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June/July 2006
A Rebel Walks out for Peace
The Satya Interview with Tadjadine Bechir Niame

 

Tadjadine Bechir Niame with his sister, niece and nephew. Photo by Wan Park

After the April 30th rally in Washington to save Darfur, the U.S. sent Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick to observe the peace negotiations in Abuja, Nigeria. On May 5, 2006, the government of Sudan and one faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), led by Minni Minawi, signed the Darfur Peace Agreement drafted by the African Union. The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the other faction of the SLM, led by Abdelwahid Muhamed El Nur, however, walked out.

Representatives of all the rebel groups came to the U.S. after the talks in Abuja to explain to politicians, universities, NGOs, individuals, and Darfurians in exile, what the agreement means to the people of Darfur and why they took the stance that they did.

It’s not every day that you get to speak to a rebel or learn what goes on behind the scenes at the negotiation table at peace accords. Sangamithra Iyerhad a chance to spend a morning with Tadjadine Bechir Niame, Deputy Secretary of Humanitarian Reconstruction and Permanent Representative to the African Union of Justice and Equality Movement, where he explained why he walked out for peace.

You represent the Justice and Equality Movement in Sudan. Your group refused to sign the most recent peace agreement in Nigeria. Can you explain why?
Well, you need to have some background. Sudan is a country [made up of] six regions—the North, South, East, Center, Darfur and Kordofan. Darfur constitutes 20 percent of the Sudanese population. Our brothers to the north—who are only five percent of the population—have inherited the power from the British, and they have continued imposing their will and dominance on the rest of Sudan for the last 50 years. We work very hard to make them understand that we should share power as well as wealth, but they have resisted just like any minority clinging to power. At the moment, President Omar El Bashir, the vice president and the assistant president are from the North. The key ministers—of defense, finance and petrol—are from the North. So you find internal colonization from the North to the rest of the states of Sudan.

That’s why people in the South were at war for almost the last 50 years and have only signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement last July. The people in the East are now in the process of having peace talks. People in Darfur are fighting. People in Kordofan are fighting. People in the Center are fighting. The only region with no fighting is the North, and even there, there are some problems.

With this background, we the people of Darfur came out to eradicate political, economic and social marginalization, and [hope to] make our people enjoy full rights and full duties on an equal level with rest of Sudan. That is the main objective of this movement.

After [the talks in Abuja] with the African Union and observers from the international community, the agreement produced is far from addressing the real concerns and interests of our people. It does not address the root causes of the conflict and was not the result of a negotiation between the parties. That is a big problem. That is why the Justice Equality Movement rejected it.

We have been telling the world the Sudan government cannot disarm the Janjaweed because they are the Janjaweed. They finance it, they control it, they command it and they support it.

Can you talk a bit more about your demands?
We have divided our team into three commissions: power sharing, wealth sharing and security.

In 1994, this government divided Darfur into three states to undermine the identity and the culture of the people, to make the states fight among themselves and weaken the influence of the region. They even cut part of our region and annexed it to the North. One key reason our people are fighting is we want to reunite Darfur by having a regional government that enjoys executive, legislative and judicial powers. We have been asking the power of the states to be given to the people and proper representation in the capital, Khartoum. This was completely ignored.

On the issue of wealth sharing, the first thing we ask is compensation. The government, supported by the Janjaweed, intentionally inflicted damage on whole villages. Reconciliation based on compensation: that is tradition, that is culture and that is part of our believing. We have been calling for a commission where everybody who claims that his property was stolen or destroyed, should be compensated.

Reconstruction is a priority. [We ask] that 6.5 percent of the national income be set aside for the reconstruction, rehabilitation and development of Darfur. The government is rejecting it.

In [terms of] security, the people of Darfur aren’t properly represented in the army. Had we been properly represented, we wouldn’t have been killed in the manner in which we were. To make the balance, we ask for the retaining of the movement forces during the transitional period, because we cannot make sure that the government is going to implement whichever agreement we are going to reach unless we have some guarantees. Our forces should be trained properly and at the end of the transitional period they will be integrated into the army with different ranks. We want entry into military colleges because they produce officers.

We have called for reformation. The Janjaweed have been absorbed in the army and border police. We want them removed, and unconditionally and immediately disarmed. Although [the] UN Security Council has issued [several resolutions calling for disarmament], the Sudanese government hasn’t disarmed them.

We have been telling the world the Sudan government cannot disarm the Janjaweed because they are the Janjaweed. They finance it, they control it, they command it and they support it.

So the current peace agreement does not address your demands?
The AU and the international community have produced a document that they know we are not going to sign. In terms of compensation, they gave a very loose term, because it is written in a language that nobody understands. [Shows marked up draft document text and reads], “The government of Sudan shall support the compensation fund by making contributions into it.” What is this? There is no timetable, [no indication of] how much, no modalities, no implementation mechanism and no guarantees. Establishment of the region is not there. Compensation of the people is not there. Reconstruction is not there. Representation of people in the presidency and vice presidency and civil services is not there. This is not an agreement.

If you go over the whole thing, you will find every word is giving goodwill to the government. We are working with a government that doesn’t honor its commitments.

