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A Conversation with Mustafa Osman Ismail

Speaker: Mustafa Ismail, minister of foreign affairs, Republic of Sudan
Moderator: Marcus Mabry, chief of correspondents, Newsweek
September 30, 2004
Council on Foreign Relations


Council on Foreign Relations
New York, N.Y.

MARCUS MABRY: I'd like to thank you all for coming to the council tonight. We are a little behind schedule, but not much, and we'll try to make up for all of our time. The minister was addressing the [United Nations] Security Council, so that accounts for our delay.

My name is Marcus Mabry. I'm the chief of correspondents at Newsweek magazine. And again, thank you all for coming tonight.

This meeting is on the record, unlike most Council [on Foreign Relations] meetings. And so we will be taped and beamed around the world and available on our website.

Before we start with what I hope will be a very informative meeting, I just wanted to give everyone a heads-up that if you are unaware so far, the Council actually recently came out with a special report which actually looks at the situation in Darfur, Sudan, and beyond, and it's called, "Giving Meaning to `Never Again': Seeking an Effective Response to the Crisis in Darfur and Beyond." It's an incredibly insightful report that actually talks about the situation happening in Western Sudan, but also what the ramifications are for the rest of Africa and, indeed, the rest of the planet, going forward.

Our guest this evening—oh, let me also ask you to turn off your cell phones before we start, please. I actually just turned mine off because I've seen presiders before who didn't.

I actually will not go into great introduction of the foreign minister. Let us just start by saying thank you very much, Mr. Minister, for joining us this evening. Dr. Mustafa Osman Ismail is the foreign minister of the Republic of Sudan and has been in that position since 1998, and has been in the ministry since 1996. Before that, [he] spent 10 years in academia and with another government ministry in Khartoum. So we are—again, we thank you for joining us, given your short time.

Of course, Mr. Minister, the question on everyone's mind in this room tonight is the question of Darfur. And I'm sure you're well aware of the fact that the American secretary of state [Colin Powell] has said that there is genocide happening in Darfur. He said, at the very least, genocide has occurred and it may well still be occurring. The president of the United States, [George W. Bush]when addressing the General Assembly at the United Nations, said that this government has concluded that there is genocide occurring. Secretary of State Powell also went on to say that the people responsible for that genocide, in his words, were the government of Sudan as well as the janjaweed [the government-backed militia].

Let's start there. Do you feel that to be at all an appropriate or fair characterization? And if not, then why not?

MUSTAFA OSMAN ISMAIL: Well, thank you very much. The position of our government is that this is not a genocide. In fact, this is not only the position of the government of Sudan, the African Union [AU], at their meeting in July, they issued a statement—they have about—hundreds of monitors in Darfur—they said this is not a genocide. The European Union, also, they passed a resolution. They said this is not a genocide. Of course, this is beside the Arab League, beside also OIC [Organization of the Islamic Conference], NAM [Non-Aligned Movement] in South Africa also, they met and they issued a statement and say that this is not a genocide. It's a tribal conflict.

Not only these organizations, but also NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], maybe. A couple of days ago, the president of Doctors Without Borders, he had a press conference and he said that he has around about 1,818 employee in Darfur, and that definitely this is not a genocide.

But let me put it like that. Whether it is a genocide or not, the Security Council passed a resolution, number 1564. In that resolution, they decided to establish an international committee to come and to investigate exactly what the situation. The government of Sudan immediately welcomed that committee. And today and even two days ago, I met with the secretary-general [Kofi Annan]. I told him that we will cooperate fully with the international committee because we want other Sudanese to know the truth, exactly what has happened, and we want the international community also to know what happened.

So instead of forc[ing] me to get into discussion or debate with Secretary of State Colin Powell, let us accept that we accept a third party to investigate, and then let us wait for that investigation.

MABRY: I don't want to draw you into a public diplomatic row with the secretary of state. But just to ask that question just a slightly different way, why do you think the secretary of state of the United States would actually go to such lengths—because that's an incredibly serious charge to level—if it were not the case? What do you think he's basing his information or his misinformation on? Where do you think he's mistaken?

ISMAIL: Well, for us, we think that the information he built his judgment on is itself questioned because he said they interrogate[d] 1,000 people. These people, they are in refugee camps in Chad. We know that the refugee camps in Chad, they are—the rebels are highly represented there.

