TOPICS > Politics

State Dept. Representative on the Ongoing Darfur Peace Talks

September 23, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


ANNA SHOUP: What is the aim of the peace talks between the government of Sudan and the rebels groups? And what are both sides offering and what do they expect of one another?

CHARLES SNYDER: I think what we’re all hoping to get out of it, the international community, the African community at large and the Sudanese, is a genuine peace agreement that addresses the underlying issues but also in the nearer term, a more stable cease fire. I mean, theoretically they already have a cease fire going back to April last year based in N’Djamena. But it’s never worked very smoothly. They need to talk out the kinks in the peace fire.

But the timeline that Jan Pronk has sent and it’s not a bad target, is to end it by the end of the year. This isn’t going to happen over night. They have to work through some things on power sharing and wealth sharing and those kinds of things. It’s not going to be an instant solution.

That’s what they’re after generically, is a real political settlement that talks about out wealth sharing and power sharing, just like the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the North South agreement. And as a second piece, that would stabilize this cease fire which is kind of unique to this, each cease fire is always unique to the conflict and this would be unique to this.

KRISTINA NWAZOTA: Was it expected that there would be several rounds of talks going into it?

CHARLES SNYDER: Yeah, I think that our expectation, and I don’t want to speak for any other governments, was that this particular round would run from whenever the AU wanted to start, and they said Sept. 15, probably until either the beginning or maybe the end of Ramadan as a logical target. And I think that’s what’ll happen.

The end or Ramadan this year, assuming deciding occurs on time, probably around the third or fourth of November and it will probably start the fourth or fifth of October so somewhere in there they’ll break again to allow more internal reconciliation among the SLM (Sudan Liberation Movement), the Darfur factions.

KRISTINA NWAZOTA: Was it expected there would be six rounds of negotiations?

CHARLES SNYDER: You never go into these things with a formula. The only targets were, and it was mostly set by Jan Pronk, but it’s also set by practical realities. If you can get a stable peace agreement by the end of the year, you have the possibility, given the rain cycles to begin to put some of the population back into their villages.

The rain cycle, the next one that we’re interested in, normally, and of course African rain patterns, dangerous business, but nonetheless, starts in April. So if you’re looking at this rationally, given the numbers of people displaced, if you can have an agreement let’s say in January, popularize it, spread the word throughout January, you can probably move some people back in a reasonable, constant flow so that a lot of them will be able to plant before the April rains, presumably.

If you don’t make this January deadline, particularly if you don’t make, let’s say a March deadline, the chance of significant planting in this rainy cycle is missing. And that has a lot of implications for yet another season in the camps, yet another season of feeding these people, another season of them being off their land, another season of kids not being back in school where they belong, another season of the security problems and the disease problems you get anytime with people living in a quasi-institution.

So this is actually being driven by practical factors, you know we politicians always set our dates hypothetically, but this one is really being driven by the rain cycles. And also it’s not an unrealistic expectation, given the fact that they agreed on the Declaration of Principles that these guys can come to closure. The problem is really the lack of unity in the rebel faction, which makes it easy for the other side not to have to make hard choices. They can always say we’re ready, but until the other side tests them, you don’t know. So we’re still shooting for January but really what really drives me and worries me, I don’t want to miss that April window.

ANNA SHOUP: Are the sides willing to compromise?

CHARLES SNYDER: I think so; I think that what we’re after is a compromise that is consistent with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, because the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, although we cast it North-South, we cast in North-South to simplify the diplomatic problem. But if you look at what the agreement is about, it’s about the marginalized areas getting redress form a strong, central, hard, to put it politely government that has kind of neglected, abused whatever term you’d like to use over the years. So that same dynamic is exactly the problem in Darfur, it’s the same problem in the east in Beja.

So the seeds of the solution are already in there. The government has already said anything in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement can be applied in Darfur. So now you’re arguing about the 10 percent that is specific to Darfur, the specific grievances, the specific parameters, the arrangements, governorships that are unique to Darfur versus the North-South agreement.

KRISTINA NWAZOTA: Could a Darfur have happened anywhere in the country?

CHARLES SNYDER: Darfur was unique in many ways in the sense that it was a more highly politicized population, more organized. It always saw itself as more independent. There’s a history where Darfur was independent until 1916, the rest of the country was under British or Egyptian, Anglo-Egyptian condominium long before that. So there was a bit of a history of the West being different, but other, in some ways, that carries over into this and they were a little better organized.