By signing this agreement we are legitimizing the dominance of the North on our people. Now someone from the North can say to my son, ‘your father signed this, that is what you deserve.’ This agreement is going to be part of our constitution. So we are constitutionalizing the marginalization of Darfur. That is why we say no.

Have you had a lot of pressure from the U.S. government to sign the agreement?
The U.S. has contributed a lot in the beginning, as a government, as a media, as NGOs, in general. The U.S. was the first country to analyze and confirm the genocide that is taking place. But here in this process, they try to make a really quick peace, and by putting pressure on the parties, they did not address the root causes.

We, the JEM and SLM, have a joint position and made the necessary amendments in the text that address the root causes of the problem in Darfur and presented that copy. The AU insisted that this is a take it or leave it document. They said they are not going to add even a comma.

When we sat with Mr. Zoellick, he said [checks his notepad], “Finding solutions is difficult, but it is not impossible, indeed it is possible. People of Darfur need recognition, you want to participate in the central government, and you want compensation.” That is all our demands. But the AU refused to accept any amendment. When Mr. Zoellick and Mr. Hillary [Benn, UK Secretary of State for International Development] came, they made amendments, but did not go far enough. They made reasonable amendments in the security, but in terms of power and wealth sharing, none of them. We strongly believe that unless you solve the problem politically, socially and economically, it doesn’t make any sense.

They [the AU and the Nigerian president] have made very considerable harassments. They are saying you will be responsible for the consequences if you don’t sign it. We will make people believe you are part of the problem. We will confiscate your passports. You will be taken to International Criminal Court (ICC). These are the threats. They beat the table with their hands. They really create an environment of terror.

Only one faction of SLM signed. If you go to the net, you will find that the political advisor to Minni Minawi, the man who signed, said he signed under direct intimidation. We believe that threatening will not solve any crisis. Even if you take my passport, that is not the end of the problem.

You left the talks and came to the U.S. What is your purpose here?
We are coming to tell the people in the U.S. the nature of the agreement and why we refuse to sign. We are telling them a partial peace is not a peace.

People are very sympathetic to Darfur, but they are sympathetic from the point of view of the humanitarian [crisis]. But unless you address the root causes, the humanitarian situation cannot be resolved. If you want to make the IDPs and refugees go back to their homes, unless you address the root causes nobody will go. That is why, after signing this agreement, all the political parties in Sudan rejected this agreement. Secondly, all the university students were protesting. Six IDPs were killed. At the moment we are speaking the IDPs and refugees are demonstrating.

We want to sign; we want to have a peace. We (JEM) are now giving two options: We are either going to convene another round of talks, which is very difficult, or we call for a small session—three to five people from the movements, with their leaders in the presence of the U.S., UN and AU—to make decisions on the most hot areas: compensation, reconstruction of Darfur, balance of power, and having regional identity.

In recent times, the violence has spread to Chad. Does the agreement address that?
It is part of exporting the problems. Now the world is coming with a very strong voice to disarm the Janjaweed. The Sudan government considers Darfur and Chad as the same battlefield. If they manage to topple the government in Chad, then they will be able to export the Janjaweed to Chad. They will be relieved of their responsibility of disarming them because they are not in their country. It is far better for us and the government to find a practical solution to the crisis, rather than to destabilize other countries and export the Janjaweed.

What are your thoughts on the AU, UN or NATO involvement with disarmament or keeping peace? People have been saying if there is a peace that is signed it can be a pathway to get UN troops there to observe the peace.
This is also lack of information. Troops do not bring peace in any country. Many countries, when their population and their people rally, instead of trying to be patient and address the causes, they will just rush in. They will also risk losing their lives, which is not good.

The UN and other superpowers should try to make a peace. Peace itself is more important than sending troops. You cannot impose peace. You can send troops to Darfur or anywhere in the world but the troops cannot bring peace.

We are behind the sending of troops to protect the civilians but, more importantly, we want a just peace. You don’t need many troops if there is a peace in Darfur. Also part of the peace should be justice. JEM has been saying continuously, let those criminals, not only from the government and the Janjaweed, but also from the [rebel] movements, go to the ICC.

What happens in 10 days, with the May 31st deadline?
It is the next deadline to sign. They are going to endorse the document, and going to make recommendations for the UN Security Council to make sanctions on the parties who do not sign—another form of intimidation.

In the U.S. now, there are members of the JEM and SLM, those who signed and those who didn’t. You are working together here?
Yeah, we are all working together to see the people. They themselves say that the agreement is far from acceptable. We are friends; we have been fighting together. We carried out the whole negotiation together. Only in signing, we resisted and they could not resist.

One thing that is growing in the U.S. is a divestment movement. What are your thoughts about divesting from Sudan?
All the free world should fight to topple this government. We have to take them to the court [ICC] because they are killers. The only solution is to give the rights of people. Insist on a fair election. A government not a result of a ballot box is not a fair government.

The government depends on economics of course. [Divesting] is an important function by making the government feel that its practices are known by the world.

What message do you want to convey to Americans?

To make them understand the real problem—why people in Darfur are fighting. We are trying to explain the agreement did not give the minimal rights to the people of Darfur. We are meeting with Senate, state department, Save Darfur coalition and members of our community here, to make them understand what kind of document was produced, why it was produced, how it was presented, but also make recommendations on how we can breach this divide—what we can do to avoid more bloodshed.

 


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