KRISTINA NWAZOTA: What is the government's goal for this round of negotiations that's taking place at the moment?
KHIDIR HAROUN AHMED: Our goal is that this would be the last round of talks. Whenever they finish this, the next step would be to also negotiate wealth sharing in Darfur. You know this is not necessarily wealth sharing and power sharing with the rebels because you know Darfur is a very diverse place, but at least we would like to agree upon the principles of Darfur as a region. So our goal by the end of this year or before the end of this year would be to reach comprehensive peace agreement with the rebels there and to put this conflict to rest.
KRISTINA NWAZOTA: Why do you think it's taken so long? Why is it the sixth round of talks?
KHIDIR HAROUN AHMED: Well, because of international intervention of course; because of distorted coverage of the situation there; because of a hasty definition of the situation as genocide by the United States. All these factors discourage the rebels in the region to reach a settlement, hoping that the international community will intervene militarily on their behalf. Because when you characterize a situation like this as a genocide, there is a responsibility for the international community to do something about it. So this is unfortunately discouraging them from reaching any kind of settlements.
It is on the record that they walked out of any -- they didn't come to the first round of talks in Addis Ababa at the last minute. They also refrained from coming to the first Abuja round of talks a year ago. When Secretary Powell defined the situation as genocide they walked out also. So it is quite clear that the unfair coverage by the media and the also the generalized international intervention, they also discourage the rebels.
So this is an explanation for why the situation take too long. And you know that also because some people here, some media here, some organizations even called for NATO intervention. The rebels themselves started to express doubts and suspicion about whether the African Union would be capable of solving the problem. So unfortunately this kind of tactics is still adopted by many organizations in this country, which will in fact prolong the suffering of the people in the camps, which will delay their return to their original villages, which will detriment in many ways the peacemaking efforts in the region.
KRISTINA NWAZOTA: So, what would the government's ideal process have been early on? No international intervention, but immediate negotiations with the rebel groups?
KHIDIR HAROUN AHMED: Yes, it is a strategy of two folds in fact: to start process of reconciliation -- because you know Darfur is home for 83 different tribes, divided between the sedentary and nomads, you know that. So in order to bring peace you have to evoke the native mechanism of resolving the problem and this is very effective in different parts of Africa today, because in that part of Sudan and in many parts of Africa in general, people still identify themselves along tribal lines. The sense of national identity is still very weak in different parts of Africa; you mention your tribe first and then your nationality would follow.
So, our design is of two-folds, reconciliation using of course the tribal mechanisms there in that region and then to compensate people. Even the government announced that they are ready to compensate all the people, ready to try people who committed crimes against humanity, whether they are burning, raping women, all these kind of things.
This was our design and this is why we took the situation from the beginning to African Union, simply because Africans are the best people who would understand the situation there. Because Sudan is not unique in that, you have similar problems in most of African parts. So the African would understand the situation. That's why they refrain from calling it anything, genocide or -- President Obasanjo of Nigeria said it is ridiculous to call it that.
So this was originally, and still this is our design. We started really compensating many people there. We also started reconciliation process in different parts of Darfur, which include more than 45 different tribes. Hopefully the international community, the African Union and others would help pushing this process ahead.
KRISTINA NWAZOTA: Have the rebel groups arrived at the talks and have they banned together during the negotiations?
KHIDIR HAROUN AHMED: Well, there is a serious dispute, a serious conflict within the leadership of SLA/SLM. Commander Minni Arcua Minnawi, who is the commander in chief of the troops on the ground is trying to get rid of Mr. Abdel Wahed who is the political leader of the movement and the reason behind that is both of them belong to different tribes. Abdel Wahed is from Fur tribe, which the region named after it -- Darfur.
Minni Arcua is from Zarhawa tribe. So what we are very much worried about is that this kind of split would lead to the emergence of a new SLA because definitely, Abdel Wahed is going to form his new group from his own people, from the Fur people. And that will complicate the process of negotiations itself. Instead of negotiating with two only rebel groups, you find yourself discussing with so many others. This is one of the reasons which is complicating the situation a little bit there.
KRISTINA NWAZOTA: Is the government able to intervene at all in the conflict between the rebel groups?
