Home | News    Wednesday 25 October 2006

Sudan’s president is willing to accept more AU forces



Oct 25, 2006 (LONDON) — Sudan is willing to accept a large increase in the number of foreign peacekeepers in Darfur with a stronger mandate to protect civilians, as long as they remain under African Union control, President Omar al-Bashir has told the Guardian.

An African Union soldier patrols outside Kebkabiyah, a government-controlled town in northern Darfur, Sudan September 5, 2006. (Reuters)

The force could have logistical help from European and Arab countries, he added, warning that any UN attempt to impose foreign troops could lead to "such troops becoming a target of attacks and part of the conflict, not the solution".

Sudan has come under intense international pressure in recent weeks over the three-year conflict in its western region after the security council passed a resolution calling for 20,000 UN troops to replace the African Union’s 7,000-strong force. Senior US and British envoys travelled to the capital, Khartoum, last week to urge the ruling coalition government to let the peacekeepers in.

The Arab League’s secretary-general has also discussed new options with the government.

In his first interview since the diplomatic missions, Mr al-Bashir refused to give ground. Denying reports that the Arab League had suggested he accept troops from Arab or Muslim countries outside Africa, he insisted any non-African help for the AU be confined to equipment and logistics.

Asked if the AU could double its troop strength to 20,000, the president said: "We have no objection to the AU increasing its troops, strengthening its mandate, or receiving logistical support from the EU, the UN, or the Arab League for that matter, but this must of course be done in consultation with the government of national unity."

The war has displaced at least 2 million people into more than 100 camps in Darfur, and in neighbouring Chad. Despite a peace deal signed with one of the three main rebel movements in May, new fighting has made a further 50,000 homeless.

Mr al-Bashir, who took power in a coup in 1989, said he "recognised" that refugees had little trust in his government. This was why the peace deal stipulated that security must be overseen by outside observers and provided jointly with the rebel movements, he said. There would be "integrated police units" to protect refugees in their camps and on their return home.

But he accused rebels who failed to sign the deal of stopping refugees from returning to rebuild their villages. He offered no motive for this alleged obstruction. Other Sudanese officials claim it is for propaganda purposes, to maintain a humani tarian crisis and keep the focus on Darfur.

"There are many areas in Darfur which are safe for the return and resettlement of the internally displaced people. Although this issue has become politicised and as a result there are elements inside and outside the camps resisting any such effort, the government of southern Darfur has already carried out many resettlement programmes successfully," he said.

Sudan accepted a 10,000-strong UN force to monitor a peace deal with rebels in south Sudan last year. Western gov ernments which sponsored the latest UN resolution want this extended to Darfur. But Mr al-Bashir insisted the two issues were separate, since the south Sudan deal allowed for a referendum on secession, something Darfurians had never asked for.

Western governments agree that all rebel groups must sign the peace deal. Mr al-Bashir urged Britain and the US to stop "applying pressure [on Khartoum] the way it is being done now - to the wrong party at the wrong time".

He refused to say what concessions he might offer to persuade rebels to sign, but warned there was a danger that if too much was offered, the group led by Minni Minnawi (which signed the deal) could walk out: "We wouldn’t want those who signed to exchange seats with those who did not." Mr Minnawi was made a special assistant to President al-Bashir in August, making him nominally the fourth most powerful person in Sudan. Some rebel leaders have said there is no incentive to make peace because Mr Minnawi has got the top job. He will also nominate his friends to senior posts, they claimed.

The former rebel leader denied this. Mr Minnawi told the Guardian: "This is not my position. It’s the position for the people of Darfur." No other jobs had yet been allocated, he added.

Mr Minnawi said he would offer new concessions to those who had not signed: "I didn’t think we would achieve peace immediately after I signed. I wanted to create the basis for the others," he said.

(The Guardian)

Text: Interview with the Sudanese president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir

The Guardian

Q: Can you confirm recent reports that Sudan has rejected an Arab League suggestion for Arab and Muslim countries from outside Africa to send peacekeepers to help the African Union mission in Darfur?

A: Secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Musa, visited Sudan several times and discussed a number of ideas, but this particular suggestion was not on his agenda. It is to be noted, however, that, among the African Union (AU) members, there are Muslim and Arab countries. If the AU retains the mandate to oversee the implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), as the agreement itself says, we will be ready to discuss the kind of support African Union mission (Amis) can receive from non-African sources.

Q: Sudan rejects UN resolution 1706. The United States is insisting on it. Do you see any possible compromise to end the deadlock?

A: We adopt an open mind and a flexible attitude: let us respect the DPA and keep the mandate to the AU. If this particular provision of the agreement is met, defining the role of the UN would be feasible. For instance, we have recently agreed to a request by Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, to send support from the UN to Amis in the form of experts, equipment and logistics.

