On Our Watch

Abdul Mahmoud Abdelhaleem


Abdelmahmood Abdelhaleem is the Sudanese ambassador to the United Nations. In this interview, he responds to the long list of allegations leveled at Khartoum. He denies the government has armed Janjaweed militias, conducted military attacks in Darfur, used systematic rape and starvation as military tactics and obstructed access to the region for humanitarian workers and U.N. officials. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted June 1, 2007 -- a month before the U.N. Security Council finally voted to send 26,000 peacekeepers to Darfur to protect civilians.

You must be pleased with the state of the Sudanese economy at the moment, compared to past years. ... Give me a sense of the scale of the growth in Sudan at the moment.

Yeah, it is no less than 10 percent this year, according to the World Bank, as well as IMF [International Monetary Fund] estimations. The economy is doing very fine. It is in a very resilient state because it has grown in a situation of challenges, starting with a batch of the American sanctions, and at that time we adopted the "Look East" policy by the government, and we were able to achieve one of our biggest achievements: ... making Sudan an oil-exporting country.

So since then the economy is progressing, doing fine. Of course, unfortunately, there will be also a dependence on oil revenues, [and] there is a negligence of [the] agricultural sector, which is the dominant sector in the Sudanese economy prior to the discovery of oil.

How important has China been, then, to the development of Sudan?

In fact, our relations with China are very old. It is an old relationship based on respect, noninterference in the other's affairs. [The relationship] has always been cordial and friendly, and we share a lot in common vis-à-vis international developments.

So the discovery of oil and the coming of Chinese companies in the Sudan for that purpose was part of a chain of this ongoing relationship. It did not start with the oil at all, but prior to that, long before the oil discoveries. Chinese played a very important role in helping us also discover our oil, as well as the many social services also performed by the Chinese companies in Sudan. So it's not only oil, but they are helping social services in the areas -- the communities where oil is discovered.

If our older relations were helping us to liberate our country politically, then we are in the second generation of liberation, which is economic liberation. So China is helping us also, you know, proceeding well with other sectors of the economy, not only oil, and they are doing a good job there. ...

Now, one of the things that's very pressing at the moment is trying to get the U.N. hybrid force into Darfur -- as we speak, I think. Can you tell me [what] the status of that is? ... Are we talking a month? Are we talking six months? When would you think these additional troops will be on the ground?

Editor's note: This interview took place prior to the United Nations' July 31, 2007, vote to deploy 26,000 peacekeepers to Darfur with a mandate to protect civilians.

No. In fact, we cannot talk just in a vacuum about that, because we agreed to a three-phased approach to peacekeeping.

Our history with the U.N. in the implementation of the first phase is not much encouraging, because ... of that light package of 105 U.N. elements, the implementation percentage is only 55 percent. ... So leave that aside. We agreed on the second phase, which is the heavy support package involving almost 3,000 [personnel]. We are ready for the implementation, anytime, to start that, because, to the best of our information, they consulted some ... contributing countries, and some of them made pledges -- like Egypt, like Nigeria. We told them, OK, you can start; whoever comes first, give him the chance to go and to augment the African Union mission in Sudan, which is really in need of that support by the United Nations.

So it is very clear that the implementation [on] the part of the implementing agency, which is the United Nations, is very weak. ... The Sudan government should not be blamed at all -- rather, the United Nations -- because we accepted and we fulfilled our commitment to the international community by our acceptance. We pledged whatever assistance, internally, like visas, movements of people, implementing the package to come to Sudan without any hindrances; giving land, waters and other infrastructural facilities for those who come.

It depends on the U.N. to tell us how long it will take to put in place the remaining light support package, the remaining 45 [percent], and the heavy support and the hybrid operation, because the three are integrated and reinforcing each other also, especially the second phase. The hybrid is dependent, actually, on the second phase, because it involves engineering; it involved medical hospitals; it involves roads and some airstrips to be built. So the heavy support is very crucial for the hybrid. You cannot jump to the hybrid before you put good infrastructure during the second phase.

