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Lawmakers Decry Crisis in Sudan

July 6, 2004 at 12:00 AM EST
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RAY SUAREZ: Within a week, a remote area of Africa has drawn two top-rank international visitors, Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The mission for both: To stop attacks by Sudanese Arab militias, known as the Janjaweed, on Sudanese Africans in the region of Darfur, an area in western Sudan roughly the size of Texas. Over the past 16 months, an estimated 10,000 have already been killed in ethnic violence and hundreds of thousands of refugees are a risk from murder or starvation. International aid organizations have called the killings genocide, but so far, the U.S. has refused to apply that term to the situation.

When Secretary Powell visited Sudan last week, he threatened U.N. sanctions if Sudanese officials did not do more to stop the violence and to help the refugees.

COLIN POWELL, U.S. Secretary of State: We also hope that the government will take more firm action with respect to the process of political reconciliation. We want to see reconciliation between the government and the opposing forces so that we don’t find ourselves in a similar situation a year, two, three from now.

RAY SUAREZ: The Sudanese government has denied any involvement in the attacks and has downplayed the crisis.

MUSTAFA OSMAN ISMAIL, Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs: Secretary Powell today asked for specific measures to be taken. We will look at it. This includes lifting of any restrictions concerning humanitarian aids, also more security arrangements to protect the civilian and disarm militias. We are looking seriously before the end of the visit of Secretary Powell with that we would reach to an agreed plan on how we could help to bring the situation in Darfur to normal. There is no famine. There is no epidemic diseases, but we still have to do more.

RAY SUAREZ: United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan was also in the country last week. While visiting Sudanese refugees at a camp in neighboring Chad, he said the situation was “bordering on ethnic cleansing,” and could not be ignored.

KOFI ANNAN, U.N. Secretary General: The government of Sudan has given an engagement that it is going to disarm the Janjaweed and to contain them and provide security for the population. And it is, of course, as I have said in the past, the sacred duty of every government and of the Sudanese government to protect its population.

RAY SUAREZ: Annan has also said international troops could be sent to Darfur if there are no signs of improvement. Senators and congressmen who traveled recently to Darfur gave an account of their visit to the ravaged area. Kansas Senator Sam Brownback said the international community must keep pressure on Sudan’s government.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK, R-Kan.: It is really the seeds of genocide. It is certainly ethnic cleansing. It’s got to be stopped. And the thing that’s happening here is it can be stopped before hundreds of thousands more die.

RAY SUAREZ: Yesterday, members of the African union agreed to send 300 peacekeepers to Darfur and Chad to protect refugees and unarmed cease-fire monitors.

RAY SUAREZ: For more now on the situation in Darfur, I’m joined by Abdel Bagi Kabeir, deputy chief of mission at the Sudanese embassy in Washington; and Congressman Frank Wolf, Republican, of Virginia. He accompanied Senator Brownback on a visit to the Darfur region of Sudan last week.

And Representative Wolf, maybe we could start by hearing your story. What did you see in the Darfur region, the conditions of the displaced people?

REP. FRANK WOLF: The conditions are horrible. We went through burned out village after burned-out village. We interviewed many, many people. They told us the government is sending bombers over the village, bombing the villages. Then helicopters come in with machine guns and then the Janjaweed on horses and camels ride in. They kill the men. They rape the women. Sometimes they abduct the children. In the IDP camps, displaced person camps, the men are afraid to go out. The women go out early, early in the morning. They’re afraid of being raped. We spoke to two sisters with a father and a mother who had been raped a day before we got there. Feces, human feces, animal feces all over the place. Malaria, dysentery, there was an outbreak of measles in one of the camps, very, very bad conditions.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, Mr. Kabeir, what does your government say is happening in Darfur? Who is doing this to these villagers? Who is attacking these people?

ABDEL BAGI KABEIR: First, thanks for taking me on the show. It is the belief of the government and conviction that the outlaw rebels and all other members of the community in Darfur who are in possession of– who are illegally possessing arms are to be held responsible. However, the government still also understands that it is its own responsibility to see to it that security and order is brought into place in Darfur. As you’re saying right now, a couple measures that have been taken just less than 48 hours to see to it that security around the displaced camps, security around the civilian population areas are brought by deployment of respectful and well-respected police forces, as well as deployment of Sudanese armed forces.

RAY SUAREZ: Just so I understand, it’s your government’s position that it does not and has not supported the Janjaweed that’s attacking civilian areas?

ABDEL BAGI KABEIR: The government has said repeatedly that the Janjaweed, as referred to here, is contrary to what has been shown to them as if it’s a group or a particular tribe. It’s members of outlawed people.

They are not by any way part of the government. They are now viewed as the people contributing to the problem in Darfur.

RAY SUAREZ: Congressman Wolf, from where comes your conviction that– and the conviction of the United States government that it is from government support that the Janjaweed is able to launch these attacks?

REP. FRANK WOLF: The Janjaweed don’t fly Russian Antonov bombers. The Janjaweed do not fly Sudanese government helicopters with machine guns on the side.

In many places we were, we saw the Janjaweed and the military together. In fact, in Jenin, as we were leave, we saw a large military operation 100 yards from it we saw the Janjaweed camp. And then 100 yards from that we saw the airport where the Russian Antonov bomber is and the helicopters were there.

The stories of the people are all afraid. They’re afraid to go to the military. They’re afraid to go to the police. We had a letter given to us by a number of women, 40 of them, signed the let they’re we released today without their names saying they had all been raped.