Q: Would you be willing to accept a new security council resolution under chapter eight of the UN charter, whereby the UN gave the AU a mandate to continue its current peace-keeping role? Would you allow the AU to increase its troop numbers to as many as 20,000 and receive logistical support from European countries?

A: Regarding the second part of your question, we have no objection to the AU increasing its troops, strengthening its mandate, or receiving logistical support from the EU, the UN, or the Arab League for that matter, but this must, of course, be done in consultation with the government of national unity (GNU). As to the chapter eight option, we haven’t received such an offer and we haven’t thought of it.

Q: Sudan has accepted UN peacekeepers for south Sudan. Why do you consider a similar mission in Darfur unacceptable? What is the difference?

A: First, legally, the resolution does not stand on terra firma. The comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) with the south places the responsibility of the implementation of the agreement with the UN, which was a provision agreed to by the two parties. This is not the case in the Darfur [peace] agreement (DPA), which states expressly that the African Union is tasked with the implementation of the agreement; again, this was agreed and attested to, not only by the signatories, but also by the AU mediators, the UN, the EU, etc. Political correctness demands that we should all respect our agreements.

Second, there is a basic difference between the CPA and the DPA. The former involves self-determination, meaning that, theoretically, the south could secede and become a separate country. Now, why would someone want to bind, in one resolution, a potentially separable part of the country to another part which is integral to that country? Why should we lump two distinctly separate cases in one package? Unfortunately, this is the mistake which the sponsors of the 1706 resolution have committed when they extended the mandate of the UN forces in the south, pursuant to the CPA, to Darfur; by so doing they have tampered with the CPA without the consent of the signatories.

Third, the Darfur problem has always had a strong local element presenting itself sometimes in the form of lethal rivalry between different tribes at one time, and herders and farmers at another. For right or wrong, some of the locals do not view the UN troops kindly, which raises the eventuality of such troops becoming target to their attacks, that is, becoming part of the conflict not the solution.

Fourth, we take exception to not being consulted before the resolution was passed. The UN is a membership organization in which members have equal rights and duties. We know it is a theoretical equality, but at least we should have been granted the apparent dignity of being consulted in such a matter of vital importance to our interests.

Q: The displaced people in the camps in Darfur seem to have little confidence in the goodwill of the Sudanese government. What can be done to convince them that the government is able to protect them?

A: Start implementing the agreement, pure and simple. The agreement recognises these difficulties, and many more others, and caters for them. The government would not deal with the IDPs (internally displaced persons) in the absence of observers; certainly not in the absence of the other signatories, which means that every step in the implementation, including the security arrangements part, would be carried out transparently. For instance, the agreement provides for the deployment of integrated police units in the IDP camps, as a confidence building measure. Members of these units would be drawn from among forces belonging to government, as well as to the other signatories to the agreement.

Q: When will the government start implementing its policy of helping IDPs to return home, perhaps by starting with pilot schemes which provide joint Amis/GOS (government of Sudan) protection as people rebuild their villages in those areas which are secure? Or is there nowhere in Darfur which is currently safe enough for people to return to?

A: There are many areas in Darfur which are safe for the return and resettlement of the IDPs. Although this issue has become politicised and, as a result, there are elements inside and outside the camps resisting any such effort, the government of southern Darfur has already carried out many resettlement programmes, successfully.

Q: What concessions are you offering the non-signatories to the Darfur peace agreement to persuade them to come on board? Could there be an addendum to the DPA? How much more compensation are you willing to give the IDPs beyond the $30m already announced?

A: Indeed, one of our main preoccupations for the next phase is to bring all on board. I would rather not preempt the discussions, though, on what can and what cannot be offered. The principle we insist on is that whatever we agree on must be reconcilable with the DPA and the interests of those who already signed. We wouldn’t want those who signed to exchange seats with those who didn’t. As to the compensations, the agreement states that the $30m is only the first installment payable by the government. We can discuss how much more can be paid. In addition, the international community must come forward on this. We suggest that at least some of the $1.7bn projected to fund the proposed UN troops according to Resolution 1706 be diverted to the compensation fund.

Q: How optimistic are you that the rebel movements will stop fighting and make an agreement with the government?

A: I am confident that this problem will run its course and wind up one day. It is our duty though, pending that, to spare our people the suffering and to speed up the process of healing, which we are striving to do.

Q: High-level visitors from the UK and the US were recently in Khartoum. What would you like the UK and the US to do about Darfur?

A: Help us implement the agreement. If they cannot, or if they have their priorities elsewhere, at least they could relieve us from the distraction caused by applying pressure the way it is being applied now, to the wrong party at the wrong time.

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