Radio Dabanga (Hilversum)

19 September 2012

Sudan: Ambassador Smith - 'Security Situation in Darfur Deteriorated Compared to 2011'

Khartoum — On Wednesday 19 September Radio Dabanga's editor in Chief, Kamal Elsadig, interviewed Ambassador Smith, US special envoy to Sudan. After Ambassador Smith visit to Darfur, earlier this week, Ambassador Smith noted: 'we are disappointed with the degree of implementation of the Doha agreements'.

He said: 'It is true that the basic structures of the Darfur Regional Authority are in place, [..] There is nothing yet on compensation, nothing yet on disarmament of militias, nothing yet on the issue of land all of which are very important to the solutions on the problems in Darfur. And so I think I have to say that, regretfully thus far there have been no tangible benefits for the IDPs.'

Also about the level of security Ambassador Smith raised concerns: 'In comparison with 2011 it seems to me that the security situation in Darfur has deteriorated somewhat compared to last year, and there are particular concerns about North-Darfur that lead me to think that the situation there is less stable than last year.'

Later in the interview he stated: 'I think that the militias are a problem and certainly some of the security forces that have been drawn from the militias. In particular we see problems with the central reserve police'. [Abu Tira]

Furthermore Ambassador Smith spoke about his meeting with JEM, with Mini Minawi and with Abdul Wahid in Kampala. Among other issues he suggested that the rebel movements consider encouraging representatives of the people in their movements among the IDPs, to participate in an IDP conference set to take place in Nyala, later in November. He called upon all parties to participate, provided that security permits it.

His special message to the people of Darfur included: 'We also believe that justice must be done for Darfur. Justice sometimes is delayed, but I pointed out that even though it was delayed in the case of former Yugoslavia, or in the case of Liberia, or in the case of in Rwanda, that justice eventually comes.'

Read the complete Interview with Ambassador Smith:

Radio Dabanga:

Welcome Ambassador Smith to Radio Dabanga

Ambassador Smith:

Thank you

Radio Dabanga:

We mentioned in our introduction, you visited Darfur and you met there with displaced persons, with UNAMID, with the government, and you listened to all and saw the real situation on the ground. Now you have a full picture about what is going on in Darfur, could you give the listeners your view on your trip to Darfur?

Ambassador Smith:

I would be happy to do that. My trip, which took place last week, included four days in Darfur in el Fasher, in Geneina, in Gilenenge and in Nyala, we also visited four IDP camps: Salam, Ardamata Hamediya and Dreige and of course I talked to Sheiks and Omda's and women in the camps. I also talked to chairman Tijani Sese of the Darfur regional authority and the new Commissioner for returns and reconstruction Mr. Ashari Shata, I spoke with UN representatives I spoke with UNAMID and I also met with the new special prosecuter for Darfur in el Fasher. So I did have a rather significant trip I think but it would be very arrogant of me to say that I understand all the situation and of course Darfur is a very vast area and we did not visit all of it. But I certainly have some impressions from that trip, which are helpful to me when thinking about the US position with respect to Darfur and the Darfuri situation.

Radio Dabanga:

How do you evaluate those meetings and the results?

Ambassador Smith:

Well, basically I would say to begin with, we are disappointed with the degree of implementation of the Doha agreements. It is true that the basic structures of the Darfur regional authority are in place, there are offices set up both in El Fasher and in Nyala and the minister and the commissioners are starting to do their work, they have been restricted by the numbers of staff they have been able to hire and by funding. But on the other hand, even though the structures are in place, there are other aspects that really made no progress. There has been no contribution by the government to the Darfur reconstruction and development fund, although the special prosecutor is there and I have met with him and his staff, the courts for Darfur has not been set up. The Terms of reference have not been written, it is not operating.

There is nothing yet on compensation, nothing yet on disarmament of militias, nothing yet on the issue of land all of which are very important to the solutions on the problems in Darfur. And so I think I have to say that, regretfully thus far there have been no tangible benefits for the IDP's.

Radio Dabanga:

Yes, we are going to speak about IDPs, but we are also going to see your view about the situation. How would you describe the situations now in Darfur? After visiting and after you saw everything there?

Ambassador Smith:

Well, of course I have been making regular visits for more than a year and a half. This was my eight or ninth trip to Darfur, and of course the Darfur of today is very different from the Darfur of 2003-2004. On the other hand by the comparison with 2011 it seems to me that the security situation in Darfur has deteriorated somewhat compared to last year, and there are particular concerns about North-Darfur that lead me to think that the situation there is less stable than last year. So, that is a deterioration that we are concerned about.

