Tribal leader accused over Darfur says he was acting for government
Aug 22: UK Telegraph news report
by Philip Sherwell in Khartoum, copied here in full:
The sheikh accused by the United States of co-ordinating Janjaweed militiamen has admitted that he was "appointed" by Sudan's government to recruit Arab tribesmen to "defend their land".
In an interview with The Telegraph, Musa Hilal scorned calls for his arrest on the eve of this week's visit to Sudan by Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, and the United Nations' deadline for Sudan to begin its promised crackdown on the Janjaweed.
"I don't care what my enemies say about me," he said, jabbing his finger. "I have no concerns about being arrested. I don't think the Sudanese government would be stupid enough to take that decision."
Mr Hilal has been identified by the US State Department as the most senior of seven Janjaweed leaders allegedly responsible for the ethnic cleansing conducted against predominantly black African villagers by Arab militiamen in the province of Darfur.
Mr Hilal, 43, a tall man who has three wives and 13 children and leads a tribe of more than 200,000 people, denies the accusation. He was not an "agent" of the government, he said, but acknowledged allegations that the Khartoum government was using the camel and horse-riding Arab militia to suppress the rebellion.
"I am one of the tribal leaders responsible for collecting people for military service for the country," he said, claiming that he organised his followers to defend themselves against Darfurian rebels.
"I was appointed by the government to organise people to defend their lands but legally, not illegally. They were defending themselves against the mutineers."
Mr Straw will reinforce international pressure on Sudan's government when he arrives in Khartoum tomorrow for meetings with President Omar al-Bashir and other high-ranking leaders.
A British official said: "He will reiterate the need for Sudan to live up to its promises. They will be told very clearly that the world is not going to forget what is going on in Darfur." However, a senior aide to Mr Straw added that there was little appetite at the UN to follow through immediately on the threat of sanctions after the August 30 deadline imposed on Sudan.
Sudan's government told the UN on Thursday that it will provide a list next week of Janjaweed fighters it "controls". Although UN officials regard this as a significant concession after the Sudanese authorities spent months denying ties to the militia, they are waiting to see whether the list features the "big names".
If Sudan does fulfil its pledge to bring militia leaders to justice, Mr Hilal - whose name is regularly mentioned in the accounts of victims of Janjaweed fighters and militia defectors - is likely to be among its most prominent targets. But for now, he appears to feel no threat from the government, after taking a prominent role in crushing last year's rebellion in Darfur.
As if to prove that he has nothing to fear from the UN either, he chose to meet me in a British colonial-era hotel on the banks of the Blue Nile, which is also the base for Jan Pronk, the UN special envoy responsible for assessing Sudan's response to ending the terror.
Mr Hilal batted away UN figures showing that at least one million people had fled their homes in the last year of attacks, murders and rapes. "This is all propaganda from enemies of Sudan, particularly in the West," he said. "The number of displaced is much less."
He also claimed that many refugees had chosen to flee their villages to improve their lives. "They find water and education and financial assistance in the camps that are not available in their villages," he said. His claim bears no relation to the reality of life in the teeming and miserable camps across Darfur.
Mr Hilal said that he and other tribal leaders had stepped in to defend their lands against the Darfur rebels because the Khartoum government had not deployed its own troops in sufficient numbers. The men he recruited, he said, joined the police and the paramilitary Popular Defence Force, an Islamic militia created by the government to fight alongside its regular forces.
Mr Hilal's name also appears frequently in leaked state documents obtained by Human Rights Watch, the New York-based pressure group that has chronicled links between the militia and the government.
But Mr Hilal, dressed in a white turban and green robe, became angry when asked if he belongs to the Janjaweed. "I am not Janjaweed. The Janjaweed are bandits, like the mutineers. It is we who are fighting the Janjaweed," he declared.
Al-Zahwi Ibrahim Mailek, the information minister, said that it was for the country's judiciary, who do not have a reputation for independence, to decide on any legal action against Mr Hilal. "If anyone has evidence against Musa Hilal, let them bring it before us," he said. "But we cannot just arrest people because of unproven claims."
While Mr Hilal was giving his version of events in the riverside hotel, Mr Pronk was upstairs holding meetings in the reception rooms which serve as his offices.
He told The Telegraph that Sudan's government must show that its new security orders are being imposed on the ground. "I see political progress but I do not yet see that being translated into changes in Darfur," he said.
Mr Pronk, who will deliver his initial report in a week's time, said that although there had been fewer militia attacks this month, villagers were continuing to abandon their homes. "They are still fleeing because they still have reason to be afraid," he said. "One million people don't flee for nothing."