So the Sudan government should not be blamed at all; there is nothing we can do. We accepted, we pledged our commitment and cooperation, and it is for them to come and to implement.

What did you make of President Bush's statement this week? I mean, he called it genocide; he said he won't allow it to happen on his watch.

Yeah, of course, United States is the only country that labeled these events in Darfur as genocide. It is not a genocide at all. No. United Nations did not identify it as a genocide; Africa[n] Union also did not.

We are very much surprised, because in Congo, for example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 3 or 4 million people died, and there is no forecast like Darfur. They did not call it a genocide in the DRC; they called it only in Darfur. It is only for political propaganda, for settlement of political scores and for also domestic compulsions in the United States itself.

So we think it is [a] highly politically motivated decision by President Bush. It is full of lies, because ... he said the government hindered the deployment of the hybrid [force], when we all received the hybrid proposals on Friday [from the] secretary-general [Ban Ki-moon]. He [the secretary-general] called me to his office; I went there. He gave me the document. The man was very kind and very courteous, and he handed over to me a message to President [Omar al-]Bashir. ... He invited the government of Sudan to the Addis Ababa meeting [a summit where the deployment of the hybrid force would be discussed] on the fifth and sixth; we accepted to attend. But everybody was taken by surprise when [the] U.S. president announced the sanctions, because it is absolutely unjustified and unwarranted, as well as unhelpful, to the political process in Darfur.

Now, you say that the U.N. has not called it genocide, which is true, of course, but the U.N. consistently in its reports has levied very serious charges at Sudan. They have called it "crimes against humanity" there; the International Criminal Court [ICC] is investigating; and some of the reports levy some extremely serious and, I would say, monstrous allegations. They suggest ethnic cleansing, deliberate starvation of groups in [U.N. emergency relief coordinator] Jan Egeland's first report, use of rape and sexual violence against people. ... And this they've said consistently. What is your response to these U.N. reports?

We are absolutely in disagreement with them. These are not the United Nations proper, but some bodies working for the U.N., like the ICC, and of course we cannot rely [on] or take Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International as credible partners at all, because they are bent on only confrontation and politicization and selectivity. I don't want to say any more on that.

But I will only tell the fact that when [the] Security Council held a meeting last month about climate change, the foreign minister of the U.K. said, in no uncertain terms, that Darfur -- maybe that was a moment of truth for her -- she said Darfur is a classic example of climate change. And that is true, because it is a war over dwindling resources against the background of prolonged drought in that part of Africa and that part of the Sudan. ... You have these clashes between sedentary and nomadic communities in Darfur over resources.

It does not qualify to the definition of a genocide, which is a systemic elimination of a group by another, because "genocide" is a big word, and it has its own definition. ... Darfur is one ethnic group; it's not divided. ... There is a very malignant attempt to say Arabs and Africans, [but] all in the Sudan, all in Darfur are Muslims; they speak the same language. So this issue has been blown out of proportion, really, to serve political agenda and political objectives by those who are saying that.

The issue in Darfur is not a genocide because it is not systemic killings and all this stuff. And as I said, the foreign minister of Great Britain herself is now saying it is a classic example of climate change. So how can genocide fit here?

Now clearly, I'm sure the case is [that] the climate change has put stress on the region, but the allegations are that the government of Sudan, ... if it's a battle over resources, that they are continually in concert with the Janjaweed, and that attacks on villages in Darfur are often preceded by bombings from Antonov planes, followed by invasions by Janjaweed, who are often seen with government of Sudan troops.

And this is, again, consistent. I give you the latest report of the Human Rights Commission by [U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights] Louise Arbour, [which] says, despite clear and consistent evidence gathered between January and March 2007, that members of the government security forces were involved in the attacks -- these are specific attacks in the Tarjum village. Despite this evidence, she claims the Sudanese government did not take effective action to prevent the attacks. This is a challenge to you.