Why the reaction to Darfur had to do with about 60 percent of the army comes from Darfur. And so chaos in Darfur was threatening to the security structure. That’s one of the reasons, things there totally beyond the pail happened, this was a threat to the heart of the regime and the response was probably maniacal, but nonetheless, consistent to a threat to the core. The southern rebellion was never a threat to a core. The oil wealth, yes, but to the core politically, never a threat. Darfur is a threat to the core so the reaction was proportionate. Even the Beja, they don’t have a kind of weight in Sudan to be a threat to the core. Darfur is unique in a lot of ways.

ANNA SHOUP: Why was there a peace agreement signed between the South and Khartoum and not between the Darfur rebels and Khartoum? Why was the South signed first?

CHARLES SNYDER: Partly because the southern rebellion goes back 20 some odd years and with 2.2 million dead. When we got into this our objectives, there were three objectives the president gave us. One was on counter terrorism, one was on changing Khartoum from the neighborhood bully to at least a reasonable neighbor, and the third one was just peace. And just peace when we got into it, had to do with North-South, but even from the beginning, and we all agreed, the transformation in Khartoum was the key.

If we had approached it another way, you would have had such a cacophony of voices, that you would have had and unending, and this is my view as a professional diplomat having done this too many times. We could have never pinned Khartoum down. It would have been too easy to play a demand that didn’t resonate with the southerners in the west against the center saying I can’t give this to the South. A demand that was unique to the easterners against the South or the West. So you play Khartoum’s game, so we changed it to play a clean North-South game with the idea that wealth sharing and power sharing was what mattered in the whole county.

The elements of a comprehensive change in the system are in there. Will it work? The test is in how it plays out. The loss of John Garang hurts, in some ways, serious ways, particularly in the northern peace; he was seen as the charismatic politician, the man, the international figure, the man that really was for unity.

His replacement is seen as more of a southern independence type but nonetheless is smart enough to know he has to play in a bigger Sudan game. And he can’t allow himself to be isolated and become the victim of this triangle that I just talked about. Demand in the west reopens the deal in the south, reopens the deal with the east.

And we’re there, and the United Nations is there, and the so-called troika is there, the Europeans and us to prevent that rollback from happening.

And I still think at this end of the day, and we’ve been saying this, that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement holds the seeds. That’s not to say that 10 percent isn’t unique to Darfur, but 90 percent is already there, the 10 percent that’s unique to them has to do with the particular, you know, these three provinces essentially, this particular ethnic relations that need to be reflected in the deal.

The population is split three ways: there’s one-third that I would say are more or less the victims, there’s about a third that stayed out of this, and there’s a third that are somehow implicated in the problem. And so, that’s unique to Darfur, clearly the entire south was the victim in some sense. So you’ve got to factor that difference in. But it’s not impossible if you can argue about the 10 percent to do it rapidly.

ANNA SHOUP: How unified are the rebel two groups? Could one of them decide that this is a good idea and one of them not, and then the peace talks would fail?

CHARLES SNYDER: I don’t think they could fail. It’s much better if you get a unified rebel faction; it allows them to get their maximum demands and even if they disagree with each other on the margins, they’re better off being united and presenting a united front against Khartoum. It also allows the outside to weight in most effectively. Because then, instead of being able to back the 70 percent where they’re unified and not help them much on the 30 percent, we could back a real program and make it very difficult for Khartoum not to negotiate.

Do I think they’ll come together? There’s no reason they can’t. My analysis of this is it’s about personalities as much as it is about the politics inside the SLM. The second movement, the JEM has always had an agenda in Khartoum. They’ve always been the outliers, but they’re also the least militarily important.

So If the JEM is smart they will climb on the SLM bandwagon and allow the west, not just us, but the west, the European Union and others, and Africa for that matter, the African Union is playing a major role in negotiations, let the African Union weigh in on a common front and then worry about their uniqueness later on.

If they split earlier, you know, they’ll get 70 percent. If they stay united, they’ll probably get 90 or even 95 percent of what they want. Because the underlying truth is, you know, Khartoum, by what it did, has set itself up to be the loser politically. All of us are agreed, even if we don’t call it genocide, and we do call it genocide, but even if you agree with the IOM (International Organization for Migration), or the African Union, which has not used the word genocide, it’s crimes against humanity, it’s war crimes, it’s a massive abuse of authority.

We should be able to force them to a maximum settlement from the rebels’ point of view. They have to get their act together. And so we’re pushing them to get there. Will they get there? They’re unsophisticated, they’re been badly abused by this war, their population was driven off the land, they’re leadership really can’t meet in a coherent fashion, some of them are overseas, some of them are here, it will be hard to put them together, but we’re hoping to bring them together. If for no other reason that it’s the old cry of the patriots, we’ll either hang together or we’ll surely hang separately. I think we’ll get them closer together than they are.

