CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: For more on the story now, we have with us the Sudanese ambassador, Mahdi Ibrahim. We'll hear from him in a moment. But first, the two Baltimore Sun reporters just mentioned in our background piece, Gilbert Lewthwaite and Gregory Kane. Thank you all for joining us. And first, to you. You set out to prove that slavery existed in Sudan. What did you find?
GILBERT LEWTHWAITE, Baltimore Sun: We found that it was possible in Sudan to buy the freedom of boys who had been enslaved for a period of years by paying the equivalent of $500, or the equivalent of five cows.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You actually purchased two boys.
GREGORY KANE, Baltimore Sun: Yes. What happened was that an Arab trader who would not give us a name for fear of reprisal from the government went to Northern Sudan and brought back 12 boys. He said what he does is he goes North and he buys slaves back from the people that own them. He brings them back to the South, and he sells them back to the Dinka for the money that he paid for them.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The Dinka is the--
GREGORY KANE: The tribe man--Barh Al-Ghazal--in the Southern Sudan.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: In the Southern part of Sudan.
GREGORY KANE: Yeah. But, yeah, we, in essence, paid the money for their freedom.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What did you pay?
GREGORY KANE: We paid the Arab trader.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What did you pay?
GREGORY KANE: A hundred thousand Sudanese pounds came to one thousand U.S. dollars for both.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How hard was it to do this?
GILBERT LEWTHWAITE: It was--once we had met the trader, it was a transaction of simplicity because the price was set. The boys were, in fact, engaged on what might be termed a freedom trail. This was a system that operated, if not regularly, intermittently, that this trader would go to the North and bring the boys back and sell their freedom. And once we had met him and talked to him and agreed to buy the boy, the deal was struck in 10 seconds.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And where were they coming from? Where were they being brought from?
GREGORY KANE: Various villages north of Barh Al-Ghazal. They said--the two boys we bought said they were taken in a raid, and their father said they disappeared back in 1990.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Taken by whom?
GREGORY KANE: PDF forces, Popular Defense Forces. That's the Arab militia.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The Arab militia is connected with the government, is it?
GILBERT LEWTHWAITE: The Arab militia is commanded by the army. It is armed by the government, but it is not paid by the government. We interviewed two militia officers four hundred miles apart who had no opportunity for contact, and both gave a very similar report. But, in fact, their understanding of government policy was whatever they seized in the raids in the villages was theirs to keep, and that included the men, women, and children that they took.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And what had these children's lives been like?
GILBERT LEWTHWAITE: The two boys we bought had spent six years running a cattle camp, cleaning the camp, and one as a herder of livestock for an Arab farmer, and both complained basically of a very hard life, where they got nothing except the crumbs from what they termed their master's tables, and were kept in a very subservient position.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So after this experience, was there any doubt in your mind that the Sudanese government was aiding, abetting, or actively involved in the trafficking and slavery?
GILBERT LEWTHWAITE: Well, I think the degree of involvement that we discovered was through lack of control of the militia, turning the militia from a defensive force, which it really originally was, into an offensive, marauding force, with the apparent understanding of the members of the militia that they were free to take what they wanted.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But you're not saying that the government, itself, is trafficking in slaves?
GILBERT LEWTHWAITE: No.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Or aiding those who do traffic?
GILBERT LEWTHWAITE: No. It is, in fact, against government policy, the complicity inasmuch as it exists in the failure to do anything to stop it, anything apparent to stop it.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And what do you say? I mean--
GREGORY KANE: Well, the Arab trader did tell us the reason he didn't want us to have his name or his picture. Is that--what he was doing was against government policy. He explicitly said that. He's going off buying slaves and bringing 'em back in the South and giving 'em back to their family. He said that was against government policy. That's why he didn't want his name used. That's why he didn't want his picture taken.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So your complaint against the government is exactly what?
GILBERT LEWTHWAITE: The complaint against the government is there have been reports for eight years of slavery existing numerous reports. There has been no indication whatever of any government action to stop it. The United Nations, the State Department, the human rights organization have all pointed specifically to government complicity inasmuch as it's the government-controlled militia that does it, and the government has done nothing to stop it.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Ambassador, what's your response to those? Those are pretty heavy charges?
MAHDI IBRAHIM MOHAMED, Ambassador, Sudan: Well, first of all, I would like to say that there is a contradiction here which is extremely obvious, that the government is not part of this, and at the same time the responsibility of the government to do something about it. I would like, first of all, to respond to the first comment on his side, that the government is not part of this. That's good.
This is a country which is 2.5 million square kilometers, with a war that has been going on intermittently for the third time now, the third cycle of which started in 1983. We as Africans, we have problems regarding the tribes. The tribes fight each other in Africa, in Sudan particularly. We had this very long history, the British tried to handle it. The tribes in their continuous search for water, grass, and land, when they come across each other, they clash.
