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View from Sudan


For three years, the NPR foreign desk has been trying to get a reporter back into the Darfur area of Sudan in Africa. Gwen Thompkins finally got there this week with help from the U.N. World Food Program. And earlier today, Gwen described for DAY TO DAY how hard life is and was there, even before Janjaweed militias started raiding and killing.

GWEN THOMPKINS: You know, when you fly over Darfur, you realize just how deserted and remote it is. It is desert territory. And so, when you see towns like El Fasher and Niyala, these are oases in the desert. And the smaller villages are even more important oasis because they really offer a measure of comfort for people who are living under extremely harsh conditions. So when you add rebel conflict to this mixture, then it becomes extremely difficult for everyone.

As you know, I mean, people have been pushed off their properties. Villages have been burned. And Alex, when a village disappears from the desert within a very short period of time, there's really no evidence of that village. The nature there is that harsh.

CHADWICK: So, you did fly into a village, though, El Fasher, you say. Is that a functioning community or is it some burned out wreck of a town.

THOMPKINS: You know it's actually a very functioning community. But on the outskirts of town are some of the largest camps for their internally displaced people. So there's a contrast and it is stark.

CHADWICK: So, these people, these refugees, they would have come from villages, maybe out in the countryside - smaller communities - and they flee to this town because it seems to offer some kind of protection anyway. Is that it?

THOMPKINS: You know, the international aide community has been in this area for years now. And there are approximately 13,000 aide workers who have been working over the years to provide some modicum of comfort to folks whose lives have been taken up by war. The food is reliable. The water is reliable. Unfortunately, the only thing that isn't reliable often enough is the security because people who live in these camps are often subject to violence - either on the outskirts of the camp because they are looking for firewood or other resources or is perhaps even inside the camps.

CHADWICK: You know, I heard you on MORNING EDITION today describing some of these children that you me met in this camp as looking like maybe elves in high heels - I was so struck by this. Is there any other person that you encountered there that you could tell us about?

THOMPKINS: You know, I'm also very struck by the women in Darfur and in large part because this is - as I mentioned before, it's sort of a bleak landscape. But then when you see these women out on the horizon and they're wearing these beautiful cloths, they just stand out like beautiful birds in turquoises and fuchsias and the most beautiful peridot(ph) green. And you know, they just look like royalty on the horizon. And I think that that's the image that will stay with me for a long time.

CHADWICK: Gwen Thompkins reporting for us from Southern Sudan at the end of her trip to the Darfur region. Gwen, thanks so much for calling us.

THOMPKINS: Thank you, Alex.

CHADWICK: And there's a lot about the roots of the conflict in Darfur at our Web site,

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: And stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gwen Thompkins
Gwen Thompkins hosts Music Inside Out on WWNO in New Orleans.
Alex Chadwick
For more than 30 years, Alex Chadwick has been bringing the world to NPR listeners as an NPR News producer, program host and currently senior correspondent. He's reported from every continent except Antarctica.