Secondly, even if the 1,000, they are correct in their interpretation, in his deliberation, Colin Powell said 1,000 from 2.2 million affected. So is it possible for us that interviewing 1,000 could be applied to 2.2 million? So that's why we feel that.

And then, secondly, the definition of genocide. A convention took place in 1958. In that convention, the definition of genocide is this: that a deliberate act by a party to eliminate another party. So definitely the situation in Darfur is not like this. So that's why we said, OK, [we] welcome a credible, capable international community to come and to investigate.

MABRY: The situation has been called by the United Nations, the Americans, the European Union indeed as well, the worst humanitarian crisis in the world: 50,000 dead at least in the Darfur region; 1 million internally displaced, many of those in camps that the government is overseeing; perhaps 400,000, perhaps a million, who are actually in rebel territory, but without the means to get to any international relief supplies. We don't really know how many people in all are affected. What is the government doing to change that situation?

ISMAIL: First of all, the government never initiated this war. It's well known internationally that the rebels, they are the ones who insist on fighting. The government succeed to settle problem in the South that ran for 20 years. We succeed since October 2002 to reach to cessation of hostilities, and then with the help of the United States we succeed also to sign six protocols which constitute the political settlement between North and South. We also reached an agreement on different issues like fighting of terrorism.

Well, we have been forced with this problem—although, as I said, the government never initiated it—and we think that the rebels who initiated this war, they should not run out from being responsible for the catastrophe which is going on. But the government feels responsible to cooperate with the international community to provide humanitarian assistance, and that's what we did.

Secondly, the government feels it is responsible to bring law and order and security, again, with the cooperation of the international community, and that's what we are doing now with the African Union monitors to monitor on the ground. The government feels it should cooperate with the international community in the field of human rights. That's why we have monitors from Human Rights Committee in Geneva and they are now distributed in Darfur investigating what was going on.

The government feels it has to cooperate with the international community to find a comprehensive political settlement to the problem. That's why we are cooperating with the president of Nigeria, President [Olusegun] Obasanjo, in his capacity as the chair of the African Union, to find a political settlement. We are doing it in three phases. Phase one, life-saving; that we should not lose life due to shortage of food or due to shortage of medicine or due to insecurity. Phase two, life enhancement; that then we should encourage the IDPs [internally displaced persons] to go out of their camps to cultivate their land, to go to school, to go to hospital, to start to feel normal life. Stage three, recovery, rehabilitation, reconstruction, and then voluntary return.

I am quite happy to say that for the time being, there is no famine in Darfur. You can read in the [inaudible] interview with U.N. Coordinator Kevin Kennedy about the humanitarian situation. He said there is no famine in Darfur, and if we can continue delivering the way how we are doing now, we can overcome this problem. So until now, there is no famine in Darfur.

Secondly, there is no epidemic in Darfur, which means that there is no epidemic disease massive[ly] killing [refugees].

Thirdly, we succeed to stop any mass killing in Darfur. Still you can get some people who have been affected due to malnutrition; still you can get some people who have been—they died because of malaria or because of just infection; still you can get some. But the day before yesterday, I had a long meeting with the Secretary-General Kofi Annan. His humanitarian assistant, Jan Egeland, he said that in case of humanitarian [assistance], we are doing well. We reached more than a million, and we want to continue doing so. The government is cooperating in lifting of any restrictions. He said that the mortality rate is going down, but we need to do more providing medicine and vaccines, and so on.

In security, now, while we are sitting here, a delegation from the government of Sudan is in Addis Ababa to ask the AU to bring more monitors and police, to come and to work together with the Sudanese security so that we will make sure that there is no violation of human rights; there is no killing; there is building of confidence; they can receive reports from the IDP and follow the investigation with the Sudanese authority.

So this is exactly what is going on in Darfur. I'm not saying the situation in Darfur is normal. No. You said it is the worst humanitarian crisis—

MABRY: The Europeans and the Americans.

ISMAIL: Yeah. But you should know that Sudan is the biggest country in Africa. It is a diverse society. Darfur itself size-wise is more than France. There are about 80 tribes in Darfur. You could imagine how the situation is complicated.