The signal won’t be the U.S. or the Europeans deciding, it will really be the African Union saying to us this is too far, we’ve done everything we can for them. Let’s settle what 90 percent of the population needs and worry about them later if we can. We’ll let them test themselves politically later.

ANNA SHOUP: In the U.S. opinion, do you think that the African Union has enough resources to follow through with this peace agreement?

CHARLES SNYDER: They need outside assistance. There’s no doubt about it. Do they have the political will? Yes. Do they have the raw material? Yes, but it’s a harder yes; we’ll have to see it emerge a little more. But they defiantly need outside assistance. And we and the Europeans are assisting them. Just on AMIS alone, we’ve spent a $150 million, we’ll probably find another $100 million.

The Europeans have spent more than that. Their peace fund they committed is over 250 million euros. The great bulk of it has actually gone to this. There are still about 70 million euros not accounted for in terms of. They were hoping to spend it on broader peace keeping activities. It may wind up going to this African Union force. So I can see where the resources will come from.

KRISTINA NWAZOTA: Is that the role the U.S. has played, financial assistance and then through political support on the outside?

CHARLES SNYDER: And obviously, we’ve got John Yates, Ambassador Yates, at the talks at Abuja, he’s been there all along. We’re sending Roger Winter, the special representative, or the deputy, out and about again. He’ll wind up in Abuja as part of this urging the rebels get their act together and then secondarily, this isn’t helping anybody get to Abuja and make a deal. So we’ve been playing that role.

We basically provided literally, the camps and facilities through contractors, for the AU force to live in. We provided contractor assistance, as well as I think we’re up to three, uniform people in various key positions. We’ve also been very instrumental in getting NATO engaged. And NATO is engaged.

They did a lot of the airlift. The African Union just sent them a letter saying they were very grateful for the airlift. Also the training that went on. One of the things we did differently than we did in that first 3,000-man airlift, is we did just in time training, as well call it, literally, before the Rwandans and Nigerians deployed. We did specific training about peace keeping and how that’s different from regular military activity, the usual weapons checking and that kind of stuff for two or three weeks before they deployed.

So these guys deployed in better shape than they would have done otherwise. The French are doing that with the Senegalese, who are the next ones to come in.

So there’s not only a NATO, but a European Security Commission role on this as well. And it’s awkward, this is the first time this particular lash up has been tried and you get the teething pains problem but it’s actually worked fairly well. But they need this particular kind of support.

The truth is, this crisis happened before the African Union was ready. They’re new in the sense that they’re successors to the Organization of African Unity. They had developed a 5-year peace keeping program that would have peace keeping brigades available to move into an African crisis, you know one in the east, one in the west and so on, but they were probably 12 months into a 5-year plan when the party, the come-as-you-are party, happened. So some of the teething pains have to do with that.

Some of their plans were fine but they weren’t far enough down the road and executed yet so we’ve had to try to make it up. We’ve also tried to make it up in a way that it feeds into the 5-year plan. So that some of the things we are doing here are unique to Darfur. But that same unit or that same training will fit into their 5-year plan so if it happens again and undoubtedly it will. They will have that much more progress. So it’s a complex game, far beyond just Darfur.

ANNA SHOUP: You said that the United States position is that what is happening in Darfur region is actually genocide. Doesn’t that obligate the United States to take military intervention or some other sort of other intervention?

CHARLES SNYDER: What the Geneva Convention obligates us to do is to take the appropriate steps. And, Powell wrestled with this decision from the very beginning. And we had kind of had two choices: one was we reconvene the Geneva Convention signatories and of course that treaty goes back to ’47 and a lot of the signatories have changed or the successor body, the most appropriate body, is the Security Council.

So we took it to Security Council. And the Security Council, of course, one of the problems is, they don’t agree it’s genocide. We’re the one that are saying it’s genocide. The truth is, as Powell said then, we’re already doing everything we could do about it that makes sense to us. It always looks attractive that we could have rushed in somehow and done something but this is an area the size of France. It’s an area in which, as I said earlier, one-third of the population has stayed out of this.

There was always the danger that in sending in the cavalry, we could have stimulated another chunk of the population who do identify themselves as Arab and see this as a sing that here are the Europeans back in more than willing to intervene in an Arab problem and radicalize that last group when there were still vulnerable populations.

The AU intervention was starting to go in the right direction, so we made the decision that this was the smartest way to go and we’d save the maximum number of people. And I still think this that was the right decision. There have been moments when it’s been particularly hairy, but I still think it’s been the right decision.

