Q&A: Sudan President Omar al-Bashir

By KHALID TIGANI   |   July 26, 2004 at 7:05 PM
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KHARTOUM, Sudan, July 26 (UPI) -- Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said Monday international pressure and military intervention would not solve the problem in the western region of Darfur where Amnesty International has charged that Arab militias, the Janjaweed, committed systematic, mass rapes.

Al-Bashir called for enough time to implement a joint plan with the United Nations to achieve security and stability in the troubled province.

He was speaking during an interview with United Press International at the Presidential Palace in Khartoum.

The Sudanese president appeared calm and refuted accusations that his government failed to solve the deteriorating situation in Darfur. He spoke as the ruling National Congress Party warned against an international military intervention and urged general mobilization for resistance.

Al-Bashir denied any government link with Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, who have been accused of committing atrocities and human rights violations against the African inhabitants of Darfur.

Khalid Tigani, UPI correspondent in Khartoum, conducted the interview with al-Bashir.

Tigani: The U.N. Security Council is looking at a U.S. draft resolution to impose sanctions over Darfur. Why don't you fulfill your commitments to the international community in this regard?

Al-Bashir: First, we have not backtracked on any commitment we made, and fulfilling promises for us is a matter of principle and a civilized practice deeply rooted in our tradition. We do not need pressures or threats. ... Second, our commitment to our citizens in Darfur end the security crisis and achieve stability was valid from the beginning, before the commitments which were made later (to the international community).

Q. So why is the Darfur crisis becoming more complicated?

A. Many believe that the crisis in Darfur erupted just now, and this is not true. At the beginning of our rule, we inherited an extremely difficult security situation in Darfur due to certain practices known as armed robberies. We exerted great efforts until we restored security and stability in Darfur, and this was not achieved overnight, ... (but by) dialogue, debates, and security and judicial follow up.

It also necessitated popular mobilization until we succeeded in restoring stability and reviving hope for the Darfur residents. Our keenness to protect the citizens and ensure security is not unusual. ... We have faced similar conditions and managed to surmount them successfully. ... Today, nothing has changed ... (as far as) our commitment to shoulder responsibilities toward our nation and citizens. ... We need enough time to restore matters to normalcy in view of the complications in Darfur and the regional and international dimension that the crisis has taken.

Q. Accusations that your government was not fulfilling commitments were voiced by several parties, including the secretary-general (Kofi Annan) of the United Nations in his report to the Security Council last Wednesday. The U.S. Secretary of State (Colin Powell) also said the international community wants deeds, not words. What is your answer?

A. The plurality of sides making those accusations does not mean that these parties ... know details about the real situation in Darfur and its historical background and social complexity. Many making the accusations did not have information from reliable sources, and they relied on inaccurate reports before making speedy judgments.

Q. So what have you done to prove you are committed to your pledges?

A. ... Even before the Darfur case became so known, our policy was based on dialogue and letting the people of the province participate in proposing solutions through several conferences. After the situation deteriorated drastically due to the insistence of armed militias to pursue violence, the efforts ... (of) state agencies ... speak for themselves. We have issued a presidential decree for several measures, including an immediate cessation of major military operations and a general amnesty to all who relinquish weapons.

We have also ordered an independent committee be set up of judicial and public figures known for efficiency and honesty to investigate any violation of human rights. We have taken ... administrative measures to facilitate the operations of humanitarian groups in Darfur province and signed a cease-fire agreement with the rebels last April. We also allowed a committee from the African Union Organization to monitor the cease-fire, secured shelter and services for displaced people, deployed more than 5,000 policemen to protect the displaced, and facilitated visits to Darfur. ...

We dispatched an empowered delegation to Addis Ababa for political talks with the rebels in an attempt to find a peaceful settlement, but they refused to sit at the negotiating table. If all these measures -- many of which were implemented within two weeks after we signed the 90-day plan with Kofi Annan earlier this month -- are not deeds, then what are the deeds they want?

