QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
QUESTION: I will come to Jemera’s point with regard to the evidence that there is a connection between the Janjaweed and the Government of Sudan. One of the reasons the Government of Sudan is trying to show the international community that there’s no connection is that the government is trying to portray the conflict in Darfur as a conflict between different tribes over scarce resources, but then through different documents that were smuggled outside of Sudan -- that perhaps some of you didn’t see -- show clearly the relationship between the Janjaweed and the government. Also there is evidence that the government switched about three or four battalions from Darfur and they sent them back to Khartoum and they replaced them with the people that came from the south as a result of the breather that the Government of Sudan got from Machakos agreements, the cessation of hostilities between SLA and the Government of Sudan, which has helped the Government of Sudan —— which Mr. Prendergast was talking about.
This is another one to prove that the government does not trust the elements of the army that are from Darfur themselves and —— in the region so they switched them and replaced them with troops from other places so that they can --
JOHN PRENDERGAST: I’m sorry. They kept the force level the same but they just changed the geographic origin of the Darfur units.
QUESTION: Of the troops —— Darfur today. So that is another evidence of that. Another comment --
JEMERA RONE: I’m sorry. Let me ask you. You’re saying that people that they sent to Darfur were from what part of the country?
QUESTION: From other parts of the country rather than the Darfur region.
JEMERA RONE: Oh. I thought they were all mixed up in the army.
QUESTION: Yes, they are mixed up but there are distinctions also within the army, different groups. The people in the west generally, the Hajanah they are called, are part of the legends of the war in the south that are talked about in Darfur specifically is that the officers are from Khartoum who are giving orders to the soldiers from Darfur who are killing the southerners. So this is part of a tradition that is going on in the Sudanese Army.
The point that Mr. Prendergast raised with regard to the escalation of war in Darfur and its relations to Machakos agreement is true. The Machakos agreement that rewarded the two warring factions in Sudan helped in the escalation of this war but it started a long time before that, 1986, even during the democratic government of Sadiq al-Mahdi after Turabi, who was the head of the NIF at the time, lost the elections in Darfur.
He was quoted as saying that in his political life he never expended more effort in money and thinking than he spent in Darfur to gain seats from Darfur and to destroy the stronghold of the Umma party in Darfur, traditional supporters of the Umma party. By the end of the elections the NIF gained two seats, the Umma party got 34 seats, and Turabi was quoted as saying this is the time for us to pay the people of Darfur back for what they have done. This started from there and that is why the government is always trying to show this as a conflict between the tribes and also a problem of armed bandits in Darfur which is not true.
Through the years it has been like that and then it is —— shortly before Machakos when President Bashir called in a public address and he says we took over by force and whoever wants to take this —— should come with his force and force us. So that is another one to be added to the point that Mr. Prendergast is making.
JERRY FOWLER: Thank you. Do you have a comment on that? Anyone want to comment on that?
JEMERA RONE: I just wanted to say that without getting too deeply into the details I’d like to see further development of the role of the Turabi Party, which is now called the Popular National Congress since he basically lost his position in government. He and Ali al-Haj and others went off and formed this party and as I recall they had some support in the west among teachers and others who went on strike for unpaid salaries.
I’d be interested in that and the kind of sociological ethnic composition of the PNC. The Turabi party is if many of them are predominantly from the west and if there are people in the JEM, one of the two rebel groups who were formerly with Turabi, because I’ve interviewed somebody who was with Turabi and then joined the civilian JEM.
JERRY FOWLER: Back here. Go ahead.
JOHN PRENDERGAST: Can I respond to this? This is very interesting. I think that this is an issue that you don’t want to overstate, because it’s not that important, but it is a important undercurrent in driving calculations in Khartoum. Any time you’re getting the involvement of Turabi you’re going to just raise everybody’s temperature. When the split occurred in the government in -- when was it, 2000? -- 1999-2000 and a number of the leadership left the National Congress Party with Turabi, a key element of those was people leaders from Darfur, and some went in exile and some just melted back into life in Sudan.
Now, there’s certainly clear evidence that people in the leadership in the JEM are either composed of some of these guys or have links to some of these guys. This, of course, just sets off all the buttons within the ruling party and you have interesting anecdotal evidence of how it does that with respect to looking at the previously discussed mediation of Chad.
We had, in the first set of talks in September 2003, where the “cessation of hostilities” was signed the rebels, and it was just the SLA, by the way, sent a group of mostly military commanders who basically negotiated their own surrender. It was a bizarre negotiation. The government was gleeful, walked away with having to do nothing, and then didn’t even respect total victory.
Then you have the second round of talks, and I’m very bad at chronology but roughly in December or so, and the talks were led by some of these guys who were part of that split. They came with very, very specific highly political demands that were very much linked in the aftermath of the agreement that Turabi and Garang had signed or at least Ali al-Haj and Garang had signed, between the PNC and SPLA. It had come with a set of demands related to that that largely were the surrender of the government and so the Chadians immediately pulled the plug on the whole process rather than say okay, well, thank you very much for your submission and let’s get on with it.