The fact that NATO is in there now, changes the equation too with this second build up. There’s now at least that relationship now between NATO and the AU so that if went particularly wrong NATO is around now, that wasn’t true in the earlier build up. So things have changed, and the situation on the ground has changed.

These people are still in an awful position as far in terms of being in a camp, but as the World Health Organization has said, you are no longer in a stage of crisis. But it’s still extremely fragile; these things can all be reversed. And what we need to make be reversible is the context, political context, and that’s what the Abuja talks are about.

So I agree with Powell that what we did made sense, I mean it’s a judgment call at the end. Could we have sent in the cavalry, well the cavalry wasn’t really around. I mean the truth is, if you look at what was available in Europe and you looked at what was available in the United States to take an area to the size of France to the point where you could say, Mr. President and I promise you, not more than a thousand people could be killed before I could stop it would take a horrendous number of people. And there was the danger of escalating it on the other side.

And we had a plan going forward on the other side. I think it worked. Was it perfect? No, but I think in balance it worked. And we may have built some institutions for the longer run. We still have to see to it that this African Union operation succeeds and that’s still hanging in the balance. The lights are green but it’s fragile. We’ll have to see.

ANNA SHOUP: What is the relationship between the United States and the Sudanese government right now?

CHARLES SNYDER: Complex. It think that we’ve dealt with this Sudanese government now long enough that we have a feeling for how they operate and they have a feeling for how we operate. We’ve been able to have some mutual success in the sense of we got the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. We’re probably going to see the announcement of the Government of National Unity, the cabinet positions, probably next week sometime.

It’s a relationship that is probably 51-49 in terms of making the progress. But it’s hanging in the balance, and it’s hanging in the balance on Darfur, it’s hanging in the balance on the continuing violence against women, the rapes and the rest of the stuff that goes on around the camps, the continuing outrageous behavior to do with the IDP (internally displaced persons) camps around Khartoum where some of these people are being moved out without any regard to humanitarian law. It’s a mixed picture. But I submit to you in 2001, it was a totally black picture. Now at least it’s a mixed picture.

ANNA SHOUP: What is the relationship between the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed militia?

CHARLES SNYDER: I think the interesting thing we’re discovering is something where we said to them from the beginning, you know, you’ve let the devil loose in the barnyard and the devil shares your views on this because he was willing to do this anyway. And now when you’re telling him stop, he was still interested in doing it.

And there’s some elements where we’ve seen the government trying to stop, restrain, not supply. And the result in one or two places was an attack on the government garrison to get ammunition. There’s elements clearly that they don’t control this, but they set it in motion they are responsible for what happened and they have to find some way to bring it back under control.

And we’re still saying to them, we haven’t seen you demobilize Janjaweed one, we haven’t seen you try anyone significant yet. And until you do that, yes, I accept that you are not supplying them anymore, you’re not encouraging them, certainly not at a central government level but you haven’t done the other piece. You know it’s like the counterterrorism argument, just because you’re stopping the terrorist doesn’t mean you’ve become a good guy.

You’ve got to take positive steps to show us that you’ve figured out that this terrorist thing is wrong and we don’t see the positive steps in terms of. Try somebody for this, take positive steps to disarm and demobilize, now they’re nomads, we’re not nuts. A nomad without a rifle in a place like, anywhere in the South isn’t going to happen, but automatic weapons, mortars, a lot of ammunition, that you can do something about. And we just haven’t seen the evidence yet that they’re even trying to do that.

Now without the cease fire, without the stable rebel agreement, it’s a place for Khartoum to hide. Not that we’re not pressuring them on it, but they’ll say well if I did that, you’d say I was violating the cease fire. And it’s not true because the AU could verify what they did and they didn’t do.

They could tell they AU that they were going to do it but we’re still playing this silly buggers game. And we shouldn’t be. That’s why we’re saying you’re not meeting the standard. Yes, you’ve done something but it’s not enough. And the positive steps are: try somebody, you claim your justice system, these are crimes against humanity, the Africans agree on that even if they don’t agree it’s genocide. Try people.

KRISTINA NWAZOTA: And that violence is still continuing?

CHARLES SNYDER: It’s continuing but my own judgment of it, and Pronk is saying the same thing, it’s becoming much more opportunistic in the sense of, it’s not — you used to be able to make that case that this is a deliberate pattern, an intimidation. Despite what you’re telling me that you’re not behind this, this is clearly, an intimidation pattern like in Yugoslavia and other places. You can make the case now that it’s much more opportunistic. They’re vulnerable because they go out, the AU isn’t around you know five guys take advantage of that.