KHIDIR HAROUN AHMED: The government couldn't do that because you know both of them do not trust the government and any kind of intervention would be interpreted as strategy of divide and rule. So hopefully the regional power could mediate between these people and especially the African Union is in a better position to do that. We encourage, frankly, the U.S. government to use its influence and try to bring them together. Because it is interest of everybody else that by the end of this year that we should start the process of having these people suffering in the camps now to go back to the villages and to start their life there.
KRISTINA NWAZOTA: Is it possible to have these negotiations between the government and the rebel groups when there seems to be the third group, the Janjaweed, not participating? It seems that this is a separate group, they're still out there, they're still armed? Should they be part of this negotiation?
KHIDIR HAROUN AHMED: I would say that any final resolution to the conflict should involve, not necessarily the Janjaweed, but the Arab nomads. They represent maybe around 50 percent of the population in Darfur itself.
Darfur is inhibited of people from different ethnic backgrounds. To negotiate settlement with certain groups, either with Arabs or non Arabs, you are going to antagonize the other group.
Janjaweed is an outlaws group. There is often misunderstanding of Janjaweed here. Janjaweed, as a group, as an organization, as a militia, does not represent the entire Arab nomads because Janjaweed itself by definition is an outlaw on back of a horse or a camel, a Zarifa, which suggests that he has no land to cultivate, that he has no herds in that region, so his life is based on robbing and terrorizing people there.
This outlaws group they are now confined to the northern part of Darfur. The government is engaged in fighting them and, according to the United Nations Security Council report of last May, that yes the government is seriously confronting these people. Because they, as you suggested, they are a destabilizing factor of the problem there in the region itself.
KRISTINA NWAZOTA: So if a peace deal is reached now, what's to say the Janjaweed will not continue what they've been doing?
KHIDIR HAROUN AHMED: Well, any peacemaking strategy in Darfur has to include disarmament of all people in the region. So when you resolve this problem, you are going to disarm the rebel group, simultaneously with all other tribes in the region, whether they are Janjaweed or just Arab nomads. This is a cornerstone in any deal, I would say it's a prerequisite in fact. Because without that, there would be no peace there. You have to disarm everybody there -- the Janjaweed and others -- in order to stabilize a law enforcement which is agreed on by both parties, which will be the mechanism for creating a new local and state government in Darfur.
So when you have a new body of state government as well as local government in different parts of Darfur, by definition you have to disarm everybody else other than the police force and the army or the National Guard.
KRISTINA NWAZOTA: Is it true though that the government supplied the Janjaweed with arms at the start of the conflict?
KHIDIR HAROUN AHMED: The government armed the people who volunteered to fight against the rebels, the armed groups. And, these people were not Janjaweed; they are from the other tribes in the region, including some people who perceive themselves as African tribes, like Berti for example. The northern Darfur governor is from this tribe. They consider themselves non-Arabs.
But for political reasons people portray this as if the government armed these outlaws, these robbers who call Janjaweed.
KRISTINA NWAZOTA: Is the government taking steps to disarm the different groups?
KHIDIR HAROUN AHMED: Well, let me list what we have done so far. We removed of course all Antonov aircrafts from the entire region of Darfur altogether. We ground all helicopter gunships totally as well. We have unfettered access to humanitarian aid to different parts of the country.
We have more than 100 NGOs from around the world working in the region in order to hold the people there. We started, since last year prosecuting people accused of committing crimes against these people, including police officers, army officers who are accused of raping a number of women in the region. And, we have now in place a national tribunal prosecuting these people right now in El Fasher and in Nyala regions.
KRISTINA NWAZOTA: Has anybody been convicted?
KHIDIR HAROUN AHMED: Yes, 10 people, 10 people last month from the army and police force by the way.
And, according to the report which I just referred to earlier -- Kofi Annan's report to the Security Council -- that the government also is doing a great effort in order to confront these militias called Janjaweed and others in the region because they've created a lot of havoc and troubles in the region
KRISTINA NWAZOTA: And part of that is to disarm the Janjaweed?
