KABKABIYA, Sudan (AP) – Former President Jimmy Carter confronted Sudanese security services on a visit to Darfur Wednesday, shouting “You don’t have the power to stop me!” at some who blocked him from meeting refugees of the conflict.

The 83-year-old Carter wanted to visit a refugee camp in South Darfur but the U.N. mission in Sudan deemed that too dangerous. Instead, he agreed to fly to the World Food Program compound in the North Darfur town of Kabkabiya, where he was supposed to meet with refugees, many of whom were chased from their homes by militias and government forces.

But none of the refugees showed up and Carter decided to walk into the town, a volatile stronghold of the pro-government janjaweed militia, to meet refugees too frightened to attend the meeting at the compound.

He was able to make it to a school where he met with one tribal representative and was preparing to go further into town when Sudanese security officers stopped him.

“You can’t go. It’s not on the program!” the local security chief, who only gave his first name as Omar, yelled at Carter, who is in Darfur as part of a delegation of respected international figures known as “The Elders.”

“We’re going to anyway!” an angry Carter retorted as a crowd began to gather. “You don’t have the power to stop me.”

However, U.N. officials told Carter’s entourage the Sudanese state police could bar his way. Carter’s traveling companions, billionaire businessman Richard Branson and Graca Machel, the wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, tried to ease his frustration and his Secret Service detail urged him to get into a car and leave.

“I’ll tell President Bashir about this,” Carter said, referring to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

Omar, the security chief, said Carter had already breached security once by walking to the school and would not be allowed to breach security again.

“We are in the security field. We’re not that flexible,” he said after the confrontation ended.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Carter later played down the encounter, saying the security chief was only doing his job.

“But it’s true that I’m not accustomed to people telling me I can’t walk down the street and meet people,” he told the AP after returning to a United Nations compound in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state.

Branson said some refugees had slipped notes in his pockets.

“We (are) still suffering from the war as our girls are being raped on a daily basis,” read one of the notes, translated from Arabic, that Branson handed to the AP.

The note said that on Sept. 26, a group of girls had been raped and a refugee had been shot two days ago. Branson said it had been handed over by an ethnic African man.

For the most part, the refugees in Kabkabiya appeared too frightened to speak to the visiting delegation. Most of the community leaders the mission met during its two-day visit to Darfur appeared to be government-vetted, and several ethnic African delegates told AP they had been intimidated by authorities into turning down invitations from “the Elders.”

“This illustrates the challenges that communities and humanitarian workers face in Darfur,” said Orla Clinton, spokeswoman for the U.N. Mission in Sudan, who witnessed the incident.

More than 200,000 people have been killed since the conflict in the western Sudanese region of Darfur began in 2003 when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government, accusing it of decades of neglect. Sudan’s government is accused of retaliating by unleashing a militia of Arab nomads known as the janjaweed – a charge it denies.

The visit by “The Elders,” which is headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureates Carter and Desmond Tutu, is largely a symbolic move by a host of respected figures to push all sides to make peace.

The group made Darfur its first mission, trying to use their influence at a crucial time in the conflict. A peacekeeping force of 26,000 United Nations and African Union troops is to begin deploying later this month and new peace talks between the government and rebels are set for the end of the month in Libya.

Tensions in Darfur are running high after rebels overran an African Union peacekeeping base in northern Darfur over the weekend, killing 10 in the deadliest attack on the beleaguered force since it arrived in the region three years ago.

Tutu led a separate group to a refugee camp in South Darfur, where he told British Broadcasting Corp. radio the joint African Union-U.N. force was needed immediately.

“It’s awful that AMIS (African Mission in Sudan) should be allowed to be here when it is so inadequately equipped – I mean they couldn’t evacuate their injured from the camp after the attack because they don’t have military helicopters,” he said, referring to the weekend attack on the African Union base.

Carter accused the international community with neglect for taking too long to mobilize over Darfur.

“Because of Iraq, this crisis had been simmering at a lower level,” he told the AP.

However, he said he disagreed with Bush and others who called the killings in Darfur a genocide.

“Rwanda was definitely a genocide; what Hitler did to the Jews was; but I don’t think it’s the case in Darfur,” Carter said. “I think Darfur is a crime against humanity, but done on a micro scale. A dozen janjaweed attacking here and there,” he said, noting many refugees have survived the violence.

“I don’t think the commitment was to exterminate a whole group of people, but to chase them from their water holes and lands, killing them in the process at random,” he said. “I think you can call it ethnic cleansing.”

He also pledged to hold world powers to their pledge of ending the “crime against humanity.”

Carter said he met with al-Bashir, who had committed to holding the elections on time and invited international observers from his foundation, the Carter Center, to monitor the vote.

Carter said he believed the trip was proving effective. He said al-Bashir told him this week that Sudan has committed $100 million to a fund for Darfur’s reconstruction and another $200 million has been pledged by Chinese diplomatic allies.

But he questioned the commitment of al-Bashir, who was brought to power in a military and Islamist coup in 1989.

“When people have been in power for so long, and in an authoritarian regime like this one, they don’t want to endanger their power,” he said.

Carter said the main goal of the three-day visit to Sudan was to seek guarantees for free and fair elections throughout the country in 2009.


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