Yasir Said Arman, Chief Spokesperson, Sudanese People’s Liberation Army
Charles Brown, Director of Training and Program Development, Freedom House
John Hicks, US Ambassador to Eritrea
Zemhret Yohannes, People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, Eritrea
This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.
KEITH PORTER: This is Common Ground.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Today I ordered our armed forces to strike at terrorist-related facilities in Afghanistan and Sudan because of the imminent threat they presented to our national security.
PORTER: Last month President Clinton authorized U.S. military strikes against a suspected terrorist site in Khartoum, Sudan.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Our forces also attacked a factory in Sudan associated with the Bin Laden network. The factory was involved in the production of materials for chemical weapons. The United States does not take this action lightly. Afghanistan and Sudan have been warned for years to stop harboring and supporting these terrorist groups.
PORTER: Last year, Common Ground examined Sudan’s links to terrorism and Sudan’s attempts to destabilize other East African nations. This week we re-broadcast that report.
CHARLES BROWN: I like to call the situation in Sudan the quiet genocide, the quiet Bosnia, the quiet Rwanda. No one pays attention to it.
PORTER: The destabilizing effect of Sudan on this edition of Common Ground.
YASIR SAID ARMAN: The battle we are in now in Sudan, it is not our battle alone. It is the battle of the whole world. Because these days in Europe, in America, in Africa, in Asia, there are this waves of terrorism.
ARMAN: Terrorism. And the capital of terrorism is Khartoum.
PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter. In Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, is a government which has almost no control over its own borders, over much of its own territory or over vast numbers of its people. Yet this same government, is, by nearly all accounts, reaching out to shake the foundations of nearly all its neighboring countries.
BROWN: To get a feel for the degree to which Sudan plays a destabilizing role in the region, it’s necessary also to look at the internal situation.
PORTER: This is Charles Brown of the human rights organization, Freedom House. Brown has observed first hand the situation in Sudan and its neighbors.
BROWN: Sudan is in the middle of a civil war which has been going on, off and on, in one form or another since the mid-1950s. And that war has produced tremendous hardship and suffering, particularly in the southern half of the country which is predominantly black. By most conservative estimates, between 1.3 and 1.6 million people have died since 1983. I like to call the situation in Sudan the quiet genocide, the quiet Bosnia, the quiet Rwanda. No one pays attention to it. The media has not paid attention to a crisis which has had a refugee problem as great as any in the world; which has had a genocide as great as any in the world; which has had a government pursuing as an act of policy chattel slavery; which has seen a government use forced conversion as a means to enforce its will; which has seen a government use a number of measures from torture to severe restrictions on the role of women in Sudanese society to restrict what citizens can do, both in the north and in the south. What you have in Sudan essentially is a regime committed to the extension of its own policies to other governments. In my own experience, I’ve seen the Sudanese encourage insurgencies in Eritrea, in Ethiopia, and particularly in Uganda with the Lord’s Resistance Army, as well as encourage Islamic unrest in other mixed religious societies such as Tanzania, where a leader in the organization which the government gives responsibility to regarding Muslims has told me confidentially that they regularly must deal with Imams from Sudan traveling to the country and sowing unrest among the Muslim population. So it’s not just an attempt to militarily change regimes; it’s an attempt to undermine regimes, whether democratically elected or not, that are secular.
PORTER: Civil war has raged in Sudan for many years. In the past decade the government has attempted to impose strict Islamic fundamentalism on the Arabs in the north as well as the Christians and members of more traditional religions in the south, leading to even more brutality for the people of Sudan.
ARMAN: In Sudan you have a diversity of concerns. You have a diversity of ethnic groups, so in, and Sudan is a model of Africa. Sudan is, by itself, it is a small continent.
PORTER: This is Yasir Said Arman. He’s spokesman for the largest rebel group in Sudan and its leader, John Garang. The organization is the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army and Movement, known together as the SPLA and the SPLM.
