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Refugee ruse?

From Brian Todd


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- State Department officials tell CNN they knew the village Secretary of State Colin Powell visited last week during his visit to Sudan was somewhat sanitized. They say they'd expected that.

During his visit to a refugee camp in Darfur, western Sudan, throngs were pushed back and children were shooed away.

Only a select few were allowed close enough to talk to him.

U.S. security and Sudanese minders were everywhere.

Some of this is to be expected, especially when a dignitary visits a chaotic, ravaged land.

But looking at the clothes, faces and figures of people who were supposed to be starving and displaced -- one journalist who was there says the choreography was obvious.

"What we saw at the camp were many faces of happy people, energetic people running about. We didn't have more than the twenty minutes we spent in the camp to talk to people to find out much about their individual stories," says Saul Hudson of Reuters News Service.

U.N. officials say when Secretary-General Kofi Annan visited another village last week it seemed deserted. Officials were outraged. They were later told the refugees were transported to a camp with better infrastructure.

U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, and Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Virginia, visited Darfur last week to try to get a real look at the crisis. They saw and heard from refugees who'd been shot, raped, had family members killed and been driven from their homes by the Janjaweed. By some accounts the Janjaweed -- Arab militias -- are backed by the Sudanese government.

When they first got there, Wolf and Brownback say Sudanese officials tried to manipulate their visit.

"They sent minders with us, so that when we were interviewing people in the refugee camps they would be intimidated but the people weren't intimidated. They tried to bribe the people. We went into some camps where some of the refugees said 'We were offered money by the Sudanese government not to talk. We were threatened not to talk,'" says Brownback.

It took some driving to get some semblance of reality.

"Sen. Brownback went off to one direction. I drove into another direction. Another group went into another direction. We went up and down the camps and just kinda left people -- and finally got alone. Then in three of the camps, there were no minders with us," said Wolf.

CNN asked a top Sudanese official in Washington to respond.

"These allegations are absolutely untrue, simply because such moves cannot be taken in the presence of this much international attention," says Deputy Chief of Mission at the Sudanese Embassy Abdel Bagi Kabeir. "The senator and congressman, they did not even meet the officials. They refused to meet with officials in Khartoum as well as in Darfur, which in a sense that was not appropriate to do."

The Sudanese government has pledged to disarm the Janjaweed, and help get aid to refugees.

For a child who gave a drawing to Sen. Brownback, it may be too late.

"We saw several of these [pictures], where this is a Janjaweed, with a gun, shooting an individual," says Brownback.

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