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Sudanís U.S. Ambassador Says Darfur Crisis Exaggerated

Interviewee: John Ukec Lueth Ukec
Interviewer: Robert McMahon, Editor
June 5, 2007

Sudan’s ambassador to the United States, John Ukec Lueth Ukec, was a member of the rebellion in his country’s South until the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 ended decades of civil war. Now, as part of the National Unity Government created in the deal, Ukec defends Khartoum’s policy in Darfur. Ukec denies his government supports militias that continue to attack civilians in Darfur, says the splintering of rebel groups complicates the peace process, and that added U.S. and other sanctions only hamper the government’s efforts to prepare for crucial national elections at the end of next year.

What are the prospects for the deployment of a hybrid UN-AU force in Darfur in the near future?

According to my government’s stance on this issue, we have already agreed that a support group of about three thousand [international peacekeeping personnel] is going to go to Darfur. That is a given. It is already done. What remains is for the UN and the African Union to get involved, so that member countries provide the necessary [logistical help]. I don’t think that there is any argument over what we have already agreed.

This is the heavy support package that was discussed…

This is part of the heavy support package. After that, there is the third phase whereby the maximum number of troops would be allowed in.

Your government agreed to that back in April and we’re in June now. It’s not clear when this package or this initial force will deploy. What is holding up the deployment?

It is not the Sudanese job to go to neighboring friends and countries of the African Union and the UN asking for the troops to be brought. It is the system of the UN and the African Union who are responsible for asking their member countries to contribute troops which they then deploy. I believe I read in one of the papers that the UN was talking about four to six months. Just to provide this three thousand. So it is not our fault the troops have not been deployed. There are no orders from my governments preventing the deployment. After all, these guys, these troops are coming in as support. They are coming to support the African Union peacekeeping force, and if Sudan goes around asking individual countries to be the one, then it will be considered biased. It is up to the UN to do the job, it is not us.

On announcing new sanctions, U.S. officials said it is not only a question of this UN hybrid force, but also government moves to help disarm the Janjaweed, to not attack rebel groups trying to help set up peace talks, to help ease the space in which humanitarian groups can operate. They say that Sudan has not shown good faith in any of these areas. How do you reply to that?

I think it is not true. We are working hard. It is not easy to disarm the rebels. The Janjaweed [Arab militias] are rebels and they are bandits, they are not part of the government of national unity. We do not have full control of them, just like we know in the United States they have not been able to stop the violence from the rebels and the militias in Iraq. We have the same problem, too.

It’s not easy to disarm a group of war rebels. It’s not easy. We are trying our best, and we are trying it politically. It is not any different from 170,000 troops which are in Iraq. Have they been able to disarm those people in the last four years?

At the same time there were some reports emerging from the UN that Sudanese government aircraft were directly delivering arms to militias that were carrying out attacks in Darfur.

That is a blatant lie. It has never happened. It’s not true. These are exaggerations or things which are being made up just so that Sudan looks bad so that sanctions get applied. There are a lot of lies going around. The Sudan government does not have the opportunity to continue with escalation of war. We have been in every capital in our neighboring countries—Chad, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea—all countries that can bring a dialogue between us and the rebels. We know that no number of arms will ever resolve these things. We are the first to know that. And that’s why my government agreed with the South and established the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). My government has also gone forward and made peace with those in the East who are fighting us, and the largest group of the rebels in Darfur. We already made peace with them. We are in a process of peace. These developments have not been seen by the media and the rest of the world.

A number of experts say there’s concern that the peace with the South, the CPA, could itself be adversely affected by the Darfur situation. They say that perhaps it would be helpful to revisit the CPA to include some power-sharing that involves the Darfur factions. What is your stance on that?

The Janjaweed [Arab militias] are rebels and they are bandits, they are not part of the government of national unity. We do not have full control of them, just like we know in the United States they have not been able to stop the violence from the rebels and the militias in Iraq.

I don’t think that the CPA needs to be revisited. If we go back and open the door again on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, that is going to be a disaster. The problem now is a tiny problem in the west, which has [been involved in conflict for] four years, is overshadowing a war that lasted fifty years, with meaningful differences between North and South [a conflict pitting the Muslim North against a population in the South that was mostly Christian and animist]. The people in Darfur are Muslims, they speak Arabic, they have Arab culture, they are dedicated to all the ways Arabs do things. There is no reason why that is comparable to the South. To open this Comprehensive Peace Agreement is a disaster. Five million people died in the South, ten million displaced, fifty years of war—are these comparable to four years?

The fact is that Darfur is starting to approach the numbers that you had in the South. 2.5 million people have been displaced or are refugees, and there are concerns about violence spreading across the border to Chad and the Central African Republic. This is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. It’s because of what has been described as “scorched earth” policy involving numerous villages. So it is still, even by Sudanese standards, quite a big crisis.

