SUDAN WATCH: RARE INTERVIEW: Sheik Musa Hilal, leader of Um Jalul tribe in his hometown of Mistariha, Darfur (Lydia Polgreen)

Monday, June 12, 2006

RARE INTERVIEW: Sheik Musa Hilal, leader of Um Jalul tribe in his hometown of Mistariha, Darfur (Lydia Polgreen)

Copy of interview "Over Tea, Sheik Denies Stirring Darfur's Torment" by Lydia Polgreen, New York Times (via The Ledger) June 12, 2006:

MISTARIHA, Sudan - Their camouflage uniforms bear no insignia. Their machine guns lack the brassy patina of long use. Instead of boots, most wear sandals or flip-flops. The armed men swarming this mysterious town, usually off limits to foreigners, look almost, but not quite, like soldiers. Their allegiance does not appear to be to any military commander, but to a tall, copper-skinned man in a white robe and turban named Musa Hilal.

Mr Hilal, the sheik who the State Department and human rights organizations say is an architect and perhaps the key leader of the fearsome Arab militias that have unleashed a torrent of misery in Darfur, laughed softly at the question of who these armed men were. "They are soldiers," he replied with an easy smile in a rare interview here. "Just regular soldiers."

But the commander of the African Union peacekeeping base two dozen miles away, Col. John Bosco Mulisa, said there was little doubt who these men really were. "They are janjaweed," he said, using the local term for the Arab militias. "This town is their headquarters."

Whoever their commander is and whatever they are called, these men and the weapons they carry will determine whether, after three years of conflict that has left at least 200,000 dead, the fragile efforts to bring peace to this shattered region will succeed or fail.

"The greatest threat to this peace agreement right now is the janjaweed," said a senior military intelligence officer with the African Union who is not authorized to speak publicly. "It is not clear what is in it for them or how it serves their interests to disarm. No one is sure what they will do or who exactly controls them."

The first and most critical step of that agreement, signed in May between the government in Khartoum and the largest rebel faction, is the disarmament of the janjaweed. The government pledged to submit a plan to disarm the militias of their heavy weaponry one month after signing the agreement and to finish the job before the end of October. But how do you disarm a phantom army whose sponsors and leaders deny its existence? And exactly who are the janjaweed and is it within the government's power to disarm them? "Who are the janjaweed?" asked Eltayeb Hag Ateya, director of the Peace Research Institute at the University of Khartoum. "It depends on what you mean and who you ask."

The term itself has long been used to refer to highwaymen and bandits from tribes living across Sudan's western border in Chad who roamed the vast, semi desert plains of Darfur, robbing Arabs and non-Arabs, nomads and farmers. But the word came to have a new meaning after rebels attacked a government outpost in Darfur in 2003, sparking the conflict that would engulf the region and eventually spill into Chad.

The militias that came to be known as the janjaweed were deployed as a kind of counterinsurgency proxy force that the government used in place of and sometimes alongside its military. It had used such Arab militias with brutal success in the 20-year civil war in the south. These fighters were paid a small stipend, but their greatest reward was the right to loot and seize livestock and land from the Fur and Zaghawa, non-Arab tribes from which the rebels drew their ranks.

The chief figure in the deployment of these militias, according to the State Department and human rights organizations, was Mr Hilal, who leads a powerful Arab tribe in Darfur called Um Jalul.

Long before the war began, Mr Hilal wielded control over a fearsome tribal militia, and because of his deep connections to the Arab elite of Khartoum, he was the first tribal leader the government turned to when the insurgency among non-Arab tribes began, human rights investigators say.

He responded to the call by summoning recruits to enlarge his militia to thousands of men, who were trained and equipped in vast barracks here in Mistariha. Soon, this dusty village nestled between a pair of mountains was a beehive of military activity, with truckloads of recruits and helicopters full of weapons and other supplies arriving daily. Platoons of armed men on camels and horseback arrived constantly, their animals weighed down with loot, according to witness accounts collected by human rights groups. At the center of it all was Mr. Hilal, the witnesses said, directing and rallying his troops and urging them to plunder.

Officially, the town was called the headquarters of the government's Border Intelligence Unit, though it is about 120 miles from the nearest border, with Chad.

