Home | News    Friday 6 May 2005

INTERVIEW- JEM rebel leader calls for govt led by southerner

By Aydarus Abd-al-Aziz, Asharq al-Awsat

Khalil Ibrahim

LONDON, May 3, 2005 (Sudan Tribune) — Khalil Ibrahim, leader of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement has stated that his movement and the other one in western Sudan region (Sudan Liberation Army) control 80 per cent of the Darfur area. He asserted, in a telephone interview with Al-Sharq al-Awsat from London, that his movement would not lay down arms until a comprehensive political agreement is reached.

Agreement no solution

Regarding the southern agreement, he said it is bilateral and does not solve Sudan’s problems, and pointed out that the south would secede in the end. He proposed the establishment of a national government led by a southerner to redress their grievances. He criticized the Arab League strongly, saying that it has not offered a single solution for the people of Darfur, as if their province is not part of the Arab map. He said it had also ignored the war in the south for over 20 years. He said the Arab League has a problem when dealing with the non-Arab minorities in the Arab world, adding: "They did not show an interest in the issue of the Kurds in Iraq and now look, the Iraqis have chosen a Kurdish president."

Government in exile

On his recent meeting with Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, leader of the Sudanese Ummah Party, in Paris, Ibrahim said his aim was to form a government in exile that brings together the entire Sudanese political spectrum so as to bring down the present government in Khartoum. He noted that there is international backing for the "idea" and said the two sides would meet soon to put the final touches on the agreement. He explained that his movement was recently the target of four failed attempts to split its ranks, led by Chadian intelligence on the personal instructions of President Idriss Deby on behalf of the Sudanese government, and added that he was expecting more such attempts soon.

Al-Turabi "new Mandela"

On his participation in the national salvation regime at the beginning, he said he supported the coup at the time like "all the Sudanese who did not shed a single tear over the democratic regime". He stressed that the present government would turn Al-Turabi into a new Mandela by jailing him without justification and demanded his release and the release of other political prisoners, especially the sons of Darfur. Following is the text of the interview:

- What was the aim of the meeting with Al-Mahdi?

Ibrahim: The meeting was held within the framework of bilateral relations with the Ummah Party in its capacity as one of the largest Sudanese political parties. We discussed all the developments, especially bilateral relations so as to reach a written agreement. We also proposed at the meeting forming an all-embracing national government that includes the entire Sudanese spectrum so as to save Sudan from the present government that controls Sudan and has become the biggest threat to its unity and stability. If we do not take a serious stand at present and the government remains in power until the end of the transitional period (six years), then the south of the country will undoubtedly secede from the north.

- Did you reach a specific formula in this connection?

Ibrahim: We exchanged memorandums and we handed Al-Mahdi our plan for forming an emergency national government and listed its responsibilities and duties and the necessary steps for forming it. On their part, they handed us a memorandum that included a similar plan. We are now studying their plan and they are studying ours and we will meet again soon to put the final touches on the details before we reach a written agreement.

- Why did you choose the Ummah Party in particular for concluding such an agreement?

Ibrahim: The Ummah was the start. We met the leaders of the other parties and factions in Asmara and presented this plan to them. We have agreements with these forces, written agreements, and a joint action programme that we are implementing, like the eastern factions - the Beja Congress, the Free Lions. We are twinned with the Sudan Liberation Front (SLA) to unite the military and political efforts.

- Are there clauses in the agreement that talk openly about removing the regime?

Ibrahim: Yes. There is a clause that calls on the national government that we intend to form to mobilize all the political and military forces for finishing off this regime.

Use of arms

- By force of arms?

Ibrahim: The clause on the use of arms is a part that concerns the Justice Movement and not the Ummah Party. This is our view. We will not lay down arms until after the government falls or a fair political settlement is reached for all the peoples in Sudan’s provinces.

- But as you know, the Sudanese government now has everything, funds, weapons, and media. How can you bring it down? And what are the mechanisms?

Ibrahim: The transitional government is in itself a mechanism. There are other mechanisms, like the armed factions and political parties.

- Will the new government be for example a government in exile?

Ibrahim: Yes. There is an invitation from several European countries to sponsor and finance an all-embracing conference for the opposition.

- Can you name these countries?

Ibrahim: There is no need to mention names at present. But the one thing that can be confirmed is that there is an acceptance of and an invitation to hold the conference. It is the only plan that can unite the Sudanese people.

Peace talks

- Regarding the peace negotiations, there are efforts to re-launch them during this month. What is your stand on them?

Ibrahim: We are willing to go to the negotiating table. We issued a statement in Oslo in which we declared our stand very clearly. We are now demanding from the government to withdraw its forces from some areas that they recently seized, including the "Mun" Mountain, which is one of our positions in Darfur, and to release the political detainees in Khartoum’s prisons as a condition for returning to the negotiating table.

- Are you expecting the negotiations to succeed following the recent international pressure?

Ibrahim: The success of the negotiations depends on the Sudanese government’s stand and the concessions it makes. The entire issue is one of "rights". If the government acknowledges the rights of the others in all Sudan’s provinces and not just in Darfur, then there is nothing to prevent reaching peace with it. We did not take up arms "for the sake of war" but have a cause and rights.

- Did you sense any willingness on the government’s part to make concessions?

Ibrahim: Unfortunately, this government is willing to give everything to the south but does not want to give anything to the other peoples in Sudan. We will, therefore, continue to move as if in a "waterwheel", going to and coming from the negotiations without achieving anything. This is why we decided to demand at the first closed session to set a timetable for the negotiations.