I do not say that there is no suffering in Darfur. I never said that. I do not say that nobody dies in Darfur. I didn’t say that no rape is taking place in Darfur. All these things happened in the South, and I saw it by myself when I was there. But I am saying the Comprehensive Peace Agreement is the only way of solving problems all over Sudan. And it is being undermined now by the sanctions on Sudan.

So let me get this straight. You’re saying that the CPA should be seen as the basis for pacifying the rest of Sudan. You’re saying Darfur should be handled by a separate peace agreement?

No. I say Darfur, if we abide by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, [the] Darfur situation will be automatically resolved. And let me say why. First of all, this year the CPA says we have a census. Next year, by the end of next year, by the time the United States is having its presidential election, we are also about to have our [national and regional] elections. When those elections come up, there will be free elections. These free elections will give the people of Darfur the right to have a choice. Choose the right person to rule them—they will have their local, states, elections. If they want to be a region, they will have an alliance among themselves, the three states. All the potentials of democracy are in this Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

I am not a terrorist. I am not. I am here for peaceful solutions of problems.

Now if we say, okay, let us put sanctions on the Khartoum government, or the government of National Unity, how will government of national unity be able to [organize] the entire country, to make unity attractive, when you tie up their hands, and at the same time you say they will perform? It is not going to happen.

Is the government interested at this point in pursuing talks with the rebel factions in Darfur?

We are. We are, and you know, in the last two weeks alone, how many places have my [country’s] leadership gone? The minister of foreign affairs, Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin, the president of Sudan, Omar Bashir, they have been to Saudi Arabia, they have been to Yemen, they have been to Chad, they have been to Tripoli—the last one, they left yesterday [June 3] from Tripoli. There have been so many initiatives. And they have never refused to meet with those people. The first vice president and the president of Southern Sudan, his Excellency Salva Kiir Miyardit, has been working day and night. He has also appointed an envoy to meet with those rebels. But there is this splintering. As early as last year there were only three major groups. Now there are fifteen or more. Sometimes people say nineteen. Every night there is another splinter group coming out. When we made the agreement with the government of Sudan, we had one leader, one voice agreed upon. How can you make peace with people who are like that?

You described a chaotic situation with the rebels and the Janjaweed. We heard last night [June 3] the Democratic presidential candidates, a number of them saying they would support a no-fly zone over Darfur. What about that kind of approach to rein in these groups that are apparently becoming increasingly lawless and disrupting a peace process?

A no-fly zone is a bad recipe. I was a rebel, and you know, the planes that flew over my camps or shot never did anything to us because we would go to bunkers, hide, and you know the type of planes that Sudan has are all old Antonovs that you can hear over long distances—the warning, and everybody is in the shelter. The flying is not an issue because the war which is being fought is only being fought with small arms. It’s not with planes. The Sudanese Army doesn’t have any planes. Why would people be talking about that?

Well, helicopter gunships, things like that.

We have never been applying helicopter gunships, because it is a waste of resources. You can kill a helicopter with a small bullet rather than a bazooka. And no one can be searching guerillas with a helicopter gunship, it is not possible. Helicopters are very vulnerable to weapons like anti-aircraft and things like that. We don’t need to do that. We are really not on the offensive. We are only on the defensive. Those who are fighting now are the rebels. We have no reason to fight, you know, we are only at self-defense. They attack our garrisons, they attack convoys, they attack innocent civilians, and they intimidate everybody.

You have been nicknamed “Khartoum Karl” by the Washington Post.

That is very unfortunate that they call me that. I am involved in building peace. Now I don’t know why somebody who comes here to build relationships between the United States and Sudan would be called Karl of Khartoum. I am not a terrorist. I am not. I am here for peaceful solutions of problems.

Who do you talk to in the US government? Do you talk to members of Congress?

I am limited to talk to the Sudan desk [of the State Department]. I have asked to talk to [Deputy Secretary of State John] Negroponte. He has not accepted talking to me. I have asked to see the [congressional] Black Caucus leader, [Rep.] Donald Payne, (D-NJ), who was one of our friends when we were working on the Sudan Peace Act. I used to come and stay in his office. I remember so many times when television crews came and taped my word from his office. He cannot see me because I am an officer of the government of national unity. I do not understand these people.

A number of analysts say that the government of Sudan—Khartoum, the Bashir government—only responds after consistent regular pressure. And isn’t that in fact what you say in the South, dealing with the South-North conflict? That eventually, pressure yields action.

Well, during the South-North conflict, the North was, in its own way, trying to prevent any war in the entire country. It is not comparable to now. This is exactly that point which is missed by most of the people. And that is the one that perplexed me. It perplexes me because we have a government of national unity. That government of national unity, of thirty or more ministers, at least half of them—they are not from a National Congress Party. These people in the government, the SPLM alone, have eight senior ministers in the government of national unity.

The rest of the world is still working three years ago. They think the Sudan of nowadays is still the Sudan of Bashir without us joining the movement.

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