So the fighting in the south, which I talked [about], we succeeded to reach a settlement and to stop fighting. We have 2 million of the southerners, whom they have been displaced in Khartoum. When the fighting started in the south, they migrated and they are now living in Khartoum. During the fighting between Eritrea and Ethiopia we received 1.2 million Eritrean and Ethiopian in Sudan. So because of this big size, because of this diversity, we used to receive millions [of displaced persons], either from our neighbor or inside. Our view now [is that] what we need is not only to reach to a settlement between north and south through Naivasha, and for Darfur through Abuja, but we need a full, comprehensive peace settlement. All the Sudanese, they should be included. So that what we are planning now, that we hopefully will start the new year changing the Sudanese situation from fighting to peace, from dividing to unity, and from poverty to at least rehabilitation and reconstruction.

MABRY: You raised a lot of questions, minister. I'd like to talk about the south and where we are exactly in those talks and why there hasn't been a signed accord yet. But before that, I'd like to touch on some of the things you mentioned.

By the government's assertion, where are we? What stage are we in right now with relation to Darfur, given those three stages?

ISMAIL: Stage one, I could say we pass it successfully. You could get some incidents here and there, but now—yesterday I had a long meeting with the assistant secretary for humanitarian affairs to plan for the next stage.

MABRY: But you're saying as of right now there is no threat of widespread death from starvation/malnutrition/exposure at all in that region of your country?

ISMAIL: Sure. Sure, that this is—if you listen to the report of Jan Egeland, the special representative of the secretary-general to the [U.N. Security] Council. If you read also—Jan Pronk, yes. Jan Pronk, the special representative of the secretary-general to the Sudan. If you read also the interview with the human[itarian] coordinator who represents the secretary-general in the Sudan, you could reach to the same conclusion, that there is no famine, there is no epidemic, security inside the ground [is] getting better, mortality rate is getting down.

MABRY: Rainy season is just ending as well, so that may mean there's more in the land right now than there's going to be a month or two from now or in January. The situation could be much worse in January, couldn't it?

ISMAIL: Situation should be the worst during September, August, and July. By the end of September and the beginning of October, rainy season was finished. In fact, that is why we are very frustrated and a lot of effort [is] being put that the rainy season would not be a situation where we will be faced with a crisis in Darfur.

MABRY: Another part of the first stage, the lifesaving stage of the government's plan you mentioned, was security. What's the security situation currently with, in particular janjaweed militia, who have been guilty of many atrocities and who also have been, according to many human rights organizations and many who have documents actually showing it, linked to the government and to government officials in the region?

ISMAIL: There is a confusion here because when the rebels start this offensive in February 2003, they targeted the security organs. They destroyed the security organs and they targeted the police. As a result of that, those janjaweed who are in the prison have been freed. And also the janjaweed, they found themselves in a conducive environment to gather together. And their fellow in Chad, they cross the border and join them. And they start to attack civilians because they are bandits, they are rebels, they are killers. They are there for years. They are part of the culture of Darfur.

There is another force. These are tribal militia. These belong to the tribes who refuse to join the rebels. The rebels, during the fighting, they start to terrorize tribes which are not ready to join them. Some of these tribes by force they join them. Others, they start to have their own militia to protect themselves and to resist the attack from the rebels.

The government [is] being asked to protect these tribes, and they support this militia. So—

MABRY: In what ways do they support that militia?

ISMAIL: Pardon?

MABRY: In what way do they support the anti-rebel militias?

ISMAIL: We train them for—and we give them a chance in order to go and to protect themselves. Some of them, they were a part of the PDF, Popular Defense Forces. But these are different from the janjaweed.

What are doing now? First of all, we are disarming the militia because they are more or less under our control. And we start to arrest the janjaweed and to put them in prison, so that they will be punished by court. We arrest about 300 of them. We are still working, but in order to do so we need to make sure that the rebels, they have been cantoned or they have been collected in a place other than in between civilians, because the rebels are widely distributed with their weapons between the civilians.

These are the resolutions which passed by different organizations concerning the rebels. For example, we signed this agreement in N'Djamena in April. It said that the parties have agreed to proceed in a containment—cantonment. On the other hand, for the armed opposition to regroup their compartment at places to determine, and on the other hand for the Sudanese government to disarm all the non-controlled armed groups.

The AU summit agreed that the rebel forces should be cantoned at mutually agreed sites and that the militia and all other outlaw groups should be disarmed by the government of Sudan, and that these two operations shall be carried out simultaneously and monitored by the AU mission.