ARMAN: The nationalities which are in eastern Sudan, they are the same more or less as the nationalities in the Horn of Africa. They are connected together with Eritrea, with Ethiopia. They share the same culture, they share the same history. Also with Egypt, you will find the Nubians; they are in Egypt, they are in Sudan. Also in western Sudan you will find we share nationalities with Libya, with Chad. And in southern Sudan also you’ll find the nationalities which are in southern Sudan, they are also part of them in southern Sudan, part of them in central Africa, in Zaire, in Uganda, and Kenya. So Sudan by itself is a model of Africa, is a small Africa. So there are two problems in Sudan. There are the problem of, the question of religions; where you find there are Africa religion there are Muslims, there are Christians. So one religion cannot rule the country; you need everybody to practice his religion and to feel free and to feel that his religion is respected as well. Also if you find a nationality you will find different nationalities, some of them from the Arab origins, some of them from African origins, so the SPLM find that in this situation we should base our thinking, our vision, on the Sudanism. We should become Sudanese at the beginning. And for somebody in the United States it is very easy to understand the situation in Sudan. What I want to tell people in the United States, although there are British American, there are Spanish American, there are Americans coming from different corners of the world.
PORTER: Including Africa.
ARMAN: Including African, there are Afro-Americans. But all of them, they are first American. They call themselves American and their loyalty belongs first to America, to the United States, and after that they can share anything with the outside world whether they are Afro-American or vis-à-vis European from the European origin. So even those American who are from a British origin, they fought the British when they come on the, occupied America. This simple fact, it is very difficult to be understood in Sudan because there are some Sudanese who are concerned to be with the Arab world more than associating themselves with the other Sudanese who are with them in the same country. And by this they are alienating other groups, other nationalities, other religious groups.
ZEMHRET YOHANNES: The people are really irresponsible and destructive; they have been trying to destabilize the region, not only Eritrea, but Ethiopia and Kenya and Somalia.
PORTER: This is Zemhret Yohannes. He’s head of research and information for the ruling party in Sudan’s neighbor to the east, Eritrea.
YOHANNES: We have been trying to engage them into diplomatic negotiation, but it didn’t work out. In ’94, in December of ’94, we decided to cut our relationship with the country. And we have been supporting the Sudanese opposition which has popular support in the country, southern Sudanese opposition and northern Sudanese opposition. It’s not a question of states, of state-to-state relationships, it’s a question of people-to-people relationships which is enduring, which is lasting. And the Sudanese people have been supportive during our struggle for liberation. Even when the state, the governments of the day, the government of the day, was not supportive, was even sometimes against the ?? liberation movement, the Sudanese people were very supportive. And I think we owe something to the Sudanese to help them during their period of trial.
PORTER: Is the government of Sudan funding groups inside of Eritrea?
YOHANNES: Yeah, they have been trying to establish a group, a Jihad group which was absolutely formed by the NIF, the National Islamic Front. They have been trying to recruit people from the refugee camps, they have been trying to indoctrinate young Eritreans, but because the realities in Eritrea are different, they have not been successful. They have been trying to sabotage in some places on the border with the Sudan but because they don’t have support inside the country, this group has not, cannot become a threat to Eritrea. But they are still funding and supporting this Jihad group.
PORTER: Does the government of Eritrea give direct support to any of the rebel groups?
YOHANNES: Yeah, we have publicly declared that we are supporting the opposition, Sudanese opposition. And the, there was a conference of the all-Sudanese opposition in Asmara in June of ’95 and they have been active in Eritrea.
PORTER: What about Eritrean troops, or Eritrean weapons involved?
YOHANNES: No. We have not any troops inside with the opposition. The opposition are waging the struggle by themselves. But we are supporting them.
JOHN HICKS: What is happening in this region and Sudan itself, is a very serious concern of the U.S. government and our foreign policy.
PORTER: Concerns about both Sudan’s stability and the destabilizing effect it has on the region reach far beyond Africa. John Hicks is the Ambassador of the United States to Eritrea.
HICKS: We are very concerned that the present government in Sudan pursues policies as it relates to state sponsorship of terrorism, the lack of respect for the human rights of its citizens, and policies that support destabilization efforts in other countries in the region, as very disturbing. We’ve made it clear that while we would never support the overthrow of another government, we would like to see fundamental change in the behavior of the regime in Sudan. Until that occurs, we will pursue measures to pressurize, to try to isolate this regime, all for the purpose of seeing a change in behavior. Meanwhile, we are committed to helping our friends in the region in any way that we can and strictly from a defensive posture, in warding off efforts to destabilize their nations. In this region, if peace and security could be achieved, we could see a degree and level of economic development and growth that could, in a matter of decades, spell the end of the kind of human suffering that we see in this region of the world.