KHIDIR HAROUN AHMED: Yes, the government has no hesitation at all in disarming the Janjaweed. The problem is the other nomad tribes. These people and the lack of law enforcement in the region, they will not disarm themselves unless you disarm the rebels groups. Because according to these press releases they've been attacked by these people and the government is not in a position to help them. The government now has no air force at all in the entire region implementing the United Nations Security Council resolutions and African Union agreement with them.
So, the government is now confronting this Janjaweed. There is no doubt about that. The problem is that these nomads tribes would not relinquish their arms unless somehow the rebels groups will be disarmed. This is the complication of this situation in Darfur now.
Disarmament should include everybody in the region, because simply these people, these nomads, are ready to fight the government if the government would force them to disarm themselves. Because they say who is going to protect us? You are not going to protect us. We are protecting ourselves at this moment. This dimension is unfortunately it's not quite clear to the people here.
KRISTINA NWAZOTA: There have been reports that there have been violent acts committed by the rebel groups but here, what we've heard more about, is violent acts committed by the Janjaweed. Is that the case? Has the majority of the violence been committed by the Janjaweed?
KHIDIR HAROUN AHMED: Well definitely that is not the case. There are crimes committed by the Janjaweed definitely, no doubt about that. Maybe other nomad militias also subscribe to some kind of havoc in the region, no doubt about that. But, there is a great deal of violations committed by these two rebels group.
But because they got sympathy here, because many people also politicize the situation for different reasons, because many people are looking for regime change in Khartoum using this Darfur issue, you don't hear much about that. They killed a number of tribal chiefs in the region. They've been in this business, which the African Union is complaining from, of robbing these nomads from their camels and cattles for the last three years. So it's not one-way traffic.
KRISTINA NWAZOTA: You said the government has instituted a tribunal for trying war crimes and you said police officers have been included. So have rebel group and Janjaweed members also been prosecuted?
KHIDIR HAROUN AHMED: According to the national tribunal or the ICC you mean?
KRISTINA NWAZOTA: The national tribunal.
KHIDIR HAROUN AHMED: The national tribunal. Yes, that's what they are doing. Anyone. So far, the names which we know, most of them are considered either in the regular armed forces or the police officers or some Arab nomad tribes.
KRISTINA NWAZOTA: You also mentioned that the government is willing to provide the internally displaced people with some resources. What sorts of things are you doing and what is the plan for getting people back to their homes?
KHIDIR HAROUN AHMED: We recently put a plan before the American government as a suggestion, that why don't you designate four or five major villages close to the urban centers and encourage people of this village to go back. We would be ready to cooperate with the African Union to protect them and also to dig wells for water there, to build some basic infrastructures, facilities for them there and to guarantee at least aid for them for one year. And use that as a model. If it works, you could do the same with other villages. So we are still discussing this issue with the government.
Because many people here say that well, these people with lack of security around their villages they wouldn't go back. So we said okay, let us cooperate with the African Union and coordinate with them to protect these villages together and to allow schools to be opened there, medical facilities and others, and to try to make the living conditions there much better than it used to be in the past.
So we think the international community could contribute to this also. Different NGOs would be allowed as well to participate in this and see if this works, and in order to encourage the people to go back. Because you know for most of them they did not grow their food for around maybe a year or two so at least you are guaranteeing their food and medicine for one year and we could repeat the same strategy in different parts.
So this is now under discussion between us and the United States. Hopefully we would reach some kind of agreement on it in order to resolve the issue. But we think that if we would reach a political settlement before the end of this year, which will end the conflict altogether, that in itself will encourage these people to go back to their villages and we think that there is some kind of thinking now also to hold some kind of international conference to be coincided with the reach of a political agreement between these two rebels. So we'll like the international community to pledge to help these people for a year or two to reconstruct the situation there.
KRISTINA NWAZOTA: You said you're discussing this with the United States. What would the U.S. role be?
KHIDIR HAROUN AHMED: They're engaged now with us in discussing all these modalities to see what part of it would be workable and what part of it needs to be modified and so forth.
KRISTINA NWAZOTA: And that would require financial assistance from the U.S.?
KHIDIR HAROUN AHMED: Absolutely, and with the international community. We are grateful that the United States is the biggest donor. In fact, 85 percent of the total international contribution is coming from the United States.