The Security Council itself, in its resolution, it said that it strongly urged rebel groups to respect cease-fire [agreements] and to end violence immediately, and engage in peace talks without precondition, and act in a positive and constructive manner to resolve the conflict.

The head of the African monitors—he said he knows where the government force is; he can—easily monitoring them. But the rebels, they refuse to tell them where are they, or they are not ready to now surrender their weapons.

So although we started to disarm the militia, but when I was in Darfur with Jan Pronk and a Western ambassador, we disarmed more than a thousand. They ask Jan Pronk a question: Who is going to protect us if the rebels are going to continue carrying weapons in villages? Jan Pronk said, "We are going to disarm them, we are going to group them in places outside the village". But still they are there. They are not responding.

MABRY: But after those April agreements, there were still attacks on civilian populations in Darfur.

ISMAIL: The attack is—although it has been reduced dramatically, but some of the attack is due to the rebels themselves. It is—most of these attacks [are] between the rebels and the tribes which do not join the rebels. If you listen to the report of the CFC [Ceasefire Commission], most of those attacks, [are] in tribes which do not join the rebels during the fighting.

MABRY: What kind of support militarily today is the Khartoum government giving those anti-rebel militias, today—military support?

ISMAIL: On the contrary, we started to disarm them.

MABRY: So there's no longer any military support at all? There's no—

ISMAIL: There is no—because we've already—we put our own army and police in Darfur, and we ask the African Union to bring thousands of their forces, police, and monitors to come and to help. So our aim is to come back to normal as quickly as possible. We need a third party. And according to the resolution of the Security Council, this third party should be the African Union.

MABRY: When will that increase of contingency of African Union forces come to Darfur? When do you expect them?

ISMAIL: They said 7th of October they are going to be deployed in Darfur. What we requested [of] them is they can start immediately, and then by the 7th of October then they could complete the full mission. But we need them as quickly as possible. They need logistical support. They need financial support. The international community promised to do so. So how quickly the international community will do it, how quickly they are going to be deployed in Darfur.

MABRY: Do you think there needs to be actually more than the 1,000 or 2,000 AU forces there? Do you think they actually—and that their mandate needs to be increased actually to securing and protecting Sudanese today? Is that necessary? Because you said what the anti-rebel militias say is, "Well, who's going to protect us if we actually disarm?" And the Sudanese government, the implication is from what you're saying, cannot protect its own civilians. So does there need to be a third party that actually will protect, whose mandate is to protect Sudanese civilians?

ISMAIL: I agree with you we need more African monitors—

MABRY: That would go beyond monitors.

ISMAIL: --thousands of them—

MABRY: They'd have a mandate to actually fire back—

ISMAIL: Yeah, yeah. We need to expand their mandate and to give them more mandates, for protection, mandate for checking, mandate for investigating, and yes, they need such mandates.

MABRY: Did you call for that in your talks to the Security Council today?

ISMAIL: I told them that we have no problem to extend the mandate. In fact, in my discussion with the chair of the AU commission a few days ago here, I told him that we have no problem to increase the number and to expand the mandate.

MABRY: You didn't ask for it, but you said Khartoum is fine with doing that.


MABRY: But you didn't request it, per se.

ISMAIL: Increasing the number, we requested.

MABRY: And the mandates?

ISMAIL: Expanding the mandate, we said we are welcoming it. But they should have to decide what sort of mandate they need.

MABRY: What was the message that you delivered to the Security Council today right before you came here?

ISMAIL: There is a problem in Darfur. The government never initiated it, but the government feels it is responsible to bring it back to normal. These problems are three problems: humanitarian, security, political settlement. The government cannot do it alone. We need the help of the international community.

Also, we need the international community to send a correct message to the rebels, because the rebels may feel that the pressure is on one side. I hope many of you they read that article by The Washington Post the day before yesterday, where they mention that the rebels. Because the pressure is on one side, they have no problem even if their citizens, their sons and daughters, fathers, are going to lose their life. Because of the long—and the delay of being serious, they are ready to do so, so that they will trigger the government to respond to them, and the international community to come and to put pressure on the Sudanese government.

So what I ask the Security Council [to do] is to help us so that we will reach to a solution, is to send right message to both sides so that the rebels will be serious to observe cease-fire and to reach to a political settlement.