When they fight, they grab--each side grabs from the other side--its cattle, its camels, its people, as--which is a ransom--because they know very well that as soon as this fight comes to an end in two or three days then the chieftains of the neighboring tribes, they come, they bring their feuding parties, they give--give everything back to its tribe, and then they reach an amicable agreement which will allow these two tribes to live with each other amicably in the region. This is the problem. There is no sense of, of slavery in that, because these are the same tribes, the same tribes in the South, same tribes in the West, same tribes in the North, they do it. They have the same origin, so the sense of slavery is not there.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So that you are disputing not only the reporting of these two gentlemen who actually bought two young boys but the reports of the United Nations and the United States and other human rights groups, they've just drawn the wrong conclusions because they don't understand the cultural mores of Sudan?
AMB. MAHDI IBRAHIM MOHAMED: Exactly. Exactly. You have these two gentlemen, very respected, but they know very little about Africa. They know very little about the Sudan, and they go to a rebel-controlled area, and they spend a few days, and they come back to report to people who know also very little about Sudan and about Africa and about the traditions of those tribes at a time when they give some flavor to this by saying this is the Muslims doing again as the Christians, these are the Arabs doing it again as the Africans, so you create an atmosphere which is extremely sensitive to a background which knows very little about it, and so you come out with this extremely negative picture, or the Africa is negatively displayed in the media, and we are also now victims of this unfortunate coverage of media, which is extremely lacking.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Lewthwaite, is that--
GILBERT LEWTHWAITE: I would just like to point out the two boys that we bought had been in captivity for six years, in bondage, in servitude. There had been during those six years no mention of any ransom to anybody. If they had not been linked up with the Freedom Trail that we tapped into, they would still be in bondage. We talked to a blind woman who had lost her two young children last year, whose own mother had told her to forget the children because she'd never see them again. No question of ransom there.
Every single major organization has termed this slavery. Nobody has said it's a hostage taking in a war situation. What has happened is the militia, the participation of a government-controlled militia has overlaid the traditional tribal pattern that the ambassador talks about and made this a major element of the war.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What about this militia, Mr. Ambassador? The government does control it.
AMB. MAHDI IBRAHIM MOHAMED: First of all, there is no militia. This is no militia. The Sudanese government has engaged in a campaign of re-educating the people of the Sudan because for so many years we have been suffering from this tribal element, from the sectarian element you see, because the sense of nationhood is extremely undermined by the allegiance to the tribe or to the sect, or to the sect, or even to the party sometimes, or to the chieftain leader, and because of that we have engaged in a whole process of re-educating the people.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, is that--is that--excuse me--is that how you explain those camps that we saw in the film?
AMB. MAHDI IBRAHIM MOHAMED: Yeah.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The fact that children--now, are you saying that those children--those camps exist but that the children were not abducted and forcibly taken there?
AMB. MAHDI IBRAHIM MOHAMED: No, no, no. There are two things. The re-education process goes all the way from educating people about nationalism, about civil service, about their rights...
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But is this forcible?
AMB. MAHDI IBRAHIM MOHAMED: As individuals, about being good civil people, about producing more--a whole range of things--and in the same time also training them. This is a whole range of things. The other thing which you have seen in this camp, these are education schools, these are historic education schools. You--the fathers and the mothers, they send their children to these schools in the different rural areas in order to each them. This is a pre-school because we do not have a school for everyone at the age of school.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But excuse me, Mr. Ambassador, with all due respect, the human rights organizations, these reporters, the United States Government, have alleged that the children who are in those camps were abducted and forcibly made to be Islamicized and--
AMB. MAHDI IBRAHIM MOHAMED: That is categorically wrong because these are children who are taken by their own fathers and mothers for pre-schooling, because they cannot afford for any child to have a school, so this is a kind of schooling, and that is very traditional--this is one side. In the camps, no one is taken by force at all, and these are open camps, by the way. Everywhere--why did you see the people in the TV--because it is opened--there is something that is--that is hidden from the people to see it.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, in that case--
AMB. MAHDI IBRAHIM MOHAMED: It's a national education for the people in--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: In that case, then, I guess this is the final question. Why is it that the Sudanese government does not allow human rights workers and monitors and others into the country so that they can freely see this as well?
AMB. MAHDI IBRAHIM MOHAMED: First of all, these two gentlemen, I, uh, offer to them to go to the Sudan and to go to any place and to meet anyone. They promised to come; they never came; and they went on to publish what they wrote. Okay, this is one. No. 2, the human rights representative from the UN in Geneva is already in the Sudan three days ago. So this is the second thing. The third thing is many people from different NGO's are going to the Sudan, and I tell you frankly now I have sent 20 letters to 20 congressmen in order to go to the Sudan and to see by themselves.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right.
AMB. MAHDI IBRAHIM MOHAMED: The same offer that has been given to these gentlemen.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, Mr. Ambassador, gentlemen, thank you.