Of course, according to Mr. Kofi Annan, the international contribution to the situation is still less than 50 percent; the government is taking the burden of this 60 percent. But from this 40 percent coming from the international community, the United States is contributing 85 percent, which we are very grateful for.
KRISTINA NWAZOTA: The initial argument from the rebel groups was that the government was not providing resources to the Darfur region. How is that being addressed by the government?
KHIDIR HAROUN AHMED: Well, you know there is a big fallacy with respect to that. I'd like you to refer to the report which was compiled by the international commission that's investigating the crimes against humanity. You are aware of that of course. If you read the introduction of that, they said literally that all parts of Sudan are very marginalized. Because Sudan is still one of the 48 least developed nations on the surface of earth, according to the United Nations. So to talk about marginalization here is irrelevant at all because the British colonized Sudan for 58 years, they built just one irrigation scheme in a place called Jazirah, which is very close to Khartoum at the center of the Sudans.
Marginalization is lack of facilities, lack of infrastructure, lack of educational and medical facilities, which affect everybody whether he's an Arab or not. So I think this is just disguise of the situation there in order to make -- . Yes, Darfur is very much underdeveloped. The current government did what has never been done. When you compare Darfur with other regions of Sudan statistically, you find them better off than many other regions even in Central Sudan.
So, frankly this is not an issue and the government from the beginning is so willing to address that issue. Because, the comprehensive peace agreement with the SPLM in the South, it stipulated clearly that the principle of wealth sharing and power sharing will be applicable to different regions of Sudan including Darfur. So, there was no any justification for the rebels to break out in the first place.
But, anyway, this would be one of the packages of the peace deal to address this issue of marginalization in Darfur. And it has to be one of the reasons which will attract people to live in peace in that part of the country.
KRISTINA NWAZOTA: Well, if all parts of Sudan are marginalized, what is the government's plan to address that?
KHIDIR HAROUN AHMED: Yes, we, the plan of the government to address that is through federalism -- Sudan is the largest country as you know in Africa. It is number 10 worldwide -- in the size I mean, five times the state of Texas, seven times the state of California by the way. So this is a very huge country, a very big country, with very poor transportation, communication infrastructure systems and so forth.
So the idea is that when you stop all this kind of civil strife in different parts of the country, you are going to build a sound federal system which will allow some kind of autonomy to different parts of the country in order to participate in building their own areas.
Fortunately now Sudan is -- resources-wise -- also is one of the richest countries in the world, not only in Africa. Everybody could get a very fair share frankly. We have more than 200 million acres of fertile land, arable land. We are utilizing now only 30 million only. So land is almost a reservoir of fresh water for the entire region. We are one of the major sources of meat in the Middle East now, because we have more than 120 million heads of livestock. Sudan is currently exporting meat and livestock to Egypt, to Libya, to Saudi Arabia to the Gulf areas, to Jordan, now to some European countries. This is of course beside oil and natural gas which by the end of this year the oil will jump to 500,000 barrels per day. In two years time from now it will jump maybe to 2 million a day. It will be just like Nigeria and Angola.
In addition to that we are constructing a huge dam in Northern Sudan which also will start generating double energy. We have now about 650 watts. By 2007 it will jump to 1250 just from this dam, which will allow us to grow more food and to generate more electricity for the country.
KRISTINA NWAZOTA: Now, you mentioned all the exports to the Middle East and oil. Are profits from those exports trickling down to everybody?
KHIDIR HAROUN AHMED: Yes, if you visit --. This has just started of course in August 1999, just a couple of years ago. So, if you visited Sudan today, you will find that the country is booming in terms of high-rise buildings and nice roads and all of this. So we start feeling the, or reaping, the harvest of the oil industry now.
KRISTINA NWAZOTA: Are you hopeful that there will be peace?
KHIDIR HAROUN AHMED: I'm very hopeful.
KRISTINA NWAZOTA: Do you think that these negotiations will work?
KHIDIR HAROUN AHMED: We are going to have the government of national unity in Khartoum, which will include the current government, the SPLM, almost all political parties in the country except only three. So, we are going to have a very broad-based government very soon. This will help the process of reconciliation in the country in general. I think we are determined, we think also the international community, the African Union, are determined to resolve the issue before the end of this year. So I'm very hopeful, I'm very optimistic.