PORTER: We’re talking in this edition of Common Ground about the Sudan factor in East Africa. Printed transcripts and audiocassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.
ARMAN: So those people, they are thinking that they have a mission to Islamize the whole world and they think they are the alternative of the Soviet empire.
PORTER: Again, this is Yasir Said Arman, the spokesperson for the SPLA/SPLM rebel group in Sudan.
ARMAN: After the collapse of the Soviet empire, Turabi thinks he will be the new man of Khartoum replacing the man of the Kremlin in Moscow.
PORTER: Tell our listeners who Turabi is.
ARMAN: Turabi is the thinker of the NIF, the NIF is a small party, is a fundamentalist party, is a orthodox party which is ruling Sudan these days and Turabi is the thinker of this party and he is the one who thinks who is going to rule the whole world, who is going to convert the world into a Muslim world and he thinks he has a mission from God and he’s ruling for the last seven and a half years, Sudan. At the beginning he’s ruling by the remote control from behind the screen. Now he’s the speaker of the Parliament and he thinks he is leader of the region like the Ayatollah in Tehran.
PORTER: Like the Ayatollah?
ARMAN: Yeah, he regards himself if not more important than Khomeni, he is the Khomeni of Sudan.
PORTER: I see. Now, I’m glad you’ve spelled out for our audience your grievances against the country. One thing that we have heard in the United States is this talk about slavery in Sudan. Is there slavery in Sudan?
ARMAN: Yeah, it is true there are in some parts there are slavery. Slavery and religion in Sudan, it is not the habit, it is not the practice of the Sudanese society. Sudanese society is a very tolerant society, but there are some people in Sudanese society for political reasons, want to aggravate the division among the nationalities, dividing them into Arab nationalities, African nationalities, who are encouraging this slavery trade in Sudan. The new phenomena; before it is not the policy of the government, but throughout time it has become the policy of the government, the slave trade, the ethnic cleansing…
PORTER: The government is allowing slavery, ethnic cleansing…
ARMAN: The government is encouraging it, is allowing it, and it is encouraging it.
PORTER: It seems that in the last—I don’t know how long, six months or a year—new things have now happened on your side. Tell us about that. What has changed now to make the situation perhaps more critical?
ARMAN: Yeah, for the last two years, there is a lot of Kenyans In June 1995 the National Democratic Alliance, which is the umbrella of the opposition, held a conference in Asmara and they got out with the Asmaran Declarations. The Asmaran Declaration addresses the problem of Sudan, the problem of the relation between the state and religion and the self-determination and how are we going to bring a new Sudan a new social, economic order in Sudan. And after this, the National Democratic Alliance also, it started organizing itself and it’s military wing.
PORTER: The NDA is made up of so many different groups that have in the past, not necessarily gotten along with each other. Are you convinced that the NDA will hold together?
ARMAN: Yeah, that is true. The NDA is composed of different organizations, but first of all, this is not the first time for Sudanese to come together under one umbrella with the objective of restoring democracy and bring some stability in our country. This may be the fourth or the third time. And then the unity of the NDA, it is a unity based on programs, on understanding which came after a lot of efforts and discussions and there are agreement between the forces of the NDA. And then the other things, Sudan this time, it is in a very difficult situation and if we manage to topple the government of Turabi I think nobody will lose this chance to bring peace and stability because the country is bankrupt economically and it will not allow anybody to maneuver.
PORTER: No one in the world, no government in the world would be, except for a small handful, would be too upset about the NIF government falling in Khartoum. But what they are worried about is Sudan falling apart. Is the NDA committed to maintaining Sudan as a unified nation with the current borders?
