November 15, 2007 (al Djazeera)
Mohamed Vall Salem: Mr President, my first question is about the latest serious attempt to solve the problem in Darfur through peace talks was in Sirte, Libya. Why did those talks fail?
Omar al Bashir: The talks failed because some of the major leaders of the rebel groups did not show up in Sirte. Even some of those who attended, have specificly said that they did not come to negotiate. Instead, they came only to attend the opening ceremony. The leaders who were absent, and those who showed up but weren't serious, there are some powers behind them who encourage them to behave this way.
Some of those rebel factions say the reason why they did not attend the talks was that many invitees, many factions who were invited to Libya, were not real factions. They were fictitious factions created by the government of Sudan in order to influence the talks and finally get the results that the Sudanese government wanted..
This is of course can be easily responded to. The preparations for the talks and inviting parties to Sirte, the government was not part of that. The government even facilitated communications for the brokers to get in touch with the commanders on the ground so that they can easily attend the talks, even crossing through cities that are under government control. We allowed the rebel commanders to gather at the city of Kotom – which is a government city – and then go to Juba to unify their position. We offered everything possible to make the factions attend the talks.
Some of the Darfur factions whose politicians are abroad have real presence on the ground and some don't. As for the commanders, some of them don't have a presence outside Sudan, but they are effective on the ground. So one cannot discount the importance of the factions that showed up in Sirte as insignificant, because they are the ones with real power on the ground, and they were invited by the African Union and the United Nations, not the government of Sudan.
Mr Minni Minnawi, who is your partner from the Abuja peace agreement, he's very unhappy. He complains of the government not implementing the Abuja peace agreement. If the Abuja peace agreement is not implemented, how can you add yet another agreement?
It's their complaints that are always heard. This agreement mentions very specific elements: power sharing, distribution of wealth and security arrangements. When it comes to power sharing, they now occupy all the positions allocated to them. As for the distribution of wealth, two funds have been established, one for reconstruction and another for reparations.
The security arrangements, which involve their troops merging into the armed forces and police, that has been obstructed by them. Delays in this area is what's delaying development, because there can be no development without security. They took the jobs and the money, but they don't want to fulfill their security obligations. Once they took power, they were supposed to gather their forces, count them and classify them – but this part of the agreement hasn't been implemented and that's their peril.
The UN accuses the government of Sudan of obstructing the final composition of the Hybrid force. Is that correct?
After signing the Abuja peace agreement, there have been attempts to alter the mission of the AU troops into a United Nations mission, despite the fact that the Abuja agreement states that security is the responsibility of the African Union. We’ve been strongly resisting this until the Secretary General proposed a plan and we reached an agreement that the troops and leadership is African, but the support is from the United Nations in the shape of financial and logistical backing and through experts.
Resolution no. 1906 states that by August 31, all countries should present their contributions. The United Nations support should have come in the shape of two brigades of engineers, China offered one, and Pakistan offered another and we accepted that. The budget of this batch should have been approved by now, but suddenly we’re told that the engineers will come from Norway and Sweden. This is something we rejected, and we will continue to reject,we will not accept to have engineers from Norway and Sweden. There was no mention of these two countries, what we accepted was China and Pakistan.
The other thing is eight infantry brigades were needed. African Nations offered sixteen until now. But then they started talking about troops from Thailand, which is something we rejected, because African nations already provided double the capacity required.
The obstruction is from the united nations and the other entities putting pressure on the secretary general and the un to get troops from outside Africa. Africa already provided the necessary troops.
Why do you object to the United Nations taking a leading role in peacekeeping Dafrur?
Because we have suspicions that there’s another agenda. The United Nations was present when we signed the peace agreement in Abuja: The African Union was given the responsibility of security arrangements. Why now jump to talk of United Nations troops, despite the fact that African forces served under the worst circumstances, when the war was at its height and before we had reached an agreement.
So, why, now that there's an agreement, they want to change the African role into a United Nations one? It’s our conviction that there’s an agenda behind that.
The humanitarian organizations in Darfur say the government is crippling their activities in Darfur ..
This is not true. We have signed agreements, and we have a fast track to facilitate the job of these organizations. We have more than 200 organizations currently working in Darfur, with about 16,000 staff members, 2,500 of whom are foreigners. There are no obstacles, neither at customs nor in other locations. We just hear stuff in the media.
It could happen that due to administrative mistakes that they do that some of their work is delayed, but they blame it all on the government. When we talk about the humanitarian situation in Darfur and its indicators: there is no famine in Darfur, there are no epidemics, all indicators related to malnutrition are more positive in Darfur than in any other place in Sudan. So what’s the issue exactly?
But every now and then we hear of a UN official being expelled from Sudan. Jan Pronk was expelled, and two days ago another official was expelled in Niyala.