MABRY: You talk about a comprehensive peace settlement for the entire Sudan, for the entire nation of Sudan. Where are we with regards to the south? A year ago there was great hope that we were close to an agreement between Khartoum and the south, and the SPLA [Sudanese People's Liberation Army]. Why hasn't that happened?

ISMAIL: We're supposed to sign long ago the peace agreement in the south. In fact, in June, in the 5th of June this year, when we signed the Sixth Protocol [to the European Convention on Human Rights], the Sixth Protocol, covering everything, we decided to meet after three weeks in order to discuss annexes, details of the security arrangements and the distribution of power. We thought that will take only two or three weeks, but because of the problem in Darfur, it was postponed. Now we—

MABRY: Who postponed it? Which side postponed it because of Darfur? And why? Why should that make a difference to the agreement?

ISMAIL: For two reasons. First of all, we believe that the rebels in the south, they are involved in what was going on in Darfur. Secondly, the pressure from the international community on the government is to concentrate on Darfur, and that's why we started working on Darfur. Then when we decided to meet, we suggested on the 6th of September, but the mediators, they negotiated with the rebel leader, they decided that it should be on the 7th of October.

MABRY: Mr. Minister, I'm actually going to stop now, just because we have about 20—a little more than 20 minutes left. I have some more questions, but if necessary, I can get those later.

Yes? Right here. Wait for the microphone, please, to come to you. And please state your affiliation, as well, before you state your question.

QUESTIONER: Yes. Jim Traub with The New York Times Magazine. Mr. Minister, I was in Sudan and Chad in early July, and virtually every refugee whom I spoke to at that time told a story of coordinated attacks, with janjaweed forces on the ground and government forces bombing them from the air. And I think that all the U.N. officials whose names you mentioned also take the view that the government has been acting in coordination with the janjaweed. Is it the position of your government that that simply is not so?

ISMAIL: Well, we are not denying that we respond to the rebels, and we attack them, because any responsible government cannot wait until the rebels control an area, maybe even moving to the capitals. This is one.

Secondly, we are not denying that tribes which have been forced and put under pressure and attack from the rebels—we support them to protect themselves.

But janjaweed is different. janjaweed, these are bandits. They are from the different tribes. They are even attacking government authority. The rebels, they are the ones who create a conducive condition for the janjaweed to be active.

QUESTIONER: So the support includes aerial bombardment—the military support that you give?

ISMAIL: Well, aerial bombardment—we did it against the rebels, because the rebels are fighting us. They control five major cities. They attack even the capital of Darfur, Fashir. They destroyed seven buildings on the ground. They get into the army barracks and slaughter 76 from the army officers who are—belong to tribes which have not joined the rebellion. So we have to act.

MABRY: I think that's exactly where the confusion comes in. And many of us in the Western press feel that because, as you said, the rebels are actually located in civilian areas, that the government may not be distinguishing between a civilian area where rebels are and a rebel encampment, for instance, and therefore will be supporting with an aerial bombardment a place where civilians are located.

ISMAIL: I wouldn't deny that, because war is war. Look at what is going on in Iraq, for example. Every day you'll get—children have been killed, women being killed, houses being destroyed. You might get your target right or wrong. So we know when we intervene militarily that there's going to be civilian casualties, because these people are using the civilians as a shelter.

But we put in one or two options: either to keep away and to wait, and then the whole situation will be turned into a civil war, because in Darfur, there are 80 different tribes, and weapons are widely distributed in Darfur because of the instability on our neighbors and because the same tribes here, they are also [spread among] our neighbors. So we said either we should keep silent and then it will turn to a civil war, or we should intervene, but the results are going to be humanitarian causalities. But we thought that if we intervene, it will be under better control, so intervene. We might—our using of forces in some times in certain areas been mistaken attacks on civilians, yes, that could be. We are not denying that. But we have been forced to face such situation.

MABRY: Yes, right here. Wait for the mike, please.

QUESTIONER: Mia Bloom, University of Cincinnati. Could you comment, please, on the use of rape in Darfur? There was a Los Angeles Times article on the 15th [of September] which quoted one of the U.N. monitors on the ground saying that hundreds of women are being raped every week. It also appears that the victims are Muslims, the perpetrators are Muslims. It almost appears like a form of fitna. So I was hoping you could maybe discuss this a little bit more.