I give you [former U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Sudan] Mukesh Kapila's very first report, 2004, in which he says numerous testimonies point to the use of the government of Sudan aircraft, it attacks villages and towns in Darfur.

And I offer you lastly the very latest report by [activist and chair of the Nobel Women's Initiative] Jody Williams: Janjaweed attacks, sometimes in concert with the government, land and air forces have been, and continue to be, primarily directed against the civilian population.

So these are reports that are entirely consistent.

These are reports -- all are allegations; they continue to be allegations, because we are sure they are politically motivated. They are not touching base with reality in any way. The government is asked to protect its own people and to ensure law and order, but when we start doing that, they say, "You are bombing; you are doing this; you are doing that," and I think --

Well, are you bombing? Are you denying [that you're bombing]?

No, no, we are not. No, we are not. In fact, we are scrupulously adhering to the cease-fire agreements, but [not] with the [National] Redemption Front, with which we don't have a cease-fire. We have to protect the people and their property from the Redemption Front; we have to protect them. But we are not at all bombing. We are not bombing. We are not bombing.

But, Ambassador, how do you explain these? This is not one report; these are reports ... from refugees in the hundreds; thousands of people are reporting this.

We have big question marks on those who are doing these investigations, because let us face it: Many organs in this United Nations and other NGOs would like only to sing a song that will be good in the ears of Washington and London.

Because of their own livelihood and their own professional, maybe, compulsions or whatever, they do that to make everybody in Washington happy about them. ... But there are many organizations within the Arab and African world, and also some NGOs -- the Red Cross itself is very neutral on that; the reports are credible. There is nothing of this propaganda, much, in the reports of the International [Committee] of the Red Cross in Sudan.

So are you accusing, for example, Mukesh Kapila, who is a U.N. employee in Sudan, are you accusing him of making this up?

Yeah, yeah. We said it during that time, that he's blowing this out of proportion, and many like Kapila -- the U.N. is full of Kapilas.

And what about Jody Williams, a Nobel laureate?

What do you expect her to say other than what she said? She did not visit Sudan. She relied on the material that was written by others to say the same thing. Imagine a fact-finding mission that did not visit Sudan writing about the situation in Darfur.

But, Ambassador, she didn't visit Sudan because she wasn't granted a visa to visit Sudan by the Sudanese government.

No, because we have questioned the integrity and the usefulness of the membership of some of the members who already have clouded the vision of the international community by saying "a genocide." ...

There is no usefulness that the mission can accomplish if they go there. So our concern was because we want the mission to succeed. This is why we wanted to be consulted on the personnel accompanying Jody Williams in that trip.

But you did deny the visas?

No, we didn't. In fact, they sent the passports in, and they wanted it in one hour. Our mission in Geneva has explained that very well. ... [W]e were interested in the mission to succeed. This is why, you know, we put it very clearly to that session of the Human Right[s] Council, and I think many understood our concern and our point of view on this.

Now, it seems to be, when one reads the history, there's a consistent report that you're very noncooperative with any of these U.N. commissions. For example, Kapila has to leave the country; Jan Pronk has to leave the country. These are all U.N. employees, U.N. commissioners. [U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator] John Holmes, when he's there, is denied access to one of the refugee camps or the IDP [internally displaced persons] camps in Sudan; Jody Williams is not given a visa. There seems a consistent thread here of not allowing the U.N. inspectors, essentially, to come into Sudan.

Not at all. In fact, I can tell you that we highly respect and have hired a guard to the people serving with the U.N. in our country. We are not hostile at all to the U.N. because we have one of the biggest missions of the U.N. abroad, which is the UNMIS [United Nations Mission in the Sudan] in South Sudan. We are a member of the United Nations, and we know our obligations.

But let us take the example of Mr. Pronk. Mr. Pronk is an international civil servant, and he should not have his own way of doing things publicly, like having a Web site full of allegations and politicization of issues. And this has always been hurting to his functioning in Sudan, so we repeatedly advise him to stick -- because being an international civil servant also entails some obligations -- neutrality, objectivity -- and that he did not observe well. So, for the sake of the mission also, we asked him to leave.

