including the war-torn region of The Sudan.

Isakson just returned from a late May visit to several African nations, including Darfur, the Sudanese region decimated by civil war and a recalcitrant government.

Isakson, in his role as vice chairman of the Africa subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, toured parts of Sudan, Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania.

In Sudan, Isakson and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) met with the country’s vice president and chief of security before traveling to the Darfur region where the United Nations has estimated more than 300,000 have died and 2.7  million have lost their homes since fighting began more than six years ago.

“There have been signs of hope that help may be on the way,” Isakson said Monday in a speech at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

The Sudanese government, Isakson said, continues to be a difficult group with which to deal, but “they have been helpful with the global war on terror.”

Isakson said, the Sudanese also recently helped block “some things” from getting into Hamas-ruled Gaza. Sudanese leaders have said their warplanes attacked a smuggling convoy near its border with Egypt.

American involvement in the area has mostly been through direct humanitarian aid, diplomatic pressure and the work of non-governmental organizations such as CARE USA.

In a brief interview following his speech, Isakson said U.S. involvement has been limited by restrictions from the Sudanese government but that the NGOs are doing phenomenal work.

“The United States is the third largest provider of aid to people of Sudan and Darfur,” he said. “We’re doing a tremendous amount. A lot of what we do depends on what the Sudanese government allows you to do.”

Asked what more the U.S. could be doing, the state’s junior senator said could learn more about that Thursday, when he meets in Washington with other Sudanese leaders.

But Isakson and most African observers have high hopes for 2010, when the Sudanese government has pledged to hold “open, free and democratic” national elections as called for in the comprehensive peace agreement that ended the civil war. Then, in 2011, a secession referendum is set to decide whether the oil-rich southern region of the country separates from the agrarian north.

While in Darfur, Isakson said his delegation was “under heavy guard” of United Nations troops, primarily from Indonesia, as well as African Union troops.

“As we pulled up in an armored vehicle to the camp, there was a horse that obviously died weeks ago, deteriorating on one side and on the other side some of them men were slaughtering goats for food,” he said at the CDC. “It was 6 in the morning and it was already 100 degrees. I was all down here from there.”

In the refugee camps, malnutrition is rampant among children, he said, while AIDS is prevalent among men and women.

“We as a country insist on humanitarian efforts, and find every way we can to end the human tragedy,” he said. “Having visited there now, the key to that will be the comprehensive peach agreement becoming a reality and not just a piece of paper.”

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