Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Gillian Gibbons home from Sudan

Home: Gillian with her son, John, and daughter, Jessica, at Heathrow

Gillian Gibbons, the 54 year old teacher, who was embroiled in the controversy of the naming of toy bear Mohammed, has arrived back in the UK. Her plane touched down at London’s Heathrow airport at 07:00 GMT and she later spoke to the large media presence who had awaited her return [CNN / BBC / Sky News].
“I’m very glad to be back and I’m a little shocked at all the media attention” she said. She was not bitter after her ordeal and went on to say, “The Sudanese people I found to be extremely kind. And I wouldn’t want anyone to be put off in going there”. Her return will leave the school at the centre of the row without an English teacher and she mentioned the need to fill that vacancy. She went on to thank those that had helped secure her release, and specifically named Baroness Warsi and Baron Ahmed who had traveled to Khartoum. She said she was very sad to have left Sudan which she described as a beautiful place.

But for many inhabitants of the country, it is far from beautiful. Parts of the country are caught in turmoil after years of civil war. Sudan has seen a turbulent history over many years, but in the last 4 years it has been the Darfur conflict which has made headlines. Nearly half a million people are estimated to have died and more than 2 million have been forced into refugee status. But the teddy bear controversy has shifted attention from the embattled region. On Thursday four aid workers were killed at a hospital and in recent weeks dozens of UN vehicles have been targeted by hijackers. Medecins San Frontiers say they were outraged by the killings and that their work in the country is becoming ever more difficult [CNN]. Efforts to end the conflict are making little progress despite plans to deploy a 26,000 strong joint African Union and United Nations peace keeping force. Delays have put operations back until January and further talks are planned for later in December [BBC]. However, few observers are optimistic for the future, especially as rebel groups have failed to participate in negotiations.

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