Saturday, February 17, 2007

Interview: Sudanese President Bashir

Feb 17 2007 Asharq Alawsat Newspaper, Michel Abu Najm's Interview with Sudanese President Bashir [via CFD]. Excerpt:

(Asharq Al-Awsat) There is talk about a tripartite Sudanese-Chadian-Central African summit on the sidelines of the Cannes summit. What do you hope to achieve in it?

(Al-Bashir) In the past, we held several summits of this kind. We signed several agreements with Chad, even before the Darfur problem, to control the border, which is witnessing problems because of the movement of tribes between Sudan and Chad--tribes that know no borders. There are 18 joint tribes with one leader each. They exist on both sides of the border. As for Darfur, the one that launched the rebellion there was a Chadian officer with the rank of colonel. Several rebellion leaders were Chadian officers. All the agreements we signed with the Chadians to control the border and establish a joint observation force have produced no results because of Chad's failure to honor its commitments. Members of the Chadian regime are from the same tribe that is leading the rebellion in Darfur. When Idris Deby was trying to overthrow the regime of Hissen Habre, he obtained the help of his tribe, the Zaghawa, which is present on both sides of the border. The tribe is asking him now to return the favor to their brothers in Sudan. His security and intelligence services are working to support the rebellion in Darfur. Despite the agreements and discussions, Chad has not fulfilled its commitments, although we must affirm that the existing situation does not serve the interests of Sudan or Chad. The two countries have no choice but to cooperate, because security anarchy negatively affects both sides. We want to exchange benefits and not disagreements. We hope that the summit would open the door for settling the differences.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) The Darfur issue is at the top of the political agenda of the French-African summit. How do you see the solution to the present crisis?

(Al-Bashir) Foreign parties are behind the issue. They have fabricated and exaggerated it. Frictions and conflicts have always existed between the tribes.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) But, the view of the United Nations, its organizations, and various nongovernmental organizations is different. They talk about various atrocities.

(Al-Bashir) On the issue of the report, remember the reports regarding Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction. What happened later? We think that anti-Sudan elements have turned their attention to Darfur after we had achieved peace in southern Sudan. They accused us of ethnic cleansing and that government instruments and forces are doing this. Here I want to say that Darfur is divided into three provinces with their own governments and local councils. If we look at the situation closely, we can see that the governors of two of the three provinces are from Darfur and that most of the administration, police, and security forces are from Darfur. The Darfur Arabs are nomads. Their educational level is low. Therefore, their presence in the security forces, administration, and political councils is very weak. Can you imagine that Darfur citizens are ethnically cleansing Darfur? All this is false propaganda. There is a rebellion problem in Darfur, and it is the duty of a government in any state to fight the rebellion. When war takes place, civilian victims fall, and this has been exaggerated.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) The question today is will Sudan accept a UN force, according to UN Security Council resolution 1706, to replace the African force or accept a joint force?

(Al-Bashir) We totally reject resolution 1706. Its acceptance would mean placing Sudan under UN mandate. We will not accept such a situation under any circumstances and willingly, because it would turn us into another Iraq. I want to say that we signed a peace agreement about Darfur. Deputy US Secretary of State Zoellick, the British minister of state for international cooperation, African Union envoy Salim Ahmad Salim, Head of the African Commission Umar Kunari, and representatives of the EU and the European states drafted the final copy of the agreement. The agreement called for the deployment of African forces to maintain security in Darfur.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) But, these forces have been ineffective.

(Al-Bashir) The African forces are suffering from financial problems. All the reports talked about the positive role of these forces. However, when the Western countries stopped their financial support, problems began. We think that the African force plus UN support is sufficient. What would change if the force changed hats and became a UN force?

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What would change is that a UN force operating under UN command would have a moral power not enjoyed by the current African force.

(Al-Bashir) The force is the force of the African Union. It was the mediator. The force was entrusted with the peacekeeping task in Darfur. When the peace agreement was signed, the government signed it with one rebel faction--the Sudan Liberation Army. The agreement called for sanctions against the party that did not sign the agreement if it continued to oppose it. Resolution 1706 was to the contrary. It punished Sudan. The Darfur Peace Act, which the American President signed, imposed on us additional American sanctions. On the other hand, the elements that rejected the agreement are moving freely in the Western capitals. They are receiving unrestricted financial and military aid, and because of this aid, they have succeeded in seizing control of the northern part of Darfur. We only heard subdued reactions from the world. Is this not a direct threat to Darfur and to security and peace? These movements exist in the refugee camps in Chad where they are conducting military training. Chad has opened its borders and airports to allow weapons to reach these groups and facilitate their movements to Darfur. This is taking place within the view of the United Nations and its organizations. So far, no one has condemned Chad or the states that send the weapons. They are only criticizing the government and the Janjawid.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Can we say then that irrespective of the pressure and the mediations, Sudan absolutely rejects a UN force or a hybrid UN-African force?

(Al-Bashir) Yes, this is our position. We accepted Kofi Annan's three-stage plan. The first stage is for weak logistical support, and this is taking place. The second is for heavy support involving equipment, systems, experts, and technicians from the United Nations. This is acceptable in principle and negotiations are taking place to implement it. The third stage is the hybrid force. We have expressed reservations about it and submitted these reservations to the African Peace and Security Council, which issued a resolution that we accepted. Based on this resolution, an understanding was reached about the appointment of a special envoy of the UN secretary general, the identity of the commander of the force (African), and the way of appointing him (the African Union would nominate one and the United Nations would approve it). An understanding was also reached about accepting elements from the United Nations in this force and about the level of command. This is what we are prepared to accept, and this is what we call the African Union force plus UN support. Anything else is unacceptable to us.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Would you show some additional flexibility in Cannes?

(Al-Bashir) We have shown flexibility, but there is a limit and beyond it, we cannot go. In short, we cannot accept an agreement that would place us under a mandate and place our justice, police, and other systems under the control of others.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What does the United States wants from you? Does it want to change the regime in Sudan?

(Al-Bashir) Yes. There are elements in the United States that want political change in Sudan. Some groups in the US Congress, for example, are hostile to us, and whatever we do, we are unacceptable and would never be acceptable to them.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Does the administration of President Bush want change?

(Al-Bashir) I would not say the American administration wants change. It stood by us on the issue of peace in the south. The State Department played a positive role in reaching the Abuja agreement (on Darfur).

(Asharq Al-Awsat) But, the US President has imposed new financial and economic sanctions against Sudan recently.

(Al-Bashir) The American blockade is not new. The United States economic and financial boycott is also not new, and so is the boycott maintained by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Despite this blockade, we have reorganized our economy and achieved very high levels of development. Therefore, the American measures would not affect us. We turned toward the orient, and our relations are good and close with many of its countries. Our relations are excellent with China, for example.

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