The same for Kapila, because he started politicizing; he started going public. ... Jan Egeland used to do that, and we had very good cooperation with him. The manner you do things is our concern. ... Jody Williams, I explained the issue why she was not able to go to Sudan. And I can assure you that our record with the U.N. personnel throughout has been very good and to the best interest of both Sudan and the United Nations.

But there are reports now that actually U.N. humanitarian workers have been attacked in Sudan. That's a U.N. report stating that.

Who is attacking them?

You tell me: Who do you think is attacking them?

No, if there are attacks, they have to specify who is attacking them, because they are very silent when the nonsignatories [rebels who have not signed the Darfur Peace Agreement] attack them. When the rebels attack them, they always make loud noise accusing the government.

It is very easy, you know. The easiest thing, the easiest wall to climb, is the government. So whoever would like his image before the Americans or the British to be good, the easiest thing is to accuse the government of Sudan. And they are -- unfortunately, they are doing that every now and then.

So you're denying there's any government involvement in these attacks?

Against NGOs? No. Never, never, I can tell you, especially after the visit of Mr. John Holmes. In fact, you referred to the issue why he was barred from entering. That was a very isolated [incident], because the communication did not reach that man on the camp, and it did not represent the policy of the government of Sudan, barring him. ... He was very happy about the visit, more or less, and we signed an agreement during his visit also, for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, without obstacles. ...

Well, you mentioned Jan Egeland, who was one of the first to report to the Security Council on what they saw happening in Darfur, and I was rereading his report of April 2004. I was struck by an allegation made here that in the town of Kailek, where he visited -- you'll be familiar with that -- he maintains that for several weeks people have been left without food, and the U.N., despite these things having taken place for several weeks, indicate a local policy of forced starvation.

No. In fact, whenever there is an allegation, we are ready to confront and to tell what is the reality behind it.

In fact, we are pioneers in humanitarian diplomacy. Long ago, and one of our witnesses, [U.N. Special Envoy] Mr. [Jan] Eliasson himself, who, with us, initiated Lifeline Sudan, which was a model in humanitarian diplomacy, allowing food to go to the adversary behind fire lines without politicizing it or without putting the whole population hostage to that.

We have a good record of not using food as a weapon, as a political weapon. So the issue of intentionally starving our own people is just a big lie. It can't be like that.

Now, the other allegation I must put to you, because it's consistent throughout the reports, is the one of the use of rape and sexual violence. And that begins with Mukesh Kapila, when a young woman comes in and reports that 200 women in her village have been raped. And it continues throughout all of the reports, I think, including the very latest ones. They quote witnesses in these refugee camps endlessly. What is your response to this?

You know, when there is a war you can expect anything to happen, unfortunately -- rape, people to be starved -- not because of the government. Starvation accompanies always a situation of war.

So war is not good news to anybody, and it is a very bad thing to happen. And unfortunately, when it happens, these things come with it. But it has never been the policy of the Sudan government to make rape also as a policy of inflicting harm on the other on the other side.

There seems to be a great deal of it happening, though.

No. It's also blown out of proportion; it is not.

I think the ethics of our people, the traditions of our people and the Darfurian communities also, their traditions, is absolutely, again is -- these things, this rape -- so there is an element of exaggeration in the issue of rape itself.

You know, you have a situation of war, and every bad vocabularies are selected to label the situation: rape, hunger, what have you. Whatever bad things are still continue to be allegations. What we should concern ourselves with is the peace process. Peace is the answer to all these atrocities or problems surrounding war. ...

... [T]he International Criminal Court has named at least two Sudanese officials that they would like to prosecute. What are the chances of you cooperating with the International Criminal Court?

