Darfur will be free of rebellion within weeks, says Sudan’s Bashir
KHARTOUM // Sudan is within weeks of putting an end to a civil war that has ravaged the region for 13 years, president Omar Al Bashir claimed in an interview with The National, adding that government forces have surrounded the last remnants of rebels in the remote western region of Darfur.
“Within this month, Darfur will be free of rebellion,” Mr Al Bashir said.
The government had crushed and scattered two of the three main rebel groups in Darfur and was now laying siege to the third group – the Sudan Liberation Army – in the mountainous Jebel Marra region in the centre of Darfur, according to Mr Al Bashir.
“The military is undertaking widespread operations in Jebel Marra. It has managed to secure all the areas of Jebel Marra except for one,” he said. “The army has it under siege.”
Government forces launched a major offensive against Darfur rebels in Jebel Marra in January.
Between then and March 11, more than 105,000 people were displaced by the fighting, according to a report by the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (Unamid), which was assigned with peacekeeping in the area in 2007.
Another 30,000 are estimated to have been displaced in the following weeks.
The Darfur civil war, which broke out in 2003, initially pitted farmers who mainly speak Nilo-Saharan languages against Arabic-speaking herdsmen.
Human rights organisations accused the government of arming the Arabic-speaking tribes at the expense of the non-Arab tribes, a charge denied by the government.
Mr Al Bashir said the government has largely regained control.
“We can say that the security situation in Darfur has stabilised to a very large degree. We don’t say it is 100 per cent, but we say that more than 80 per cent is stable. What remains are some outlaws,” Mr Al Bashir told The National at his private residence in Khartoum.
He claimed the remaining pocket of resistance was at Sarong, which lies 90 kilometres east of Zalingei, the capital of the state of Central Darfur.
“The military knows how many people there are, how many weapons they have, because lots of people want to flee from the besieged area,” Mr Al Bashir said.
“They give them detailed information on what is happening inside Sarong.”
Mr Al Bashir had just returned to Khartoum from a gruelling five-day tour of Darfur’s five provinces – his first trip there in a year – where he held rallies to urge people to lay down their arms and promised major government investment in health, education and infrastructure. The tour was a demonstration of renewed security in the region.
The president also said he plans to step down in 2020 when his current term ends, saying that his job was exhausting. He came to power in 1989 after ousting the government of prime minister Sadiq Al Mahdi in a bloodless military coup.
The war in Darfur has taken a huge toll on the civilian population, with some humanitarian organisations estimating that 2.5 million people have been displaced. Mr Al Bashir, however, said those numbers were exaggerated.
International organisations have accused Sudan of gross human right abuses in its conduct of the war.
Mr Al Bashir himself was accused by the International Criminal Court at The Hague of indirectly perpetrating extermination, forcible transfer, torture and rape. The ICC has also accused him of two counts of war crimes, including intentionally targeting civilians.
Mr Al Bashir has denied all those charges, saying they are politically motivated.
The court issued a warrant for his arrest in 2009, the first sitting president to have been indicted.
Mr Al Bashir said his government did not support the killing of civilians or their displacement from their homes, and denied charges that it allowed the rape of women.
“Yes, there are tribal conflicts, and these tribal conflicts are not confined to Arab tribes against the other tribes. Most of the conflicts are between the Arab tribes,” he said.
“As for rape, this does not exist in the honour system of Darfur. In Sudanese honour, there does not exist the culture of rape,” he said.
“All of war is abuse. It happens. Plus tribal conflicts exist,” he said. “Tribes come, they burn villages, they kill people. That happened. But the killing between Arab tribes is many fold more than what happened between Arabs and non-Arabs.”
The government had a phased programme for restoring normality, said Mr Al Bashir.
“The first phase is the collection of weapons. Then there is the return of migrants to their regions – for those who want. For those who don’t want to return, we will provide housing with services such as education, health, water, electricity, water. For those who do return, there will be a new life.”
He also hopes for a reconciliation between warring tribes “because there were an incredible number of disputes between tribes”.
The disarmament programme, with details still being sorted out, would initially be voluntary, with the government paying for weapons that people bring in – but only for a short time.
The government will also ask people to turn in their four-wheel-drive vehicles, often used by militias for fighting, in exchange for a sum of money.
“It won’t last longer than a month. If people don’t deliver their weapons and their four-wheel drive vehicles within a month, after that the penalty of the law will be applied. If weapons are not licenced, the law will be applied to them,” Mr Bashir warned.
Sudan, which has been under economic sanctions from western governments and cut off from financial organisations such as the World Bank, has been lining up aid from Arabian Gulf countries and China to help it improve economic conditions in the region and win Darfuris over to the government’s side. Qatar is helping to set up a bank to develop Darfur with capital of US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn).
A first economic priority will be to increase the region’s water supplies by drilling into underground reserves and by collecting more rainwater with dams and reservoirs.
“We have a programme of zero thirst, because one of the fundamental problems of Darfur is drought. In the 1980s, there was a drought that drove herdsmen from their traditional territories into other areas, creating friction between herders and farmers,” Mr Bashir said.
China, meanwhile, is helping to rehabilitate a railway line that goes from Port Sudan on the Red Sea to the Darfur town of Nyala, but has fallen into disrepair. The government is also extending the road and electricity networks in Darfur.
Updated: April 7, 2016 04:00 AM