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Janjaweed Leader For Disarming "All Warring Parties"
KHARTOUM, August 4 (IslamOnline.net) – The leader of the Arab militias accused by Washington of being responsible for atrocities in Sudan’s Darfur said Tuesday, August 3, he is willing to lay down arms should all other warring parties do the same in compliance with the latest UN Security Council Resolution.
The latest UN Security Council Resolution concerning disarmament in Darfur should include all armed militias in the restive region, Janjaweed leader Moussa Hilal said In an exclusive interview with IslamOnline.net.
“If disarmament is not all-encompassing, no body will care,” he told IOL. “It makes no sense to disarm and leave us all by ourselves facing bloody revenge sprees and ethnic cleansing.”
He was referring to a provision in the UNSC resolution, which condemned “all acts of violence and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by all parties to the crisis, in particular by the Janjaweed, including indiscriminate attacks on civilians, rapes, forced displacements, and acts of violence especially those with an ethnic dimension”.
The UNSC threatened Sudan with punitive measures if it failed to rein in the Arab militias within one month.
More than 10,000 people are said to have died in Darfur since the revolt against the government broke out among indigenous ethnic minorities in February 2003.
The United Nations has labeled the 16-month-old conflict as the world's worst current humanitarian crisis, amid mixed reports putting the number of people killed at 10,000 to 50,000 and over one million forced to flee their homes.
Western media and countries alleged that systematic ethnic cleansing and mass rapes were taking place in the 125,000-square miles Darfur - almost the size of the United Kingdom.
But Dr. Hussein Gezairy, Regional Director of World Health Organization’s Eastern Mediterranean Region, told IslamOnline.net Thursday, July 29, that the situation in the restive area did not amount to genocide or ethnic cleansing as claimed.
On Monday, August 2, The Guardian reported that British Prime Minister Tony Blair is making the case for a "colonial war" against Sudan because of its growing oil reserves, as there are no signs of highly-touted claims of genocide in the Arab country.
“If disarmament is not all-encompassing, no body will care,” Hilal said.
Hilal said rebels in Darfur are misleading the United States and the UNSC by making "much fuss about nothing".
“I warn that Sudan will be another quagmire for the US whose intelligence services had misled them into an Iraqi swamp that badly tarnished the US image in the eyes of the peoples of the region and left its interests vulnerable,” he warned.
Hilal categorically denied responsibility for acts of violence in Darfur, including arsons and mass rapes, saying they are mere calumnies fabricated by the rebels.
He particularly blamed the Justice and Equality Movement for blemishing his reputation, asserting that its leaders tried to forge an alliance with him to defeat the government forces.
“I don’t mind them taking any action against me, but it should be based on fair investigation and counts of an independent fact-finding commission.
“I’m pretty sure that a fair trial will do justice to me and redeem my reputation,” he added.
Hilal also called for holding a reconciliation conference brining together the leaders of all tribes in Darfur to realize peace for the welfare of all Darfuris, Arabs and Africans alike.
“We only stick to our right to existence…We have been here for hundreds of years and reject any solution to the crisis that ignores our rights as it will end up with creating another [John] Garang,” the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
Sudan’s Foreign Minister Mustafa Othman Ismail had warned that the Sudanese army would fight back if foreign troops are sent to end the conflict in the Darfur region.
"If we are attacked, we will not sit silent," Ismail had said during a visit to Turkey last month.
The main rebel groups in Darfur walked out from the African Union-mediated peace talks in the Ethiopian capital, insisting their demands must be met before they would start negotiating with Khartoum .
Hilal further said that the Arabs in Darfur have taken the brunt of the crisis.
“The rebellion is implementing a political agenda aimed at driving us out of our homeland to break away from Sudan and establish a state in the west with no Arab population,” Hilal told IOL.
“Since 1980s, the rebels have been circulating flyers calling for expelling us and liberating Sudan from the Arabs as well they have launched systematic marauding campaigns, but our pleas fell on deaf ears.”
He said the successive governments, including the incumbent, “ignored our pressing warnings and left us facing the African militias against sepulchral silence from the international community”.
Asked why Arab Darfuris did not resort to makeshift camps, Hilal said the Arabs feel it is dishonor to leave their women and families sustain on foreign aid.
“It hurts our pride, so the men are responsible for providing for them in hard times,” he said.
Hilal also denied that he was battling the African militias in cahoots with the government.
“We have only joined the civil defense corps since the start of confrontations between the government and the rebels to defend Darfur,” he said, noting that some 3,000 of Arab Darfuris had enrolled in the army in 2003.