In Mistariha, Mr Hilal took pains to explain that he was not a militia leader, merely an influential sheik. In a two-hour interview over a lunch of grilled meats and tea near a bustling market, Mr Hilal said repeatedly that the Arab militias he was accused of commanding simply did not exist.

"It is a lie," he said. "Janjaweed is a thief. A criminal. I am a tribal leader, with men and women and children who follow me. How can they all be thieves and bandits? It is not possible."

He said there were no tensions here between Arabs and non-Arabs. By way of demonstration, he ordered one of his soldiers to round up a group of market women. When the women arrived, cowering under their bright robes as Mr Hilal hovered over them, one by one said there were no tensions here.

"I am a Fur," said Fatouma, a woman who sells millet in the market, naming the largest non-Arab tribe in the region. Her eyes avoided Mr Hilal's imperious glare. "We get along with the Arabs fine," she added, before begging to be allowed to return to her market stall.

"See!" Mr. Hilal exclaimed to his foreign visitors. "We have no problems here. We live together in peace."

But in much of his territory the only peace is the peace of a graveyard. The road leading here from the nearby town of Kebkabiyah tells another story new Arab villages line the road, while old Fur and Zaghawa villages are burned-out husks.

In one Zaghawa village, bullet holes scar a crumbling schoolhouse. All the thatch roofs have been burned away, and rain and desert winds have worn the walls of the decapitated huts down to mere suggestions of habitation. In time, even those will disappear, leaving no trace of the Zaghawa.

Mr Hilal's claim that he has no control over any militia does not bear scrutiny, said Alex de Waal, an Africa scholar who studies Sudan. "He is at the center of all of this," Mr de Waal said.

In letters to government officials and other tribal leaders, Mr Hilal has repeatedly said his fighters are engaged in a jihad, or holy war, and will not disarm even if the government demands it.

"We will not retreat," he wrote in one such letter in 2004 to the leaders in Khartoum. "We continue on the road of jihad." Trying to disarm his men, he wrote, would be "cowardly," and impossible to enforce.

Another communique from Mr Hilal's headquarters in 2004, obtained by Mr de Waal, demanded that the militias "change the demography of Darfur and empty it of African tribes."

The janjaweed so far have not respected the new peace agreement, attacking rebel-held towns in the area of Kutum in northern Darfur and Shearia in South Darfur, killing dozens of people.

Indeed, the Arab militias did not sign the peace agreement. They were represented, after a fashion, by the government, which has steadily denied their existence. Even so, one of the assumptions of the agreement was that the government had control over the Arab militias and the power to disarm them. This is based on a deeper assumption that the interests of Darfur's Arabs would be tended to by Khartoum. Neither is turning out to be true.

"If you ask me where my allegiance lies, with the government or with Darfur, I will have to tell you Darfur," Mr. Hilal said.

This is not the first time the government has promised to disarm the Arab militias. It pledged during seven separate rounds of peace talks over the past three years to neutralize them but has failed to do so. These failures have met with no sanction, so there is little confidence the government will take action now.

"Frankly it is the weakest link in an otherwise deeply flawed agreement," said John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group, an organization that studies violent conflicts. "It leaves intact the same promise the international community has relied upon, and that is that the government is principally responsible for reining in and otherwise neutralizing the murderous militias. It hasn't happened before and there is no new reason why it would happen now."

For some time, the government has been simply integrating the janjaweed militias into its official paramilitary Popular Defense Forces and the regular army, Mr Prendergast said. That process is likely to speed up in the coming months as negotiations continue over whether Sudan will allow a United Nations peacekeeping force to take over the understaffed and underfinanced African Union mission here.

If the alliance of convenience between the Arab militias and the government crumbles, there is little incentive for the militias to play along. Under the peace agreement, they are likely to lose control of land they stole, and there are deep fears that Arabs will be subjugated by the small but influential Zaghawa tribe, which leads the most powerful faction of the rebels.

"There is going to be a lot of conflict between the government and some of the Arab leaders," Mr Prendergast said. "But the government built the Frankenstein monster and now they have got to deal with it."