"Peace partners"

- You had in the past cast doubts about the African Union’s neutrality. Do you want to bring other international parties?

Ibrahim: We will demand peace partners in the upcoming negotiations so as to raise the level of the talks. Britain, Norway, and others have expressed their agreement to participate. We will thus guarantee the presence of real pressures on all the Sudanese parties for achieving our aim of reaching peace. The issue is now clear. We want our rights in full and the establishment of regional rule in Sudan where each province governs itself. This is a red line over which there is no debate.

- Your movement is suffering from many splits, the latest being the operation carried out by 60 field commanders during which you were removed. What is your comment on this?

Ibrahim: There was no split. What happened was a conspiracy led specifically by Chadian President Idriss Deby in agreement with Sudanese intelligence for the purpose of weakening the movement, creating a storm, and distorting our reputation before the negotiations. They were able to deceive three officers and succeeded in seizing military vehicles. The conspiracy was discovered and the force was hunted down. Its leaders took shelter in an area controlled by the Sudan Liberation Front, which cooperated with us and handed them over.

- What is their fate now?

Ibrahim: We issued a general amnesty.

- But many splits did happen, for example the Reform and Development Movement?

Ibrahim: This is really the fourth time that the Chadian president tries to split our ranks. All of them are conspiracies to serve the Chadian president. These conspiracies will not end and we are waiting for the fifth, sixth, and tenth ones because the conspiracies will not end.

"Chadian conspiracies"

- What is the aim of these Chadian conspiracies, as you say?

Ibrahim: The Chadian president does not want to see us strong because we are from the same tribe. We are all from Al-Zaghawah tribe that is spread between Chad and Sudan.

- In this case, he ought to be backing you, not weakening you?

Ibrahim: He believes that if Al-Zaghawah people have a chance to rule Sudan, then they will bring down his government in Chad. This is not true. We are an all-embracing nationalist movement for all the people and tribes of Sudan. Secondly, the Sudanese government is paying hundreds of millions of dollars for the Chadian government’s activities.

- The facts say there are differences between Chad and Khartoum and that relations between them are "not all honey" as you say?

Ibrahim: Yes. There are disagreements but they last only for hours. They never disagree for more than 72 hours, only the time it takes to get the money to the Chadian side.

- Regarding your movement, some are saying that you exist in the "media organs" only and have no trace on the ground, like the other movement, "Sudan Liberation"?

Ibrahim: This is an unacceptable claim. The government would not have sought to negotiate with us if this was true. The Sudan Liberation Front and we control more than 80 per cent of the Darfur provincial area. We were able to defeat the government in more than 54 battles. We have a presence in Kordofan (west) and in the east. The government accuses us of coups in Khartoum. We are in fact the largest movement in Sudan.

- You were one of the leading figures of the regime in Khartoum. Why did you split from it?

Ibrahim: I was not the only one who left or split from the regime. This happens all over the world. Yes. I participated in the regime but was disappointed by its performance, practices, and its disregard for the peoples of Sudan, especially in the countryside.

- What were you expecting?

Ibrahim: I was expecting the salvation regime to look after the citizen above all else when it came to power.

- Do you support coupist solutions?

Ibrahim: I approve the coups against coupist regimes. But I do not approve of a coup against democracy.

- But the salvation coup was against a democratic regime?

Ibrahim: I was not the only one to support it. The entire Sudanese people supported it. Not one person shed a single tear over the former democratic regime. I do not say it was a failure; it was unsuccessful. There was a tragedy in the long queues for gas and bread. The situation was bad and the Sudanese army was in retreat.

- Some consider you the military wing of Al-Turabi’s People’s Congress?

Ibrahim: This is not true. We do not belong to any party, whether it is the People’s Congress or any other one. It is true that many of us had a historic relationship with the Sudanese Islamic movement, but not the Popular Congress. On the other hand, our movement includes many members from various Sudanese political groups, like the Ummah, Unionist, Communist parties, the independents, and even all the fighters now in the field, whether in Darfur, the east, Kordofan, or the centre. They have no connection with the Popular Congress.

- How are you now dealing with the Popular Congress, which is an opposition party like yours?

Ibrahim: We are dealing with all Sudan’s opposition parties, including the Popular Congress. We also consulted with it about forming a national government.

Al-Turabi’s detention

- Regarding the jailing of Al-Turabi, how do you view his case?

Ibrahim: Al-Turabi’s presence in jail is a mistake and a violation of human rights because he is in jail without trial. Mandela became a world hero because he was jailed without a crime or trial. We demand the release of Al-Turabi and all the political detainees, especially the Darfur ones.

- Do your agendas include any talk about secession so that Darfur will revert to being an independent sultanate like it was at the beginning of the last century?

Ibrahim: The most important aim behind our movement’s taking up arms is the fear of the country being torn. We oppose the secession of any part of Sudan. We do not want the Darfur sultanate. What are we going to do with it? We live in the age of large blocs. We want to unite the Horn of Africa region in one state that includes Egypt, Libya, and Chad. We want a continent state.

- Why did you not respond to the solutions presented by the Arab League?

Ibrahim: The League did not offer us a single solution, as if Darfur is not part of the Arab map. It also ignored in the past the war in the south for more than 20 years. The Arab League has a problem when dealing with the non-Arab minorities in the Arab world.

Material provided by the BBC Monitoring Service.