We declared and we announced repeatedly that we are not going at all to allow handing over of any of our citizens, [either] our government or rebels, to an international body to prosecute them, because we, in the same wording of the [Rome Statute, the founding document of the ICC], ... if you have a functioning judiciary at home, there is no [cause for] taking people outside to be tried in the Hague, where you have a functioning, very good judiciary system like the Sudanese, which is very much known throughout our regions, Africa and [the] Arab world.

Well, I have to say the U.N., the latest U.N. report, did criticize the judicial system in Sudan, saying it was prone to corruption.

No. This criticism should not be also taken to that extent, because every judicial system, even in the United States, is criticized everywhere. So we cannot claim to be 100 percent free of anything and that we are pure like milk, no. We have our own challenges, and we are a developing country. We are trying to overcome our difficulties as we are building our nation. But I can assure you our judicial system is one of the best in the Arab and African regions. And surprisingly, the United States itself chose not to be part of the [Rome Statute] because of its fear of possible politicization of the proceedings or the court's function.

But Sudan did sign.

No, we signed, but we did not ratify the [Rome Statute], so we are not party to that system, to that regime. Indeed, we question also the political motives behind the Security Council referring the case of Darfur to the ICC at the same time. We are with justice, but priority should be given to peace in our country.

... One of the more serious allegations of late, or charges of late, was that the Sudanese government was painting planes white to look like U.N. supply planes that were actually bringing ammunition to Sudanese troops and the Janjaweed in Darfur. And there are pictures, of course, of these planes, which I'm sure you've seen, painted white and ammunition being loaded off them. [What's your response to that?]

Yeah, we can take hours in reading and pointing out to the allegations that are leveled against our country in last year or the last month or last week. We can take the whole time of this program saying that, including this issue of the disguising of the plane. That issue was raised four or five months ago, and our authorities denied fully that they did it. In fact, that plane is just [a] transportation plane; it has [no] fighting capability at all. We showed that to the Security Council. We even stated that we are ready; that a manufacturing company itself of the aircraft comes to Sudan to verify all what has been said about it and also to see whether it has fighting capability. ...

But the allegation was that it was carrying ammunition, not that it was necessarily bombing.

No, no, it was not carrying ammunition at all. In fact, the fact that we allowed the panel of experts to go and to inspect and to enter that plane is the fact that we had nothing to hide. We have also a very big question mark on this group of so-called panel of experts, because they are not relying on their own data. They are infiltrated by Western intelligence sources giving them this information. Tell me how can five or six international civil servants bring all these things, which is only to be monitored and detected by intelligence -- I mean sophisticated intelligence services in the West? So they have been infiltrated by those forces, and unfortunately this information is not of the group but of some sources behind this group.

But, Ambassador, you seem to be saying that of everyone who criticizes Sudan, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others -- these are well-respected bodies in the West. You don't accept their criticisms of Sudan?

No. Amnesty International criticizes all countries, even the United States, Britain. ... But we really question the focus on Sudan. Their very big focus was Sudan, which to us is only to divert and to overshadow the events going [on] in Iraq, in Palestine, in Lebanon and Afghanistan. For political purposes they make this focus on Sudan in order to divert attention on other[s] for political reasons. They're also political people; they are not just priests sitting over there. But we question, like I said, in the DRC, 3 to 4 million died; in Darfur, according to the estimations, they also say 200,000. They say that, because we know it is only 9,000 to 10,000 only. This is our estimation, local estimations ... of those who died, unfortunately, in this crisis.

So let me be clear; your estimation of how many people have died?

Nine- to ten-thousand.

And what about displaced?

Displaced, there are six hun -- they usually say 2 million, but it is less than that, less than that. Eight hundred thousand? Something like that.

... How has China responded to this? Because they are now being brought into the political turmoil.

We are very much surprised why they involve China. ... China is a partner of Sudan, like United States is partner to many other countries in the world. But the issue of politicizing oil industry is very bad. Not only that, they are also politicizing sports. If you ask Mr. [Sepp] Blatter, [the president of FIFA, the International Federation of Association Football], or the chief of the International Olympic [Committee], [Jacques Rogge], he would certainly be very upset about these moves to politicize Olympic sports, because their charter is [to be a] politics-free charter or organization.