We are an independent country. Those who respect the sovereignty and laws of the country, we respect them, and honor them as guests. But those who cross the line and appoint themselves as the general ruler of Sudan, they have no place here. Jan Pronk started behaving as if he was the general ruler of Sudan. Those who work for organizations or even the United Nations and have suspicious relations and activities, we have to expel them.
There are also other accusations that the Sudanese government is making the life of the displaced people in Darfur difficult by trying to force them to go back to their villages or obstructing humanitarian aid from reaching them?
We've already said that these camps do not suffer from famine or epidemics. All indicators of malnutrition there are more positive than the rest of Sudan. Which means there's no problem there. We do not interfere in these camps. We speak of a voluntary return. We believe that these camps have turned into a show for people to come and watch or for those who have elections in their countries to come visit the camps in Darfur and go back market that in the media.
We want to put an end to the existence of these camps, but with the desire of the citizens. We didn't force anyone out of the camps, but we encourage them and provide the same services they receive inside the camp but back in their villages. It didn't happen that we forced anyone through the police to go back – that never happened.
What are you seriously trying to do to see the problem in Darfur resolved?
We did all we can. We could have put an end to this problem militarily. We had no problem doing that – but despite the victory of the armed forces, we agreed to talk and to be patient. We are represented in the negotiations through very senior officials, in Abuja, for example, we had five ministers there. This all shows our keenness.
In Sirte, we also sent a highly senior delegation with full authority and we announced a unilateral cease fire. All this to show how serious we are.. because we are the ones affected by this problem, we are the ones paying the price for the continuation of the crisis in Darfur, and the only losers. Sudan's enemies are the ones who are benefiting.
One of the criticisms to the government of Sudan, dealing with the rebellions in Sudan, in general, is that you talk only to those who carry arms. You talk only to those who take up arms to defend their rights, but you neglect others: the silent majority that is disgruntled and poor but they are not carrying arms.
We reach out to everyone. All areas of Sudan are represented. We applied the federal system in Sudan.. we have 26 states each with its own constitutional, legal and financial jurisdiction so that people work in and develop their own regions. We've given people the chance to share power.
For example, when we talk about Darfur after independence, those who participated in the federal government were only five. At the time when the rebellion started in Dafrur, there were six ministers in the federal government from Darfur and in addition to the three Darfur governors, two other governors were also from Darfur. We involved people even before they've asked for it. We gave them the power and jurisdiction before they ask for it. We started development projects before they asked for it.
Before the rebellion in Darfur, there was only 11 high schools in Darfur, by the time the rebellion started, there was 195 high school in Darfur, in addition to three universities. In 2003, the year when the rebellion kicked off, we had contracts with 24 companies for different water projects in Darfur. So, we were taking care of services and development before we were asked to.
When people take up arms, there are two choices: there's the mindset that if someone carries weapons, he's considered a terrorist and should be dealt with through force. There are others who prefer the peaceful resolution, which is cheaper and saves lives – the latter is the predominant direction.
In your showdown with the United Nations and the United States about Darfur, do you feel supported and emboldened by your friendship and partnership with China?
We've received tangible support from China. When there was a Security Council Resoultion proposed bu Britain, we had the support of China, Russia, Qatar and a number of African Nations.
It's this that enabled us to alter this resolution into the form we now have accepted.
Some say we should even have more support from China, because we're being targeted by the United States because we allowed China to get involved in the Sudanese oil that was discovered by and licensed for American companies. Some Americans explicitly say 'Sudanese oil belongs to us, not China.'
The Chinese involvement in Sudan, is an additional reason prompting the United States enmity to us.
Before leaving this issue, do you think that the international interest in Darfur is driven by something other than humanitarian purposes?
Absolutely. The humanitarian aspect isn't the issue in Darfur. There are areas in Africa that are much worse than Darfur. Somalia, for example, there's no comparison between Somalia and Darfur. In Congo, the United Nations speaks of millions of people being killed there, there's no comparison between what's happening there and what happened in Darfrur. These are all pretexts, just like the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it was a pretext to ultimately control oil in Iraq. Talk of a humanitarian situation in Darfur is just a pretext.
The issue of the South, three years have passed since the agreement was signed in Naivasha with your Southern partners, but until now I see more problems than solutions, where is this partnership and this process heading?
We consider this agreement the greatest achievement in our history and the history of Sudan after the independence. This agreement ended a 20-year war. Whatever the issues may be, the whole of the south now enjoys peace. About 90 percent of this agreement has been implemented. The remaining parts are in the process of implementation. There are areas of contention.
The recent developments were surprising to us because there had been no fall out between us and our southern partners. Before Salva Kiir left to Juba in Ramadan, we had had three presidential meetings in which we discussed the hanging issues and we agreed to a timetable of addressing these issues. We were largely in agreement. He proposed a cabinet reshuffle, which was discussed, and I gave my input on the performance of some of the ministers belonging to the southern movement. He said he'll come up with a list of the proposed ministers after the Eid and we parted in agreement.
