ABC's Interview with Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal in Sudan
With the press conference now ready to start any second, I found another local journalist who agreed to call him back on my behalf to request the interview in Arabic. There security guards were now yellowing at my translator to hang-up because Zoellick was about to walk in, but he kept talking, talking and talking. When he finally hung up, he turned to me and said, "he says 'no way,' but I still think I can convince him to do it." It wasn't until after 9 o'clock at night that I heard back. Hillal had agreed to do the interview.
Richard, Wayne and I piled into a tiny Toyota taxi cab (every car in Sudan seems to be a Toyota) and took the 25 minute ride to our appointed meeting place.
Surprisingly, we found him at a meeting with leaders of one of the non-Arab Fur tribe -- one of the tribes he is accused of terrorizing. One of the fur tribe leaders, told us Hillal had come to seek reconciliation and forgiveness.
He agreed to an interview as "chief of the chiefs" of the Fur tribe sat beside him. Hillal repeatedly told me, "I am not a war criminal."
"Are you part of the problem?" I asked him.
"I am part of Darfur," he said, "and everyone who is part of Darfur is part of the problem."
But Hillal denies committing any of the crimes he's blamed for.
"You have been named by many as a war criminal," I said.
"If I am a war criminal, all the other tribal chiefs, they have the power to put me on trial and question me. I will accept their judgment, even if it means being shot."
But even through the denials, he offered a familiar defense. He was only following orders. He said all he had ever done was help the government deal with a rebellion.
"And a lot of innocent people got killed, didn't they?" I said.
"When you have a war," he said coolly, "normally innocent people are affected."
Hillal insisted reports of widespread destruction in Darfur are a "media fabrication." The Fur tribal leader told us the violence has forced the vast majority of his tribe from their homes and into refugee camps.
"That doesn't sound like a media fabrication," I said to him.
"It's reality," he said.
Hillal is widely expected to be indicted soon by the International Criminal Court. Indictment, is one thing, but don't expect Hillal to be arrested anytime soon -- the place we met him was a police officers club.
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UN Sudan Situation Reports 26, 27, 30 April 2005
Click here for latest reports by UN personnel in Sudan.
Tags: Darfur Sudan Africa