Do you have any sense of how upset the Chinese are by this?

No, we don't want at all to speak on behalf of the Chinese, but it is very irritating for any observer to see the amount of pressure on China, on maybe Russia. They want really to isolate us from our friends in the international community. ... We enjoy the support of all the Nonaligned Movement, of all OIC [Organization of the Islamic Conference] countries, of the Arab League, of the Africa[n] Union, so we are not alone.

But the media has really tainted the picture of Sudan and tarnished the image of the country. It's very difficult to counter them just by our meager resources and means. And it's a very huge media, very well calculated. It also works in [an] orchestrated manner with all the organs you said, like ICC, Amnesty International. It is a media war. We are a victim of this media war, because when there are no weapons at play or no theater full of combatants, the media is doing their job.

But, Ambassador, that's a rather huge conspiracy, isn't it? You're suggesting all the media, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the various U.N. bodies --

We are very unfairly treated, I can assure you, either by the media or by Amnesty or others. As I said, we are a developing country; we have our shortcomings. We have our shortcomings maybe in policies, in whatever sort of state activities that you can embark upon, but we are unfairly treated, and the issue of Darfur has been blown out of proportion, out of proportion.

I hear you say that, but I also read reports that 80 to 90 percent of the villages in Darfur have been destroyed. You can go on Google, ... go and see pictures of destroyed villages.

Destroyed villages, not necessarily by Sudan government soldiers. That area has been suffering from severe climatic change throughout the last three decades, [but] because people did not know the situation prior to the eruption of the Darfur problem, so they cannot compare the situation, as if what they are seeing now is something new. But we have been with this situation since the '80s, during the famous drought in the Horn of Africa and in the Savanna region. So it is not something that is newly created, and it is not only because of manmade; it is also for natural disasters.

But obviously you are fighting insurgents in Darfur, and the allegation is clear that you have used the Janjaweed as a surrogate army, and you've armed them and supported them and, indeed, acted in concert with them.

No. People also misunderstood the Janjaweed. Janjaweed is an unlawful entity working not with the government, but each tribe may have its own Janjaweed.

Have you arrested any of these characters? Have you stopped them?

... We arrested many, and the government has committed itself also to disarming this so-called Janjaweed. But you can imagine in a state [of] a size like France disarming militias as a situation -- when in Iraq you have almost 200,000 American soldiers, they were unable to establish peace and order. They were unable to disarm the militias in Iraq, so ask them first to put their house in order in Iraq, with all their capability and might, and then to come back and criticize us.

But, Ambassador, I think there will be many people surprised to hear that the government of Sudan is trying to disarm the Janjaweed. The allegation is you've been arming them.

No, no. We agreed with the international community. First, they are not supported by the Sudan government. ... We are determined to disarm all militias operating in Darfur. But it is very difficult to disarm just overnight, because as I said, the experience of Iraq did not show that with all the might you have, you can disarm or achieve 100 percent disarmament.

Now, speaking of the U.S., is there still a relationship with the U.S. in terms of counterterrorism between Sudan and America?

Ironically, the latest report by the State Department on terrorism, they gave high marks for Sudan. If you read the latest report, they said Sudan was a very credible and important partner in the fight against terrorism. [But] that of course was not considered when they take political decisions, unfortunately. We are keen to have whatever avenues of contact we have with them so that they may have an impact on improving on the bilateral relations. So there are contacts; there are visits: [Deputy Secretary of State John D.] Negroponte was there. Some people also from our country used to come from time to time to the U.S., so we are operating on this level, but most important is that the U.S. should understand our situation well, understand our history of cooperation, as well as trying to assist the government of Sudan to establish or to ensure peace and stability following the signing of the historic CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement].

What are the prospects for peace, in your view?