Q. Are there any secret or undeclared commitments, regarding Darfur which you made to Powell during his visit to Khartoum and have not fulfilled, thus angering Washington and making it skeptical about your seriousness? ... Is that why Washington sees no point in waiting for the results of the 90-day plan you have signed with Kofi Annan?

A. There are no secrets or undeclared commitments. ... We are a responsible state and our society is open. We deal with transparency and honesty ... especially when it comes to the nation's security and safety.

Q. Then how do you explain the steps for internationalizing the case?

A. The question that imposes itself truly is: Why the hurry? Why didn't those concerned about Darfur wait until the end of the three months to which we are committed in our agreement with the U.N. secretary-general? After that period the results can be evaluated to decide whether we have succeeded or failed. Then each side can judge based on facts and not mere speculation. There is ... a deliberate distortion of our capacity as a state to shoulder our national responsibilities.

Q. There has been acknowledgement that limited progress was made in facilitating humanitarian operations. But on the security level and regarding human rights, the situation is further deteriorating. Why do your efforts appear insufficient?

A. The situation in Darfur is more complicated than the simplified way it is being tackled. ... The main reason for the conflict is the unsuitable environmental conditions, which created tough competition over scarce natural resources. Water and green pastures are getting scarcer ... due to climate changes and desertification, which has been getting worse since the 1980s.

... Demands for such resources increased as a result of population growth. We were aware of the dangerous situation at an early stage and proposed ambitious development projects for the province. But the destructive war in southern Sudan drained our resources. In addition, the unjust economic embargo ... imposed on us ... prevented us from obtaining foreign assistance to finance those plans. That is why implementation of those projects was halted.

The situation worsened after the rebels turned Darfur into a battlefield. ... Moreover, the easy acquisition of weapons that flow into Darfur as a result of old conflicts ... turned the traditional and tribal conflicts over natural resources -- which used to be settled according to tradition -- into more destructive and violent armed conflicts. Many forget we are acting to contain the problems in a rugged and remote region that is the size of France.

... Our limited capabilities and our own efforts cannot contain the situation with the requested speed and efficiency. ... The reason (for such a delay) is not the lack of seriousness or wish to fulfill our responsibilities. ...

Q. But the international community is more concerned with the atrocities being committed by the Arab Janjaweed militia against Africans and which international parties, including the U.S. Congress, describe unanimously as ethnic cleansing or genocide. Do you admit the existence of large violations of human rights in Darfur and how do you describe the practices of the Janjaweed militia?

A. All parties ought to abide to the letter by international definitions of such terms. Ethnic cleansing or genocide entails organized and pre-planned annihilation of a certain ethnic, political or cultural group and this term does not apply on the conflict going on in Darfur. ... Darfur was the scene of bloody conflicts -- even between tribes and groups belonging to the same origin or ethnic roots.

The aim was not cleansing one ethnic group by another. Fighting always broke out over a specific matter to be settled through reconciliation according to tribal norms. Speaking about ethnic cleansing by Arabs against Africans is not accurate. Mixing occurred through marriages and coexistence between the various ethnic groups -- besides all tribes in Darfur are Muslims.

That is why it is impossible to differentiate between the citizens in Darfur in terms of tribal belonging or culture. Attributing this conflict to ethnic differences is mere imagination. ...

Q. But what about the Janjaweed militia and the atrocities it is committing?

A. When rebels (Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Army) started attacking regular forces, destroying 80 percent of police stations and killing some 500 regular soldiers and policemen who were ensuring security to the citizens, a security vacuum occurred and the citizens were robbed, dispossessed of their properties and displaced from their homes. The rebels spread chaos and destroyed civic educational, medical and judicial institutions. They imprisoned local leaders and killed some of them, causing insecurity. In that troubled atmosphere, certain groups moved to defend themselves and their properties with the help of the government.