Sheikh Musa Hilal

Photo: Sheikh Musa Hilal, a Sudanese chief who heads Darfur's largest Arab tribe, is seen inside a small shop in Mistariha, Sudan, May 23, 2006. (Reuters/STR/Sudan Watch archive)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It will take five minutes to read this and another five minutes to take action, proposed below. Your action could literally change the world.

Recently Mark Malloch Brown, the eloquent-speaking number two at the United Nations, said that "Middle America" did not know how the US is constructively engaged with the UN because of UN detractors and too much unchecked UN-bashing and stereotyping over too many years. Friends, the UN deserves to be bashed and bashed hard. Please allow us to give you a glimpse into how the United Nations is run:

Hirings and promotions routinely violate UN rules (and are illegal under some national laws) and revolve around patronage and whom one knows rather than professional qualifications. Poorly performing managers are simply moved into different management slots while others are placed in senior positions only because of their nationality, or because of favors owed to them by their supervisors or colleagues.

Salaries for UN employees are free of taxes and come with six weeks vacation, 11 holidays, 10 sick days that are often used as vacation, plus 4 weeks of home leave, rental and housing grants to supplement an already generous salary (we all make an average of $7,000-$10,000 a month tax free), a pension at 8% of salary times years of service that can be cashed out tax free (one-third of which can be taken as a lumop-sum at retirement), and educational subsidies for children of UN employees. Many also participate in an "alternative work schedule" in which they get every other Friday off. But don't even try to apply. Your application will not be acknowledged nor will you ever get invited for a job interview. You must know someone to work at the UN (or worse, sleep with them).

Several of us have advanced degrees in management and have been trained to manage large public organizations, yet we are blocked from advancing by arrogant men in the 50s with no management training, education, or experience - only sitting in their chairs because they are friends with someone in a higher position. We threaten them because they know they are there based only on their connections.

And there is a profound lack of accountability within the UN regarding resource allocation. Simple procurement that would normally take five minutes using modern technology systems takes 2-3 months in the UN. And many United Nations Development Program country offices pay "local experts" outrageously high sums of money for products of dubious quality. Such contracts would never be made by other international aid agencies such as USAID that have much stronger internal controls and oversight.

We are all familiar with outrageous examples of graft and corruption within the UN system, and yet time and again the scandal is covered up. In fact, a recent article on internal management in the Financial Times cited a UN-commissioned report released in 1994 that was remarkably damning and yet, as the article noted, nothing has changed which has led to this present crisis of credibility at the UN.

Despite its dysfunction, if the UN were actually making a difference, many would mutter to themselves but the UN deserves its strongest bashing because of its profound inability to respond to genocide, war, famine, natural disasters, and corruption.

Kofi Annan, current head of the United Nations who ironically lives in a mansion in New York worth about $10 million, was head of peacekeeping operations in 1994 in Rwanda when 800,000 people died. In 2004, he said "I believed at that time that I was doing my best" despite the fact that he held back UN troops from intervening to settle the conflict and declined to provide more logistic and material support to stop the slaughter. And don't forget that ten years ago thousands of Bosnian Muslims were murdered by the Serb militias who were in a UN protected 'safe haven' with hundreds of UN soldiers assigned to defend them. Yet the UN stood by while the entire adult and teenage male population was systematically butchered.

Kofi Annan was unable to stop mismanagement of the Oil-for-Food Program that allowed Saddam Hussein's regime to embezzle $4.4 billion through pricing irregularities and an additional $5.7 billion through illegal oil smuggling. Kofi's son Kojo received payments from the Swiss company Cotecna which won a lucrative contract under the UN Oil for Food program.

Kofi Annan protected Ruud Lubbers, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, against a report that found him guilty of sexual harassment by declaring him innocent. This created a global protest against Annan, resulting in Lubbers being eventually forced to resign, not because of his own egregious actions, but because he was starting to adversely impact Annan’s public image (which image by the way is propped up around the world thanks to an $85 million dollar annual “communications” budget. What other modern corporation has two directors of communication like the UN, one for the Secretariat and one for the SG? Only those that exist to provide “jobs for the boys”).