It shouldn’t happen but it’s different than, it’s 50 guys, they’re spread out in ten places, they’ve got the chance to do it in two, so they did it because — it’s a different pattern. It’s still early to judge in the longer haul but that’s my current judge on the way they are. It’s still wrong and it needs to be addressed. But you have to get at the problem that’s driving it, and I think this is opportunistic. It’s got to do with the Janjaweed still being around as opposed to being actively encouraged. Bad enough, I mean, they started this, they’re responsible for it.

ANNA SHOUP: Is anyone protecting the civilians right now in their present situation?

CHARLES SNYDER: The AU does; the police are much different. I mean, if you had asked me this question nine months ago, I’d say the police were absolutely sitting on their hands and doing nothing about it. The police are no longer part of the problem. That’s a step in the right direction. Are they part of the solution? There are some cases where they are. They are acting like police.

There’s been a rotation of the army units. The ones that were the worst offenders are gone. That’s one of the bonuses actually of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement; they have to withdraw from the South. Their most disciplined units were always in the South because they were the ones in combat and so they’re the ones that are showing back up. So all things being equal, they obey their orders.

Are individuals part of the problem, well yeah, they still have that whole mentality, but it’s different. And there’s a positive trend there. But again, it’s not a green light, it’s the light is no longer red, which is not where we want to be. We want to get where we got on the terrorism, which you can make the argument that the light’s green. We’re not there yet.

ANNA SHOUP: So what will happen after the peace plan? Who will help all of the civilians get back to their homes and rebuild their lives? 

CHARLES SNYDER: Well you know the UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) will do their thing. But they have to know the context. And there has to be a plan. Khartoum has come up with a plan, they were beaten up in the Nairobi meeting about you need to have a plan to resettle Darfur. They’ve got a plan that needs to be vetted through the international system. We need to be sure there are enough monitors, civilian protection monitors around to see that that happens.

And when the U.N. finally does it, that’ll happen. If we can get this agreement in January or so, having signaled already by talking to the UNHCR and others, that this is the target, you need to at least plan for this so that they will not be caught off guard when we suddenly say, eureka, we have success, here do something about it.

ANNA SHOUP: So if there is a peace plan that is signed, who will enforce it?

CHARLES SNYDER: I would think that the agreement would say that the African Union is now the peace keeping force for all of Darfur. You have to get the agreement to know the fine details, but what will happen is it will police itself according to what they agree to. But the institutional police will really be the African Union, at least in the first instance.

And I would hope, that depending on the timing, that some of these joint integrated units that are called for in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which are half southern and half northern would be available about the time the peace agreement comes through to actually replace some of these other units that are seen as purely old Khartoum.

KRISTINA NWAZOTA: Everyone keeps hearing the Janjaweed is really the aggressor? Do the rebel groups have any responsibility in the violence?

CHARLES SNYDER: They do now. We’ve been beating them on this constantly the last six months. Part of it is they’re fairly unsophisticated and what they’re doing is some of this they’re stimulating themselves.

Now there is genuine Janjaweed activity on top of that where they are raiding the SLM who are still on the line and doing the same thing to them, taking camels from areas that are controlled by them or kidnapping women or poisoning wells or you know whatever it is, that’s still going on.

But the rebels are complicating this because they’re trying to get the West to say, oh my God, they’re still at it. And the truth is, we all have intelligence services, we have the AU to go out and check and when they check on the ground, the story, too often not always, but too often is the rebels did this. Now you know, it’s understandable, it’s payback in a system that is very much based on literally blood payback and retribution.

And lord knows the population they represent has been abused beyond belief; I mean we called it genocide. But retaliating in this circumstance is making it harder for us to get the end we want. And there are too many cases of that.

And the danger is, as we keep pointing out to them, is that when you attack a purely Arab population, these are the guys that stayed the hell out of it. That maybe you didn’t have any good neighbors but really didn’t have any bad neighbors, they stayed out of it. Don’t keep provoking them. It would be easier for them to join their brothers that to put up with you for a lot longer. And this isn’t productive and you’ve seen what you’re going to get.

You need to solve the problem politically and let us, in that process, make things right for your people. Your political powers are going to be based on these people and trust me, they’ve been driven off their land and abused — they’re yours for the next decade, politically.

So it’s not even a matter of this is going to effect your recruiting ability, they’re yours now. Just stop and let us get it so that it’s strictly Khartoum and if it becomes strictly Khartoum, then, we, the international community have a different problem. But you’re not letting us isolate it clearly enough at this point.