KHARTOUM, Sudan — Security forces in the Sudanese capital manhandled U.S. officials and reporters traveling with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday, marring her round of meetings with leaders of the new unified government. Miss Rice demanded an apology, and got it.
“It makes me very angry to be sitting there with their president and have this happen,” she said. “They have no right to push and shove.”
Miss Rice made her remarks to reporters yesterday after she and her entourage boarded an airplane to fly from the capital to a refugee camp in the Darfur region.
At the camp, she said the Sudanese government must prove its promises are credible and that she would hold the government to account if it fails to end the refugee crisis.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the Sudanese foreign minister responded to Miss Rice’s demand for an apology by telephoning her aboard the plane to express regret for the incidents at the ultra-high-security residence of Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir.
Twice, Sudanese guards’ hostility toward members of Miss Rice’s entourage devolved into shouts and shoving.
As Miss Rice’s motorcade arrived at the residence, armed guards blocked three vehicles from entering, including those carrying Miss Rice’s interpreter and other aides who were supposed to attend her meeting with Mr. el-Bashir.
When the officials finally were allowed through the gate, some found themselves barred from entering the building for the meeting. As Rice senior adviser Jim Wilkinson tried to get in, guards repeatedly pushed and pulled him, and at one point he was shoved into a wall.
“Diplomacy 101 says you don’t rough your guests up,” Mr. Wilkinson said.
Reporters, whom guards reluctantly allowed into the meeting for a planned photo session, were harassed and elbowed, and guards repeatedly tried to rip a microphone away from a U.S. reporter.
Ambassador Khidir Haroun Ahmed, head of the Sudanese mission in Washington, attempted to smooth over the situation on the spot. “Please accept our apologies,” he told reporters. “This is not our policy.” But there was another scuffle moments later.
The reporters were told not to ask questions, over State Department objections. When NBC diplomatic reporter Andrea Mitchell tried to ask Mr. el-Bashir about his involvement with purported atrocities, guards grabbed her and muscled her toward the rear of the room.
State Department officials shouted at the guards. “Get your hands off her,” Mr. Wilkinson demanded. But all the reporters and a camera crew were physically forced out as Miss Rice and Mr. el-Bashir watched.
The session at Mr. el-Bashir’s residence capped a morning of meetings before a visit to the western region of Darfur. The United States blames the Sudanese government for recruiting and equipping militiamen to massacre villagers in the region and burn their homes.
Sudan denies the accusations.
War-induced hunger and disease have killed more than 180,000 people and driven more than 2 million from their homes.