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‘No ethnic cleansing in Sudan, it’s all a lie’

ASIAN AGE -- APRIL 6, 2004

- By Siddhartha Kumar

Amidst reports that Sudan faces the world’s gravest humanitarian and human rights catastrophe, a representative of Africa’s largest nation to India, Sudan ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem, dismisses reports that ethnic cleansing of the non-Arab population is under way in the country’s western province of Darfur. He asserts that the Sudanese have fled from Darfur into neighbouring Chad owing to a prolonged drought and atrocities perpetrated by armed bandits. Sudan will have "good news to tell the world" in a matter of few days, he told Siddhartha Kumar, as his government should successfully conclude a peace agreement with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement rebels. This will put an end to their decades-long guerilla war against the Sudan government.

Q: Ambassador, there are reports of killings and ethnic cleansing in Western Sudan. Could you give us a sense of the situation as it is on the ground?

A: There is no ethnic cleansing. At a time when Sudan is consolidating its democratic institutions and the unity of its diverse peoples, a handful of NGOs are destabilising our region by telling lies.

Q: UN representatives have said there is a genocide under way in Darfur comparable to the 1994 Rwandan genocide in terms of human rights abuses. There are hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing into Chad. What exactly is happening in Darfur?

A: The reports are malicious and false. We don’t need those who turned their back during the Rwandan crisis to give us lectures on moral science. These are the same people who were the backbone of apartheid in South Africa. We have made it clear to the UN Secretary-General not to take at face value the reports of NGOs providing such baseless information.

The truth is Darfur has suffered from a prolonged drought for the last decade. Owing to meagre resources, there has been an emergence of armed bandits, who are terrorising local people, robbing them of their property and causing the dislocation into Chad.

It is basically a question of conflict over resources in an area affected by prolonged drought.

And this law-and-order problem is localised; it is not widespread. It affects only 5 out of 23 municipalities in Greater Darfur.

Q: What steps are being taken to deal with the crisis?

A: Restoring peace and addressing grievances are the top-most priority for our government. Chad is now hosting talks between those carrying arms and the government, and the immediate goal is to achieve a ceasefire and provide humanitarian assistance to the needy.

Q: What is the status of talks with the SPLA/M?

A: The government is busy concluding the peace agreement with SPLA/M rebels in the South. At the moment, meetings are continuing in Kenya, under the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development initiative. Not a single bullet has so far violated the cessation of hostilities. All major issues have been addressed, and now a few more issues remain after which a final agreement will be signed.

Though this is a conflict, which began two years before Sudan’s independence in 1956, the world will hear about the announcement of a peace agreement in the next few weeks.

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