So we have a complicating factor in the sense particularly with respect to Ali Osman Taha, the Vice President of Sudan, and some of the key people within the NIF as the founders and leaders of the NIF to have an influence of Turabi although it’s not a preponderant influence and he controls nothing on the ground. But to have that element introduced in the mix makes it very, very hard for the government to negotiate with these guys. That is part, not all, one aspect of the reason why there’s no interest or at least the government has the position that they will not negotiate with these people at this point. It’s not the main reason for it but it’s just a complicating factor.
JERRY FOWLER: Adotei.
ADOTEI AKWEI: I’d like to actually get back to the whole issue of action from the international community because I think you can sit here and go through all the different machinations and the underlying agents, but the basic fact is that people are being slaughtered and people are being starved to death and if you don’t do something it has larger regional implications. Unless I’m mistaken what I got from you, John, was that there are rumblings from the White House in frustration over the slowdown over the national negotiations.
That does not necessarily mean good things for Darfur unless people interpret what’s going on in Darfur as increased intransigence from the Sudanese Government. At the same time I don’t know what your sense was, the briefing that you did at the UN, whether there is a true consensus building for pressure on humanitarian access, in which case we don’t have the opportunity to push for a linkage to political negotiation or some start of a process with Darfur.
What’s your assessment? Do you think that there’s a change coming possibly even from State and the White House that might allow an increased focus or increased pressure at this point or are we still dealing with an administration that is getting ready for elections that sees the goal post very close by, doesn’t want to rock it, and probably doesn’t have too much of a sense of why expend more resources on a region that is marginal to US policy?
JOHN PRENDERGAST: Well, it’s ironic. When you try to do an assessment of any government’s policy anywhere in the world there are always many different actors and many different variables that go into decisions that get reached and there’s often competing bureaucracies or elements of the government that if you don’t understand all of it, and I don’t claim to, that you may not get the full picture. From at least what I’ve been able to gather, it is somewhat ironic that the White House now is very upset with the lack of any negotiations. It’s a public failure in a sense of the negotiations in January, when these incentives were laid out on the table for the parties if they signed the agreement that Danforth was bringing back on the plane and they could sit in the State of the Union gallery and get their mention and be warmly greeted by the President as peacemakers at a difficult moment in time for his foreign policy.
I think that the fact now that the White House is upset that there hasn’t been progress, it was their calculation, not the State Department’s, that that would be a good incentive. Just to take this for a second, that an Islamic leader in North Africa would want to be seen in Washington in the State of the Union Address being talked publicly and glowingly about by President Bush on national television for broadcast, of course, and repeated around the world. I mean, it was just a fantastical proposition.
Bashir, just to make sure that he could never be taken to Washington even if they signed, but I never think they would have, had already set up a state visit with President Mubarak in Egypt just to make sure he had good cover in case they even did sign an agreement he had have the reason he didn’t have to go.
It is just crazy. It just shows you a complete lack of analysis and understanding of where people are today in the world. Secondly, their second great incentive was to say we got this congressional appropriations process coming down the pike here and we have all this money that we can get out of Congress, again, if you sign now but if we delay it a few months no one’s going to care and you’re not going to bet the money.
Well, again, where’s the money going? Most of it, and rightly so, has to go to build institutions in the south and build the southern government’s capacity for governing and mediating conflicts and providing services in the context of the very massive reconstruction or construction process that will go on in southern Sudan during the interim period. Nickels and dimes will go to anything that Khartoum has any interest in.
There were two very, very inappropriate incentives laid on the table at a time when there was no public pressure being put forward either to press the guys to a conclusion or in response to increasing war crimes in Darfur. I don’t know how they figured it out, but they figured out somebody messed up and so now is the time to put out a harder line that the clock basically expired on the free pass that Khartoum had in Darfur because of the Naivasha negotiations and now we’re going to look at them separately and make a much more robust intervention on the human rights issues related to Darfur.
There are two traps then emerging. One track is increased activism that we’re inevitably going to see in behalf of conclusion to Naivasha based on pressure rather than inappropriate incentives. The second track, not second as in less important but a parallel track, is the pursuit of some direct process involving the parties in Darfur and the government so that we can get forward movement on humanitarian access to cessation of hostilities and political discussions.
However assessments have been made, they’ve learned some lessons and that the policy is going to be driven more by the White House in frustration for lack of success than it has up until now.
JERRY FOWLER: Just a second. One thing that I wanted to comment on that is we had hoped to have a representative of the US Government here today but really a lot of the key people are actually in the region right now. We’re hoping to set up a session some time very soon when they get back to hear directly where they’re at and what they’re thinking particularly in Darfur and in general in the process in Naivasha.