This is ethnic cleansing. It is racial. Those who are African are being persecuted and killed and raped by those who are Arab. We went into one village where the mosque was burned. So it’s not a religious issue, but it is a racial and an ethnic cleansing.

I saw with my own eyes the government on one hand, a few feet away, the Janjaweed and then the camps. Everyone in the camp is afraid to go out. The men are afraid to go out, they’re going to be killed. They send women out very early in the morning in order to get wood to have fire, and the women come back raped. We’ve spoke with four who were raped, one who was marked on the back. They brand them after they rape them.

The government has to stop this. In fact, some say the Janjaweed has been integrated into the military. We’re running out of time. The bad rains are coming. The food is diminishing. Some of the villages will be impossible to reach. The government within next week has to disarm the Janjaweed quickly or else the Janjaweed will go bury their weapons and this will come again when the world stops looking at it. This is ethnic cleansing based on race.

RAY SUAREZ: Why would– what’s there in Darfur that one group of Sudanese would want to drive another group off their land?

ABDEL BAGI KABEIR: Well, this is a very serious allegation. I would disagree with Congressman Wolf, who has been well-informed in Africa. I do believe that referring to Sudan in that very crystal clear cut of African Arabs is absolutely misinformation to the American public. It’s just like saying black and white, which does not exist in the Sudan, because I am sitting in front of do you speaking and I’m from Sudan and I’m from the north, as long as the political categorization of the Sudan is concerned.

But, the bottom line here is that there is needy people in Darfur. There is crisis in Darfur. The government has recognized this one quite way back. There has been difficulty of getting aid into the areas simply because you have had a rebellion moving into town, into the area which is as quiet as decent as secure as where we’re sitting here now. They initiated a rebellion. It was very natural for the government to respond.

ABDEL BAGI KABEIR: Now what happens is you’re talking about an area where you have serious problems between tribes because you have hereditary problems. You have fights in pasture lands, you have a fight over water. It is not disputed that those grudges would certainly rise when there is an absence of law and order and there is a rebellion. It is not wise for the resolution of the problem to just term it ethnic cleansing, term it that it’s Arabs against Africans and term it… we had problems in the southern mountains where you have connotations, blacks against Arabs, Muslims against Christians, which actually did not help other than prolong the war.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you don’t agree with the congressman’s diagnosis of what he saw on the ground, but he just called for your government to disarm these groups that are attacking civilians.

ABDEL BAGI KABEIR: Certainly.

RAY SUAREZ: Is the Sudanese government at this point capable of disarming them?

ABDEL BAGI KABEIR: It did start. We didn’t start this army in the Janjaweed. It’s not true they’ve been integrated into the armed force, which is not true. The secretary general’s presence, in his meeting with the Sudanese authorities and particularly with the president and in a joint communique between the United States… sorry, the United Nations and the government of the Sudan, one of the major issues is to disarm the Janjaweed, to make sure that access to humanitarian areas is prompt, there is a lifting, total lifting of all the restriction and requirements of visas and registrations of people working in Darfur. There is no customs, no duties — there are no regulations and requirements by health authorities for any medical and supplies sent to Darfur.

On top of that, there is a joint commission to see to it that implementation of that agreement is made that is between the government of Sudan and the United Nations. This is done on the basis of regularly meeting to see how the progress is made.

I think this is a very positive develop that has taken place. It is true we have come through a very hard time, and I think it is actually an opportunity from this stage here to draw the attention of the congressman that as he now sits on appropriation, as I know, that Kofi Annan is calling for the support of the community.

RAY SUAREZ: Let me get a quick response from the congressman. You heard Mr. Kabeir say progress is already under way, disarming, stopping the assaults on the people. What has to happen in that region now for the killing and the dying to at least be slowed down?

REP. FRANK WOLF: The number-one issue is security. Every person, and we have spoken to hundreds who would not go back to the village, as long as Janjaweed were there. Keep in mind, 100 yards away from the military are the Janjaweed. The Janjaweed move into town with their weapons. They are all over. Again, helicopters are not flown by Janjaweed. Bombers are not flown by Janjaweed. The Janjaweed have cell phones. Some are wearing military uniforms.

Security is the number-one issue, so the people can return to their villages and rebuild, so the government should disarm quickly within a week. There ought to be accountability and a timetable, otherwise the people will stay in the camps, not much food, the rainy season is coming, and disease will spread through.

There’s already been an outbreak of measles. Some are concerned about cholera, dysentery. In one camp we went to, nine people die every morning. The government must respond very, very quickly. There must be a timetable, and there must be some way of making sure that it’s being done.

There are only 260 monitors from the African union. This is a country the size of Texas. There are 15,000 peacekeepers in Liberia, which is half the size of Texas. So 260 will never do. They must be held accountable. There must be security so the people can return home. This army, the Janjaweed, is the number-one issue.

RAY SUAREZ: Very, very quickly, Mr. Kabeir. Are you prepared to do what the congressman just said?

ABDEL BAGI KABEIR: We have already started doing this before even the congressman said it. Anyway, we welcome his concern. But I just want to quote what Secretary General Annan says and I quote: “We have less than half of the funding we need to avoid starvation and epidemics in Darfur and Chad. Many donors give too little, too late.” He said.

And, actually, this is the burden now, Mr. Wolf, who is sitting on appropriations, to see to it that Kofi Annan’s purse is full and then come and ask me in the government, what have I done?

RAY SUAREZ: We’ll have to continue this debate. Gentlemen, thank you both.

ABDEL BAGI KABEIR: Thank you very much.