Kofi Annan accepted a $500,000 prize from the ruler of Dubai, courtesy of a judges' panel rife with U.N. connections, one member of which Annan then appointed to a high U.N. job (Annan was advised to take the prize money by Malloch Brown who rents a home in Westchester County from his friend George Soros for $12,000 a month but can be adequately covered by Brown's salary at $287,087).

Kofi Annan remains in power despite continuing sexual abuse scandals by UN peacekeepers. A 2005 internal UN investigation found that sexual abuse has been reported in at least five countries where UN peacekeepers have been deployed including the Congo, Haiti, Burundi, Cote d'Ivoire, and Liberia.

And Kofi Annan remains in power while genocide continues in Darfur, while Zimbabwe tailspins into despotism, while up to a third of the population of some African countries will die from AIDS, while corruption keeps the poorest countries in starkest poverty, and while the U.N. Human Rights Council includes repressive non-democratic states such as Cuba, China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.

Kofi Annan and Mark Malloch Brown arrogantly ignore the fact that the quality of life of several of us has come close to being destroyed by the many bitter experiences we have experienced over the past decades.

Most who work for the UN are so used to its dysfunctionality that they have NO idea how sick the organization is or they are unwilling to come forward because UN labor laws and protections are abysmal. See the report prepared by UK Barrister and Human Rights QC Geoffrey Robertson on behalf of UN Staff which highlights the gross deficiencies of worker protections at the UN— .

And to add insult to injury, the newly created OIOS (the new "independent" internal oversight panel established to "reform" the UN) has been strong-armed by Malloch Brown and is not independent because its meager budget comes directly from the UN (equal by the way to one-half of Annan’s annual PR budget), thus dissuading anyone from within the UN from coming forward. Don't think that Malloch Brown is an independent UN operative. Justin Leites – UNDP - was placed on administrative leave to campaign for U.S. Presidential candidate John Kerry - with MMB's approval.

And what really happened at UNDP? Why would Malloch Brown leave his influential post as head of UNDP to spend a year defending the scandals swirling around Kofi Annan and then announce that he would resign when Kofi leaves at the end of this year? Because he royally mismanaged UNDP! Everyone at UNDP knows this but is too scared to share the details of what happened for fear of retaliation by Brown. But ask UNDP Country Directors and UNDP Practice Managers what happened under King Mark's reign and you will get a completely different picture of his mismanagement skills and bombastic ways.

As the walls literally crumble down around them, those who work for the UN and citizens who believe in the founding principles of the UN have no understanding how bad it really is. Unfortunately, we encourage young people who are seeking a career in international affairs to avoid the United Nations at all costs. We wish there would come a day when we would no longer make this recommendation.

Of course the senior leadership of the UN try to hide the profound problems of the UN but shame on them for saying that Americans don't know or understand how the US is engaged with the UN. If you and everyone in Middle America truly understood what ails the UN, the US, which funds $3.3 billion annually or 22% of the entire UN budget, would shut off the money spigot yesterday. In sum, the UN should be shuttered, allowing a brand new organization to emerge because the current UN is broken beyond repair.

Not much has changed since the UN was founded 60 years ago. The UN could have done much, much better in making the word a better place. Make no mistake - this is about the future of YOUR world – a world of some 180 countries who are desperate for a better life for all their citizens. Don't let incompetent middle-aged bureaucrat hacks from dictatorships determine the future of OUR world.

Please contact your two Senators and your representative to the House of Representatives by clicking here: Ask your Senators and Congressman to stop discussing "reform" of the UN. Ask your Senators and Congressman to create a NEW organization that can lead the world well into the 21st Century. This is NOT a Democrats vs. Republicans debate. All Democrats and all Republicans should be able to easily agree on this issue.

1. US out of the UN
2. Close the UN
3. Create a new organization that can truly make the world a better place.

For more information, please contact Edward Patrick Flaherty at who represents UN employees including our views here.

Written by a concerned group of current and former UN employees.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006  
Blogger Ingrid said...

Sudan Watch Ed: I have allowed the above comment to appear even though I disagree with much of what it says. The UN is our world, it's all we have, it does a great job helping millions of people. My view is the UN could do better if it is reformed and modernised and the US pays its subs on time.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006  

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