There are many. First, because we know you cannot at all win -- and that was a lesson which we got also throughout our experience with the insurgency in the South. You cannot win militarily in Darfur. That we know very well. And there is a war fatigue, very well, in that part, and we are committed to peace, because we know the fruits of peace when we also sign the CPA. South Sudan started now its great move toward reconstruction and rehabilitation, and, as I said, Sudan holds a promise for food security to the [Horn] of Africa and beyond. We have the greatest agricultural potential, and we, if developed, then we can make miracles. So we are determined to put this behind us and to mobilize the country toward a march of peace and tranquility.

Now, as far as Darfur is concerned, we are always telling our friends in the international communities and all the stakeholders that there is no option other than peace. But for peace, you [have to] have two to tango. We are committed. The rebels should reunite their front and come with one delegation or at least unified position to the negotiating table. A government of South Sudan is hosting a meeting, which we hope will be successful. The regional situation is improving very well; we're expecting the president of Chad to visit Sudan. There is a lot of improvement on the regional front following all through the meeting in Tripoli and in Riyadh by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, [King Abdullah] of Saudi Arabia, who met with both our president and the President [Idriss] Déby of Chad. So on the regional front we are with our neighbors; we are doing well.

As far as the peace process, Mr. Eliasson handed over a roadmap consisting of several elements -- unification of the rebels, then of the commanders and political leaders of those rebels -- because if you leave somebody out, he can work as a spoiler in that part, which is also very sensitive because of tribal considerations. You have to bring all onboard.

The regional countries are cooperating with us also: Eritrea, Ethiopia and other counties also -- Libya, which has also a big role taking its proximity and knowledge of the area also. So the stage is now set for real dialogue on the issue of political settlement in Darfur.

When we signed the DPA [Darfur Peace Agreement] with [the Sudan Liberation Army leader Minni] Minnawi, very specific elements were left unagreed upon by other factions who did not sign; namely, the issue of compensation, the issue of whether Darfur would be one region or three states, and the issue of representation of Darfurians in the central government and the Parliament. All these three things are not difficult to decide. In fact, people are discussing whether compensation should be individually or at state level or tribal, the best type of compensation. These issues can be discussed, but because of the mixed signals sent to the rebels, the factions mushroomed more -- as time goes they are mushrooming and fragmented -- and it is time now for them to unite their force and to come, because we should prevail. And the South Sudan experience is showing everybody that whatever lengths it takes politically, a political settlement is the answer for all the grievances and problems in that part of Sudan.

... What has been your opinion of the activists, the very high-profile activists in the U.S. -- George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Mia Farrow -- all of whom have been campaigning on Darfur?

In fact, most of them are misinformed about it. We don't question their humanitarian consideration and that they are seriously concerned about the suffering of the people; we would not dispute that. But the engine that is feeding them with information is also inflating a lot of very sensational information about Sudan.

For Sudan and the U.S., I think the issue also has entered the domestic arena of elections and the rivalry between Democrats and Republicans, and even the last decision on the sanction of Sudan was also a deal between them: "Help us on Iraq for the bill, we make sanctions against Sudan." That issue was there, and it is a fact. So while we have great respect for the great American people, I think the media misinformed the public, and also including the celebrities. I spoke with many of them; I told them, 'You are good, you are great in supporting the humanitarian suffering of our people, but you have to understand the complex nature of the problems like Darfur. It is not a problem of people killing each other; it's not like that.' It's a very complex issue, and as time goes, we are discovering more serious factors and reasons behind why the situation emerged like that or came to its current status, like the question, as I said, of climate change. So don't just operate in a vacuum; understand the complexity of our situation, because they are using them also. They are using the celebrities for political ends, because they can invest on their charisma and their popularity to send political signal[s] across the board, and they succeeded in that. They succeeded in that.

So our task is not only to establish peace and stability in our own country, but also to convince the larger people here in the United States of our intentions, of our concern, of our being human beings as well. ...

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posted november 20, 2007

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