One way to keep track of that is if you go to our website, which is committeeonconscience.org, you can sign up for our it’s billed as a newsletter but we send out electronic notices of every event that we do and if we are able to arrange a session with a US Government representative we’ll publicize it in that way.
Anyway, Jemera, you and then we’ll break.
JEMERA RONE: I just want to ask something and maybe it can be combined with your question as well. Is it a possible scenario, I mean, is this in the works at all? We’re talking now about the likelihood of a peace agreement with the south being maybe 50-50. I mean, this is just what’s being rumored around.
JERRY FOWLER: The chances of it happening being 50-50?
JEMERA RONE: Yes, or the chances of it failing being 50-50. So if that happens what will that mean not only with regard to Darfur and intensification, the war in the south and Nuba Mountains and so forth, but is there any possibility that the SPLA and the government, which have concluded a rather elaborate agreement on wealth sharing, will go ahead with that and possibly other aspects of their agreement in the absence of international funding and being removed from the sanctions list?
JOHN PRENDERGAST: You mean go forward with the protocols that were signed in advance of having any agreement on Abyei?
JEMERA RONE: Well, without having any agreement, without having a final peace agreement.
JOHN PRENDERGAST: Without having a further final agreement?
JEMERA RONE: Yes, if the process stops here.
JOHN PRENDERGAST: Zero percent chance. Zero point zero, zero, zero. And just to --
JERRY FOWLER: It’s 100 percent chance that they wouldn’t.
JOHN PRENDERGAST: I think, that’s very confusing. Let’s see why. Because I think that although, again, as I said, the calculation in Khartoum was maybe they can increase some divisions within the SPLA. I think there is a sufficient consensus to say that if we don’t have closure on the three areas we’re not going to accept any partial agreement on the south. That’s exactly what the government wants to do is create separate distinct agreements on all these different places and then have maximum leverage on the individual actors outside of the south. The SPLA is not going to fall for that. Again, I would just say that I don’t think Garang has the maneuver room on this and I think that the Abyei commanders who represent 30 percent or so of the leadership of the SPLA and control the military logistics would simply not allow it to happen. Bad things could happen if we tried and I don’t think Garang has any interest in trying.
I think there has always been a commitment to a national solution and if they can’t get the national one, i.e., the Darfour – [tape interruption]
I mean, remember the Nuba as well have contributed a tremendous number of deaths over the years fighting on behalf of the SPLA, so there’s a strong loyalty and commitment that go both ways. I think they’ll disagree tactically at times about how these issues are resolved.
For example, in the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile there is certainly stronger sentiment within the Nuba contingent and the Southern Blue Nile contingent in the SPLA that there ought to be a referendum for those places, but that’s not going to happen. It’s not negotiable. Therefore the trick then becomes how do you construct popular consultations that are meaningful for people so that they have some control over their future and destiny if not the decision on sovereignty.
That kind of thing then becomes a matter of degree of compromise but in Abyei there is no degree for compromise, and that’s the unfortunate thing and that’s why this entire agreement and this entire peace process could collapse on the basis of this little one district.
QUESTION: -- call attention for all the people here who are Sudan specialists, and there are many here, that there’s also a brewing conflict on the Eastern border of Sudan and that is just to the east of the City of Akobo in the Gambella District of Ethiopia, which is an area of Ethiopia that in fact used to be administered as part of Sudan when the British administered Sudan. On December 13th to 16th there was a major massacre in Gambela of Anwak that killed about 400 in Gambela Town and has continued right up to the present. That conflict has resulted in over 5,000 refugees fleeing into Eastern Sudan into the —— refugee camp, which is right there, and, again, this is another one of these very similar conflicts because guess what? They discovered gas and oil under Gambela District and Petronus now has a concession with the Ethiopian Government. So we have some of the same kinds of forces that are at work in southern Sudan.
We’ve just had a team go in to confirm these details. There are also really terrible reports of mass rape and so forth that continues in western Ethiopia, Gambela District, and anybody who’s interested in that I’d be very happy to provide them with a press release that we’ve written about that.
JEMERA RONE: Could you identify your organization?
QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry. I’m Greg Stanton from Genocide Watch and we are the coordinating group for the International Campaign to End Genocide. In fact the International Crisis Group is one of our members and a number of other organizations as well.
JERRY FOWLER: Thanks, Greg. Well, I think perhaps with that comment we’ll close this session. One thing I would tell you, a further incentive perhaps to sign up for our newsletter. Did you have something you wanted to ask? Please come on down.