MABRY: I wonder if you can explain fitna briefly for us?

QUESTIONER: Muslim against Muslim; it's sort of the worst-case scenario for a Muslim country.

MABRY: Thank you.

ISMAIL: Look, I would like to admit that the situation is not normal. We are faced with a very complicated situation. We are not—we are doing our best in order to investigate all these cases, and we are doing the necessary measurement that it should be done. This is one. But we shouldn't have also to forget that those people, some of them are traumatized, but others are politicized, because when we defeated the rebels, they put down their arms and joined the cause.

You could imagine, four weeks ago we discovered a cell in Darfur; in this cell, the rebels they are preparing a room, and in this room they are bringing six girls or women, and then they are bringing six men wearing military clothes of the Sudanese Army, and then they are making a videotape about sexual activities. And then they are distributing these videos saying that this is what the militia, supported by the government of Sudan and the Sudanese Army, are doing. We—

MABRY: Mr. Minister, you're not saying that rape is not happening, though, by the militia themselves, are you?

ISMAIL: So what we did, we arrested them. They admit. We handed them to the delegation from the [U.N.] Human Rights Committee in Geneva who are there to investigate. They admit that they have been paid to do so by the rebels.

The rebel—a woman also with 12 children. The rebels ask her to kill one of her 12 children, and they told her it is words to say: the child was killed by the militia supported by the government.

So there is wide politicization of the issue. But I'm not saying that there is no cases of rapes and harassment by whether militia or by the janjaweed. We arrested more than 300 of these janjaweed and the militia. They are—some of them, they have been facing a very difficult and hard sentences, hard sentences like, for example, cutting the arm and the leg, which is very severe punishment. Some of them, they've been sentenced to death. And we are still—whenever we receive any report, we are putting it in front of court.

But for more transparency, we ask the African Union to put some of their monitors inside the camps, outside the camps to receive reports from the IDPs and to investigate. This is going to be one of the new mandates for the African Union monitors.

MABRY: Yes, right here up front.

QUESTIONER: Mr. Foreign Minister, my name is Roland Paul. I'm a lawyer; in years gone by, I was on the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

I believe you've had—I may be wrong about this—on and off talks with the rebels, I think in Nigeria, toward a settlement. In general terms and to the extent you could tell, what are the major issues that keep you apart? And to what extent maybe the settlement which you sort of have between the north and the south, why can't that be replicated between the sides in Darfur?

ISMAIL: Thank you very much. That—I assure you that what we signed in the south, in Naivasha, it will not only settle the problem between north and south; it will help a lot to settle many problems in the north, like what—for example, in Naivasha we settled the issue of power distribution. We decided that in each—first of all, the system of government which is going to happen is going to be multiparty system. And the first task of the interim period, a general election is going to take place and to be supervised internationally. Whatever party is going to have the majority, they are going to control the government—the federal government, and they should take into consideration also the representation of the different states.

Secondly, for the time being now we have only one house. We decided according to Naivasha to introduce another house. This house, the upper house, which is going to be representative from the states. So we're going to have two houses.

Thirdly, also in Naivasha, we decided that each state is going to have a wide system of government, where in each state the governor, the parliament, [and] the government of the state is going to be elected by the people of the state. So each state is going to run its own economical affairs, social affairs, and security affairs, and the federal government is going to be responsible for defense, maybe foreign policy, and planning. So you can see what we agreed on Naivasha. It is going to be a model for the whole Sudan.

Secondly, distribution of wealth. In Naivasha in detail we agreed what's going to be the share of the state, what's going to be the share of the federal government, what is going to be shared between both the federal government and the state government. In Naivasha we endorsed that the human rights standard in the Sudan is going to be the international one, and this is going to be applied all over Sudan.

So when the rebels start this fighting, we urge them, you don't need it, because what we agreed in Naivasha is going to be applied. And if you want more, we could establish a foundation for recovery and rehabilitation, specifically for Darfur like what we did for the south, what we are going to do for the south. We said we could go even further, how we could incorporate them in the security and in the political system until the election will take place.

So this is answering the second question, how Naivasha could be helpful in settling the whole problem of the Sudan. What was the first question?

QUESTIONER: Well, why don't the rebels—apparently the rebels don't accept that as a satisfactory solution.