ARMAN: Well I think if we took the last experience of the ?? military command, which is managing to command seven different factions and with harmony and with one political agenda, I think it is encouraging experience. And then as I told you, the political movement in Sudan, it is an old mature movement, it is not like for example, like Somalia. In Somalia you will find people are divided among the tribal lines. In Sudan it is not correct. There are political parties based on political agenda and political vision and I think the Sudanese people will be able to bring stability and peace to their country. And I think the agreement of the NDA, it is more stronger than the agreement of Serbia, for example, in the old Yugoslavia. But the only difference is because the United States is putting its effort in Yugoslavia and is helping, encouraging that agreement.
PORTER: If you can tell us, from where else in the world is the NDA receiving the most support? I mean, who are your best friends in the world?
ARMAN: Whatever support you mean, if you mean …
PORTER: Whatever you’re willing to tell me—financial, military.
ARMAN: Yeah, if you mean political support and diplomatic support, we have been receiving political and diplomatic support from our brothers in Eritrea and other countries. But we have never received any military support or financial support from any country.
PORTER: Egypt recently gave you some philosophical support. Is that important?
ARMAN: Yes it is quite important. Egypt is a very important country in the region and what we are doing here in the NDA and what is going on in the Horn of Africa, by the end of the day, all of us we need the regional cooperation, we need to the peace and the stability. The Egyptians are suffering from the NIF government. The NIF government tried to kill President Hosni Mubarak…
PORTER: Tried to kill President Mubarak, yes…
ARMAN: In Addis Ababa. And they are trying to destabilize the situation in Egypt as well as in Ethiopia and Eritrea. And we think this region, there is a commonality between this region so we need stability in Egypt, we need stability in Eritrea, we need stability in Ethiopia, we need stability in Kenya and Rwanda and all those countries so that we could have stability in Sudan.
PORTER: As I drove around Asmara today, I saw a place where there were, at least from what I could see, dozens of tanks, working tanks, seem to be in good condition. Any chance that the Eritreans will let you use the forces that they have?
ARMAN: No, the Eritreans, they never intervene in the affairs of our country. The Eritreans are real brother. We have been together for the last 30 years when they are working for their independence, when they are struggling. And we know them and what they are helping us, it is a solidarity with the Sudanese people and they give us political and diplomatic support and they didn’t give us any military support at all.
PORTER: One last question for you. What is it that the rest of the world can do to help the people of Sudan?
ARMAN: I think the battle we are in now in Sudan, it is not our battle alone. It is a battle of the whole world. Because these days in Europe, in America, in Africa, in Asia, there are these waves of terrorism.
ARMAN: Terrorism. And the capital of terrorism is Khartoum. This is the capital of the fundamentalism groups which are all over the world. Those people who destroyed the American Trade Center in New York…
PORTER: The World Trade Center.
ARMAN: The World Trade Center, in New York. They have been given an instruction from Khartoum. They have been helped by Khartoum. And Khartoum is the capital of terrorism in the present world. What happened to President Hosni Mubarak, what is going on in Algeria, even in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the hands of Turabi and the NIF is always there. So we are fighting a battle which is a battle of all people who are looking for stability, for peace, for democracy. So I think the very things which people, they had to draw attention with what is going on in Sudan and they should help in exposing this fascist regime in Khartoum.
BROWN: I think the government of Sudan is well isolated. It certainly has no friends in East Africa. The Kenyan government has remained fairly neutral, but it has managed to alienate every other neighbor it has with the exception of Libya which is not exactly popular in the international community at the moment. As I noted a little earlier, the Ugandan government accuses the Sudanese of supporting at least one, and perhaps two, rebel movements on its territory. The Ethiopians and Eritreans have both cut off diplomatic relations. The Egyptians, while still maintaining diplomatic relations, clearly don’t like the government and view them responsible for the assassination attempt on Mubarak that took place in Ethiopia. The United States has put Sudan on the international terrorist list. The UN has condemned Sudan for a variety of human rights violations, the response of the Sudanese government being to issue a fatwah against the UN’s Special Rapporteur on human rights. The Sudanese government probably couldn’t get any more isolated only because much of the world has stopped caring. And that in itself is a tragedy.
PORTER: That is Charles Brown. He’s Director of Training and Program Development at Freedom House. Our other guests have been the U.S. Ambassador to Eritrea, John Hicks; the head of research for Eritrea’s People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, Zemhret Yohannes; and the Chief Spokesperson for the SPLA, Yasir Said Arman. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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