This happened after government attempts failed to peacefully defuse the situation. When the government came close to cracking down on pockets of rebellion and on robbery gangs, they were quick in launching the terminology of Janjaweed -- which is a group of robbery and killing gangs comprising criminals from various tribes and ethnic groups -- to tarnish the reputation of regular government forces and the citizens who were defending themselves.

Unfortunately, the media was receptive to this terminology (Janjaweed) which ... diverted attention away from the violence, destruction and human rights violations committed by the rebels in Darfur.

Q. But to deny any relation between your government and the Janjaweed militia is seen as an attempt to avoid commitments to disarm them and bring their leaders to trials. Doesn't this affect your credibility?

A. Accusing us of not being serious is meaningless in view of the efforts we have exerted ... to curb the lawlessness and insecurity in Darfur. The major accomplishment we made in reaching peace in the south of the country leaves no room for accusing us of being not serious.

The issue of southern Sudan is much more complicated than the crisis in Darfur. ... We are confronting everyone who terrorizes citizens and undermines their security. Those people will be liable for imprisonment and prosecution. ... We are not inciting one group of citizens and arming them to spread chaos or to annihilate another group.

Q. Do you cover up for the Janjaweed and avoid disarming them because you fear that they would launch vendetta strikes against you or expose your support for them?

A. ... There is nothing for which we fear exposure and vendetta for any measure that we take to protect our citizens and enforce security.

Q. Why don't you request international forces to help you achieve stability and security in Darfur?

A. Protecting the citizens is naturally the responsibility of the government. ... We don't need anyone to remind us of it. There shouldn't be any doubt that we are keen on shouldering this responsibility. ...

Q. Reports indicate that the United Nations and countries such as Britain are studying seriously the possibility of dispatching troops to Darfur under the umbrella of a possible U.N. Security Council resolution. What would be your reaction?

A. Britain has its own choices and we have ours. Anyway, we have not locked the door to cooperation. ... However, if these efforts touch Sudan's sovereignty and independence, we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

Q. Your foreign minister said in Paris that government forces will withdraw from Darfur if there is an international military intervention. Will you do that?

A. Let's not run ahead of developments. The situation in Darfur does not require or necessitate an international military intervention. ...

Q. Why do you welcome the deployment of forces in Darfur under the umbrella of the African Union Organization while you have reservations on international forces?

A. The forces we have agreed to deploy under the umbrella of the African Union are forces to monitor the cease-fire and have no security or military activities. Their presence reflects African solidarity with African issues. ...

Q. Why do you think there is an international conspiracy against you? You have cooperated with Washington to conclude a peace accord in the south. So why don't you cooperate with Washington regarding Darfur?

A. The peace agreement we have achieved in the south was the result of a strictly Sudanese effort. We appreciate ... help offered. ... We are not speaking of international conspiracies against us, but some parties find an interest in the lack of stability in Sudan.

Q. How do you describe your relationship with the opposition now? And what is its future?

A. Dialogue with the opposition never stopped. The ruling National Congress Party is running the dialogue with all Sudanese parties through 10 committees, some of which have led to good results such as the framework agreement signed with the Democratic Tagamoo Party under Mohammed Othman al-Mirghany and another agreement with the Umma Party over Darfur. There us also a memorandum of understanding with the Democratic Peace Forum led by Bouna Melwal. ...

Q. But why do you keep your political opponents in prison without referring them to trials?

A. There are no arbitrary arrests in Sudan, and all detentions are made in line with the law and under judicial supervision. Every detainee is subject to judicial procedures, ranging from questioning to prosecution.

Q. Washington has adopted a plan for political reform in the Middle East that calls for spreading democracy. What is your reaction to that?

A. America should first start reforming the ... (the United Nations) to ensure equality among member states so that certain countries stop dominating U.N. resolutions. ... We need no ready-made recipes from anyone ... (We want) to develop in a way that conforms with our culture, norms and ethics in a way that achieves our national interests.

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