MABRY: What do they want, he's saying. What do they—

ISMAIL: The rebels think that unless they will—took arms and force the government and join—because in Naivasha, besides the south, there are the three areas: the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, and Abyei.

So the rebels being advised by Eritrea, whom—they have their training camps there—that they should as quickly as possible create a situation, a de facto situation, that the government has to deal with it. So that's why the rebels, they decided to took arms, to take arms, and to fight the government. So we have no way but to respond to them.

Now part of the reason why they are reluctant to come—we start the first negotiation in early summer. And at that time, there is a draft resolution here in the Security Council. They met in that month, and they decided that as long as there is a draft resolution which is threatening sanctions on the government, we should not give the gate or the way for the government. So the United States issued a statement—you can get it here—they held them responsible for the failure of Addis Ababa agreement because they put preconditions; secondly, because they attended with a very low representation.

Now the second round of talks was in Nigeria on the 23rd of August. When we met there, we agreed on the agenda. This is going to be for the humanitarian, the political, the—no, the humanitarian, the security, the political, and the economy. We agreed on the agenda. We endorsed the agenda. We start on the humanitarian issue. We settle it down. We are about to sign it and then to move to the security agenda.

Then a new draft has been put in front of the Security Council. When they discovered this draft again threatening the government, they refused even to sign the humanitarian protocol which—they agreed on it, waiting for the result of the draft resolution in the Security Council.

Now President Obasanjo said he's going to call for a meeting on the 21st of October. The government will go. President Obasanjo, when he addressed the Security Council, the Security Council asked them what do—asked him, "What do you want us [to do] to help you?" He said one thing: "Stop giving wrong message to different parties that one government is supporting the rebels while the other is supporting the government. Leave it for me, so that I will put the necessary pressure and reach to an agreement." I hope in the next round of the negotiations they will get balanced message so that we will reach to a final settlement.

MABRY: Right here, second row.

QUESTIONER: Thank you, Mr. Foreign Minister. Chaka Ferguson, Associated Press. My question is, the U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan, has called the situation in Darfur one of the world's or the world's most—humanitarian crisis, the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Also the European Union and the U.S. Department of State have also weighed in on this situation as well. Today you said that the situation is not as bad in Darfur as has been reported in the media. What's the disconnect here? Do you think that there are biases from these organizations against your country? Is it a specter of Rwanda? Or do you think that your government may be painting—painting a picture that may be rosier than reality?

ISMAIL: Well, some of them, they said, without describing the situation as worse as possible, the donors will not come back quickly. So they directly tell us we have to put it in this way so that the donors will come back as quickly as possible and give the necessary support.

Secondly, I'm not denying that there's no humanitarian crisis in Darfur. There is, as long as we have hundreds of thousands of IDPs and we have hundreds of thousands of refugees. There is a humanitarian crisis. What I am saying is that we are doing our best.

It did not find the necessary acknowledgment or acceptance from the international community. Still the international community has the impression that the government is not cooperating, while not—this is not the way. In Darfur alone now we have 60 international NGOs. We have all U.N. agencies. We have, oh, three groups of human right monitors from Geneva. We open it [to] anyone. Anyone who wants a visa to go to Darfur, the entry visa is an entry visa for Darfur.

So for the media, we open it for those from the world to go and to report. You could notice one thing. Those journalists who they will go and stay in Darfur for a couple of weeks, they start to know the reality in Darfur, like the report which has been the day before yesterday in The Washington Post. The report of today also in The Washington Post, where they said that not only African tribes, in fact, even Arabs they have been attacked, so is it not racial.

So for us, the only way is to open Darfur for media, for donors, for NGOs, whether national, whether from the region or from the international community.

MABRY: Mora, right up here, front row. And then we'll go back to the back row.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Mora McLean from the Africa America Institute. Your Excellency, in your reference to the talks in Naivasha, you talked about a federalized system serving as a model in the north that would potentially apply to the rest of the country. What about the idea of autonomy, a period of autonomy for southern Sudan in a secular state?

ISMAIL: For the south of Sudan, besides that autonomy, we agreed on two things: that in the south, it's going to be secular or whatever laws they are going to apply. This is one. Secondly, after six years of interim period, there is going to be a referendum; the southerners have the right to stay within the rest of Sudan or to secede and to have their own independent state.