But we were surprised by their unjustified escalation. In unofficial meetings after that, there was full agreement between us on all the issues except the Abyei protocol. This is where we left it before I flew to South Africa.
Then we hear some stuff that surprise us. But we’re waiting for Salva to come back to know what's happened that made him take this position, and say this stuff. We will not use media escalation and it's our conviction that everything can be resolved through dialogue.
From your point of view what are they looking for? Why did they take this position and withdraw from the government of national unity?
There are two issues at stake now: the Hybrid peacekeeping force and the Secretary General's attempts to get troops from Thailand, Nepal, Sweden and Norway to come to Sudan. And since we've rejected that, they're trying to create problems in order to place pressure on us.
The other issue is the negotiations in Sirte. It was very clear how there was foreign meddling that led to some rebel leaders not showing up to talks, including the ones we've allowed to hold a meeting in Juba to unify their stance and factions.
Going back to the issues in the South, why did the government not yet withdraw the troops from the southern region?
The agreement talks about the withdrawal of both parties. The security protocol talks about redistribution of Sudanese forces from the south to the north and the redistribution of the movement's forces from the north to the south. According to the United Nations, who monitors the cease-fire implementation, the armed forces redeployed by 87 percent.
The Sudan People Liberation Movement redeployed by seven percent only. But you only hear talk about the armed forces no redistributing its presence and you never hear anything about the troops of the SPLM. The media, unfortunately, doesn't talk about the remaining 93 percent of their troops as opposed to our 13 percent.
Mr President, Abyei seems to be the most serious problem between the north and the south. Where does Abyei belong? To the North or to the South?
Abyei belongs to the North. In the Machakos protocol that was signed before the Naivasha agreement, the stated borders between the north and the south are that of January 1, 1956 – the Independence Day. According to these borders, Abyei belongs to the North, to Kordofan, which is a northern region.
But then, there was an issue over Abyei and there was a suggestion that it belongs to the southern Bahr el Ghazal region and it was shifted under Kordofoan in 1905. We accepted that it returns under Bahr al Ghazal, we referred to the British and Egyptian documents, this area that belongs to the south does not include the city of Abyei, the city itself is north of that area. And we presented 53 documents to that effect.
The committee of experts looking into the issue were not honest, we offered documents proving the borders and the other party didn’t. And the decision the experts came up with was: we failed to determine the borders of 1905.
Since their mandate was only to determine the borders of 1905 and draw that map, which they didn't, their mandate was deemed expired by their failure to that. Unfortuanetly, they gave themselves a new mandate to look for the areas where some southern tribes resided in 1965. The agreements talk about 1905 borders and mentions nothing about 1965. They created new borders for Abyei and added areas to it. This is why we rejected the report of the experts. It's our stance that we need to determine the borders of 1905 as the parameter.
We have been recently talking to some people in Juba in the South and most of them are intent on voting for separation from the North.. have you done enough efforts to 'make unity attractive' as they say?
The agreement states that both parties work on making unity attractive. But our partners in the south, since they took power, they have been trying by all means to marginalize the role of the federal institutions. They've even stopped the work of the federal institutions, including customs, tax authorities, immigration and civil aviation, all that's been obstructed. Despite the large sums of money they received since they've taken power, our partners in the South didn't offer anything to the Southern citizen. To justify this shortcoming, they talk about the North not giving them their rights. The southern media says that we are not being fair with them and not giving them their money, and this is prompting southerners to demand separation.
There are known advocates of separation in Juba that we know of, but there are many other regions in the south that support unity. There are many people and armed factions who fought alongside the government, they fought for unity.
If the southern citizen was given the chance to listen equally to the advocates of unity and the advocates of separation, we believe that unity is most likely going to be the choice.
I would like to ask you about the Sudanese-American relations, there is some ambiguity about your relationships with the United States. On the one hand, cooperation against terrorism, on the other hand, you are under US sanctions, and basically it seems they are against you in Darfur and they have positions against Sudan, a very strong stance against Sudan in Darfur. How do you explain this duality in the relationship between you and the United States?
There are different power centres inside the United States, we are convinced that our major problem is with the American media and the Congress. At a certain point, the American administration showed a great understanding to our stances namely after the Republicans came in to power.
They had a key role the peace agreement in the south as well as in reaching the Abuja peace agreement through their Secretary of State. Yes, there is cooperation between them and us in fighting terrorism from our perspective and not theirs. The pressures on the United States by the Zionist Lobby and other enemies have a great effect over the American decisions. Therefore, when we sign an agreement with the United Nations, the second day America comes with opposing decisions.
Do you consider America your friend or your enemy?
America now is taking our enemy's side, it can not be classified as a friend. They classified themselves as our enemies. We have no interest in having America as an enemy, but when they are hostile with us, what else we can do?!
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