Air Date: February 25, 1997||
Yasir Said Arman, Chief Spokesperson,
Sudanese People’s Liberation Army
Charles Brown, Director of Training and Program Development,
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.)
CHARLES BROWN, Director of Training and Program Development, Freedom House: I like to
call the situation in Sudan the quiet genocide, the quiet Bosnia, the quiet Rwanda. No one pays
attention to it.
KEITH PORTER, Producer: The destabilizing effect of Sudan on this edition of Common
YASIR SAID ARMAN, Chief Spokesperson, Sudanese People’s Liberation Army: The battle we
are in now in Sudan is not our battle alone. It is because these days in Europe, in America, in
Africa, in Asia, there are this waves of 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, by nearly all accounts,
reaching out to shake the foundations of nearly all its neighboring countries.
CHARLES 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 cultures. You have a diversity of ethnic group,
so in Sudan is a model of Africa. Sudan is, by itself, 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 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 Nubian, 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 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, a small Africa. So there are two problems in
Sudan. There are the problem of, the question of religion, where you find the 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 nationalities you 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 Sudanesism. 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 from
a British origin, they fought the British when they come and occupy 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 associated themselves with the other Sudanese who are with them
in the same country. So what we are calling and what we are saying of the new Sudan, let us first
belong to our Sudan and then after that, we can share whatever we may share with the African
world, with the Arab world, with the humanity as a whole. This is one of the problems because the
government who came, who rule Sudan since the independence up to now, they are saying Sudan is an
Arab country, Sudan is an Islamic country, and by this they are alienating other groups, other
nationalities, other religious groups.
ZEMHRET YOHANNES, People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, Eritrea: The people are
irresponsible and distructive; they have been trying to destabilize the region not only Eritrea
but Ethiopia, 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 negotiations, but it didn’t
work out. In ’94, in December of ’94, we decided to cut our relationship with the country. And we
have the opposition support of the Sudanese which have popular support in the country, southern
Sudan’s opposition and northern Sudanese opposition. It’s not the question of state, of state
relationships, it it the people to people relationships which is enduring, which is lasting. And
the Sudanese people have been supportive during our struggle for liberation. Everywhere in the
states, the governments, of the day the government, of the day was not supportive, even sometimes
against the Eritrean liberation movement. The Sudanese people were very supportive, and I think
we owe something to the Sudanese to help them during their period of time.
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 Fund. They have been trying to recruit people
from the refugee camp, 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 Sudanese opposition in Asmara in June of ’95
and they have been active in Eritrea.
PORTER: What about Eritrean troops? Are Eritrean weapons involved?
YOHANNES: No. We have not any troops inside with the opposition. The opposition are
waging this battle by themselves. But we are supporting them.
JOHN HICKS, US Ambassador to Eritrea: 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 policy as it
relates to space 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 is
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, a 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
ARMAN: After the collapse of the Soviet empire, Tarabi thinks he will be the new man of
Khartoum replacing the man of the Kremlin in Moscow.
PORTER: Tell our listeners who Tarabi is.
ARMAN: Tarabi is the thinker of the NIF, the NIF is a small party, is a fundamentalist
party, is a idealogues party which is ruling Sudan these days and Tarabi 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 remote control from behind the
screen. Now he’s the speaker of the Parliament, and he thinks he is leader of the revolution 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
PORTER: 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 and 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 in 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 in Tarabi’s time it has become the
policy of the government, the slave trade, the ethnic cleansing…
PORTER: The government is allowing slavery, ethnic cleansing…
ARMAN: Encouraging, allowing, encouraging it.
PORTER: It seems that in the last, I don’t know how long, six months or a year, new
things have not 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 changes. 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 declaration. 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 started organizing itself and its military wins.
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 to our country. This may be the fourth
or the fifth time and then the unity of the NDA, it is 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 thing, Sudan this time, it is in a very difficult situation and if
we’re going to topple the government of Tarabi I think nobody will lose this chance to bring this
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 joint 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 the last experience of the NDA over the
last seven years, it shows that the NDA every day and every year is cementing its unity on a
concrete basis. So 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 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… all of us we need the vision of cooperation, we need to see some stability, the Egyptians
are suffering from the NIF government. The NIF government tried to kill President Hosni
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 in 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
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 never intervene in the affairs of our country. The Eritreans are
real brother—we have been together for the last fifty years when they are working for the
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
problem 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. 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 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 Mubarek, what is going on in Nigeria, even in
Tajikistan and Afghanistan, the hands of Tarabi 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 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 Mubarek 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 ?? 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
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.
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Copyright © 1997,
The Stanley Foundation