MABRY: Right in the back there.

QUESTIONER: Good afternoon, Mr. Minister. My name is Stephen Kass. I'm a member of a law firm of Carter, Ledyard and Millburn.

MABRY: Sorry about that. This is why we always ask at Council meetings—

QUESTIONER: When you referred to the several hundred thousand internally displaced persons, the IDPs, Human Rights Watch and others have said that it was not an accident of war that those people have been displaced, but was in fact a coordinated campaign by the government and the janjaweed forces together. If the government is serious that this was a tragedy that it wished to avoid, what actions will the government commit to permit those people to come home, have their villages rebuilt, and resume a secure life with adequate international police protection so that the government and its allies do not have the benefit of the campaign that can be described either as ethnic cleansing or as genocide?

ISMAIL: Our policy is that each tribe, each individual should go back to his or its original village or home. Yesterday I had a long meeting with assistant secretary for humanitarian affairs. As I told you, in the stage which you are working for, stage three is recovery, rehabilitation, and voluntary repatriation. We signed an agreement with IOM, the International Organization for Migration, with the U.N. coordinator in Khartoum.

In our meeting yesterday, we decided immediately when I go—will go back to Khartoum, we will hold a meeting, including beside this the UNHCR [U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees], the [U.N.] High Commissioner of Human Rights, WFP [World Food Program], UNICEF, ICRC [International Committee for the Red Cross] and other concerned organizations, together with the government of Sudan. And we start planning how we could encourage these people to go back.

The first thing we will do is that we will ask—because now you will get that there is an increasing in the displaced people. In each camp, the numbers are increasing.

The secretary-general, the day before yesterday, he told me: "I have report that the number in the camps are increasing." But at the same time, when I ask why, they told me because the situation in the camps becomes much, much better than the situation in the village.

That's why we said: OK, if we want to reverse the situation, what we need is, first of all, to ask the WFP to have a food center in the area which you want them, the IDPs, to go back home, and then UNICEF to start rehabilitating the schools, and then WHO [the World Health Organization] to start rehabilitating the hospitals, together with the Sudanese authorities. And then we'll bring African monitors to be around, together with the Sudanese police. And then we need also a political message from the international community to the IDPs that now their villages are ready; they've got to go home. The same service which they are going to receive it here, they are going to receive it there.

So through this program, then, we are going to encourage them. Otherwise, they will say, "We will not go back unless we make sure that we are going to have security," but also—because we ask them, "Suppose we provide you with the necessary security," that—what my colleagues who are with me from the Western embassies in Khartoum—"suppose we provide you with the necessary security. Are you ready to go?" They said, "No, unless we will know that the same services which are delivered here, they are going to be delivered in the village."

So this is our program. It's the third stage. We want to do it with the international community, so that it will not appear as if we are forcing them to go back in a non-voluntary repatriation or so.

MABRY: If I can just ask the indulgence of the audience and of the minister, by Council tradition, we would be done now, but I will, if you will allow, Mr. Minister, take one more question from the audience. We'll go all the way to the back, since we started late.


QUESTIONER: I'm Jonathan Wachtel with Fox News. Mr. Minister, a question. There's a dark cloud, obviously, hanging over Sudan over Darfur, but there's another issue that we haven't addressed tonight, and that is that your country, sir, is on a list of countries that sponsor terrorism. Can you address that issue, please?

ISMAIL: We—Sudan was put on sanctions by the Security Council on this matter of supporting terrorism. We start cooperating and coordinating with the American authorities. To the extent that at the time immediately after the 11th of September, where President Bush is waging war against terrorism and international alliance of fighting terrorists, at that time the Security Council decided to lift the sanctions been imposed on the government of Sudan. And maybe you heard also the secretary of state, a few months ago, they took the Sudan name out of the list of the countries that are not cooperating in fighting of terrorism. So we, in fact, feel that we are in a position that our name should be taken completely from the list. But they said that link was reaching to an agreement in Naivasha in the south. So we are waiting for that.

But you should know that for more than four years, all the different security organs of the United States are there basically—they are there in Khartoum cooperating with the Sudanese authorities not only inside Sudan, but also in the region and internationally.

MABRY: Mr. Minister, thank you very much for joining us this evening. Thank you all for attending, ladies and gentlemen.

ISMAIL: Thank you. [Applause.]








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