2009 introduced a new set of security concerns and adventures for the Sudan and the Canadian embassy above the already well-established conflict in Darfur. March and April were particularly busy months for us at the embassy dealing with two kidnappings of Canadian citizens in Darfur and the ICC indictment of the President of Sudan.
On March 11, Canadian Laura Archer was abducted by gunman and three co-workers from the INGO Médecins Sans Frontières. It was said the group abducted the workers in retaliation for an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, whom the court has accused of orchestrating atrocities in Darfur. Al-Bashir expelled 13 international aid groups earlier in March, accusing them of helping the International Criminal Court. This was my first exposure to a kidnapping and thankfully it ended as quick as it started. On March 14, the group were released and there was not much from the embassy side.
Of the 13 international aid groups that were expelled was CARE US. If you recall from an earlier post, my friend, Dan H. was the security manager for CARE US in the Sudan and had come to see me a couple of months prior seeking security related information. Dan, a man of great personality and one who does not shy away from speaking his mind, which is quite admirable, spoke it to some of the wrong people. The dynamics of the story of which I will not go into detail were quite interesting, but long (and personal) story short, Dan managed to find himself in need of a quick exit out of Sudan.
It would seem the first thing that came to Dan’s mind was how the embassy could help. The first problem to this was that there was no one on staff…seems the ICC made its announcement when people were conveniently on spring leave. But, I was there and had to make a few key decisions that were out of the norm. Being in somewhat of a state, and knowing the issues, I decided to put Dan into the same hotel as me under a different name. Since I had been living at the Assaha hotel for some time, I had gotten to be quite good with the staff and management. I was able to get Dan registered without showing his passport, a requirement in Sudan and into a corner room by Dan’s request.
Arrangements were made to fly Dan out the next day, but he would have to stay in the hotel for one night. I recall going to his room to collect him for dinner and upon knocking on the door, a strange voice answered asking who it was. When I said it was me, Dan’s voice returned to normal. Then I heard scraping along the floor and moving of furniture. It happened to be that he had barricaded himself in his room…which was odd as the window to his room had ground floor access to the restaurant. Anyway, we enjoyed a good dinner and he was starting to relax. Before he left for the airport the next day in a Canadian embassy vehicle, he had asked that I take care of his data drives, of which I did, the diplomatic passport again! Dan and I have remained in contact, and this is most certainly where Dan’s presence in my life does not end, but really begins…in another blog!
April 4 saw another kidnapping of a Canadian citizen in Darfur, Stéphanie Jodoin, of Mont-Saint-Hilaire, south of Montreal, and French citizen Claire Dubois worked in South Darfur for Aide Médicale Internationale, a Paris-based medical aid agency. This kidnapping took more than the 4 days of the previous one, and I had more involvement. I remember sitting in on the early negotiation stages taking notes of the translations. The early days were quite intense, but nothing I can imagine compared to what the two women were enduring. Near the end of the first week, two professional negotiators arrived from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to take over from us. It was great to have them on hand and I learned a great deal working with them on both negotiation tactics and what to look for and how to investigate other parts.
After more than three weeks of rough, open-air captivity in the desert-like conditions of Darfur, they were released, their kidnappers handing them into the care of a leader of the Beni Helba tribe in southern Darfur.
Overall, my first overseas mission in 17 years was a great experience. I learned a great deal and was introduced to many new tools. I had outstanding mentors with Eric and Sam in the embassy and several within the UN system, mainly UNDSS and UNOCHA. Eventually, I would be able to take all this to different levels as my career began to unfold, but that would not be for a few more months. But with my new letter of recommendation, I was determined to keep focus on where I wanted to be.
I departed the Sudan on June 6, 2009 and returned home to a family in waiting. It had been a long mission and I was anxious to be with my family again. Not sure what was next for me other than going back to basic security guard work, I held hope that another mission would come. That mission did come, probably too soon only a short time after being home, I was Mexico bound for another embassy assignment.
It is worth mentioning that when I was leaving Sudan, I had been here for 7 months. Over the course of that time, one tends to purchase souvenirs and the like to take home. Well, the airport adventure was almost comical. The ticket agent told me that my bags exceeded the weight limit for the flight and that I would have to remove items to get the bags down to the allowed weight. Not wanting to leave without my prizes, I had to think quick. So, the drive and I took my bags aside, took out a bunch of heavy items and then took them back to get re-weighed. This time the bags were ok and the counter attendant was happy. What happened next was that she did not take my bags…so the drive and I proceeded to reload the luggage with my prizes, then we checked in the bags. The things that happen in third world airports!
Next – Mexico 2009