While he’s coming down to the microphone, and this will be the last thing, as everyone here knows, April marks the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Rwanda genocide and on March 24th we are going to preview the previous screening of a new Frontline documentary about the genocide which includes a lot of new interviews with people both who were on the ground at the time and people who were involved in the decision making in certain governments. It will be followed by a panel discussion that will include Ambassador Prudence Bushnell, who was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central Africa at the time, Gregory Alex, who was a UN official on the ground during the genocide, Bonaventure Niyibizi, who is a Rwandan survivor of the genocide, and the producer of the film, Greg Barker.
That’s on March 24th in the evening at 7:00 p.m. and the way to get the notice about that is to go to our website, www.committeeonsconscience.org, and sign up for it.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Khalid. I’m from the Embassy of Sudan. I would like first to give Mr. John Prendergast a credit that he is very consistent in his campaign against this government for a long, long time since he was in power. Unfortunately, he was an architect of the previous administration and the American policy towards Sudan during the Clinton Administration and the policy of containment that he adopted at that time toward Sudan was a very huge failure and escalated the relation in Sudan for a long, long time. This fact is acknowledged by former President Carter; that is, his policy and the Clinton Administration policy towards Sudan were the main cause of the escalation of the relation in Sudan at that time.
So he’s still insisting to adopt the same policy during this time again; that is, pressure on the Government of Sudan ultimately and eventually will succeed to bring —— in Sudan and he experienced that policy for about eight years and it failed and I don’t know why he’s still insisting —— that policy and this is also to undermine the constructive engagement policy that is adopted by this administration which succeeds so far to bring the two parties together in a negotiation table for the first time in 20 years in the history of Sudan.
And I think right now we’re about to complete a peace agreement without this pressure because we think a free political will will make peace in Sudan sustainable and with —— concession and pressure to make peace would not be sustainable at all because it will be enforced again as the will of the Sudanese people there.
Thank you very much.
JERRY FOWLER: Thank you and I’ll John respond to that, the basic point being that the way to stop massive human rights abuses is constructive engagement rather than pressure.
JOHN PRENDERGAST: Well, that’s one way to look at it. No, I hope you’re right. I hope we get an agreement really soon. I hope there isn’t a need to change course at the present moment and move forward. I hope they sign in the next couple of days in Naivasha. That would be great. I would say very, very strongly and say it all the time that the Bush Administration’s policy at the outset, what it inherited from the previous one, was an enhancement because, and this was the bitterest debate within the last administration was what is the point of creating leverage unless you use it for something.
Well, the Bush Administration figured out, which many of us argued we ought to do in the last administration, let’s use the leverage that’s been built up in order to promote some kind of an objective. In this case, thank God, the right objective, which is the peace process, and they’ve moved on that even though, as I described earlier, there have been tactical errors with respect to how it’s gone forward. The fact is we are, as you said, very near a final agreement and much of that has to do precisely with the fact that the Bush Administration has traded on all this accumulated leverage that began in fact with Bush I and gone through Clinton and into Bush II, which has maintained most of those pressures despite undertaking the road that it has and moved the process forward.
I think that this is the right thing to do and that everything that we do regardless of what actions we take ought to be taken with one objective in mind and that is to come to promote a comprehensive peace agreement in Sudan and pressure should not be constructed for its own sake or to overthrow any government or anything like that. I certainly didn’t have any of those intentions when I participated in decision making in the past administration. I don’t think anybody here does, but I’ll tell you right now if you didn’t like what the Clinton Administration did by creating pressures and then not doing anything with them, which was the basic mistake of the past administration, you’re not going to like what happens with this administration if there isn’t a peace agreement and we have a decision that the way in which the policy has unfolded over the last couple of years has been the wrong one and that we need to go for more maximum pressures. Because they’ll use their leverage in different ways than the Clinton Administration ever had the guts to and I think that that wouldn’t be the kind of thing that would be in the Sudan Government’s interests.
I don’t say that in a threatening way. I say that because I have no idea what they would do and I do know that there are voices there saying enough is enough and we see the track record of what they’re willing to do in other places and if the situation deteriorates dramatically in Darfur I would not rule out any potential option, election or no election.
JERRY FOWLER: So, Jemera and Adotei, if you want to make brief concluding remarks.
JEMERA RONE: Well, I’d just say I was disappointed when Khalid got up because I thought he would address the main topics of this meeting which are the massive humanitarian and human rights abuses that are going on, mostly by the government side, in Darfur now with a very, very serious impact on the civilian population, almost a million people, and this has occurred all within the last year, hundreds of burned villages and so forth.
I was hoping he would make a commitment on behalf of his government to look seriously into these charges and to do everything to stop them and punish those who might be responsible and allow people to return to their villages and so forth, but I was somewhat taken aback to hear just an attack and a kind of fanciful conspiracy theory on one of the panelists. We look to the government for a more substantive response on all of these very serious allegations.
JERRY FOWLER: Adotei?
ADOTEI AKWEI: I’m going to stop right there.
JERRY FOWLER: Thank you all very much for coming. Please join me in thanking our panelists.