Radio Dabanga:

Yes, in your meeting with IDPs when you went there, we spoke with IDPs, they concentrated on security issues, they say there is no security in Darfur: the militia's, the Janjaweed, the pro-government is still continuing violations, and rape, and killing people. And the settlers are still there and everything was collapsed, what do you think to restore the security in Darfur, how do you see that?

Ambassador Smith:

The first thing I would say is that the problem with security varies depending on where you are in Darfur. I mentioned a particular insecurity in North Darfur and the areas adjacent to Jebel Marra which of course include South Darfur and central Darfur as well. West Darfur is relatively stable although there are some problems with criminality there. And so I think for IDPs, regardless from what you hear in these conversations in IDP camps, that depending on where you are there is more security in some areas. And the reason why I say that is one of the interesting phenomena of the last two to three years, during the rain-season large numbers of IDP's leave the camps and go to the farms and make a crop on the farms. They are not remaining there permanently, but they are out there for a number of months. They move back and forth to the camps, but they are out there for a number of months. And that suggests they have found ways to deal with whatever security there is, and I think if we look at the good rains in Darfur this year, and we look at the expected bumper crop to be harvested one would have to say that the IDP's have made a significant contribution to that upcoming harvest. So although they are clearly very worried about security, and that is a legitimate concern, nevertheless there are places in Darfur where people are able to move around, even to make a crop without too much problems with security. And there are of course more than a 100.000 people who returned permanently last year and these people, I met some of these people in their communities of return, were telling me that they did not have a problem of security. What they were telling me is that they were having a problem with a lack of services. A lack of services is what we have come back to.

Radio Dabanga:

About the security, the violations that continue is caused by the government militias, and especially the border guards and Abu-Tira [Reserve Police]. Especially the events that take place in Kutum and in Zam-zam. As you are the special envoy to Darfur, what do you think of it, and what will be undertaken to resolve this problem?

Ambassador Smith:

I think that the militias are a problem and certainly some of the security forces that have been drawn from the militias, in particular we see problems with the central reserve police [Abu Tira]. Sometimes with the border guards, and I think they have become more of a problem of disorder of the government than before. When the government was paying them regularly they were perhaps less of a problem, creating less of a problem of security. But we have seen in recent months that sometimes even militias are fighting against the Sudan armed forces. We have seen militias out of control, militias fighting between the police as was the case in Kutum for example. This has become a significant problem. What it relates to is the importance to peace in Darfur and security in Darfur of disarming the militias which is the responsibility of the government under the Doha agreement, it needs to be done. I will say that I have also seen some evidence of inter tribal cooperation which is being facilitated by the work of the native administration in certain situations. So in some cases where the government has not stepped in to meet its responsibilities, the native administrations are working together to bring different peoples together and I believe that that is a constructive step.

Radio Dabanga:

What about the bombings, because the bombing is still going on, especially in East Jebel Marra, and there is a number of civilians that is killed, and cows, and camels. What do you think about that? What measures must be taken here?

Ambassador Smith:

I think this is quite a serious problem; we have repeatedly criticized the government of Sudan for bombing in civilian areas. And that includes the bombing in the Jebel Marra area, the bombings appear to be targeting civilians rather than rebel forces and they lead to loss of life, and also lead to a lot of displacement, because people go farther into the hills to escape the bombings. The bombings are a violation of Security Council resolutions and also mark an unfortunate aspect of the way the Sudan Armed Forces operate, which is to continue to bomb civilians even though this is contrary to the law, the laws of war, and a violation of international law. So, we continue to call on the government of Sudan and the Sudan Armed Forces to halt the bombing of civilians.

Radio Dabanga:

About bombings and militias, did you talk to the government of the Sudan about this, and what did they respond? And what do you expect for the future?

Ambassador Smith:

Well we are in continuous conversation with the government of Sudan about these issues. Also these issues come up regularly in the UN Security Council, in presidential statements by the president of the security council. They come up in Security Council resolutions so we continue to push the government on this. And of course the one disadvantage for the government is that it has a very bad international reputation because it continues to bomb civilians in violations of all norms of the international system and in violation of international law.

Radio Dabanga:

What we are speaking about assures that there is no security, which means that there is no peace in Darfur, even though there is a Doha agreement.

Ambassador Smith:

I just rebutted that point, it is not the case that there is no security in Darfur.

Radio Dabanga:

I am listening, I just want to put the questions, to speak about Doha.

Ambassador Smith:

I just wanted to put that I do not believe that it is a case of no security in Darfur. There are serious problems of security in Darfur, but it is not the case that there is no security in Darfur. There is security in certain areas of Darfur.

Radio Dabanga:

I mean that that makes people believe there is no peace in Darfur, and that the Doha document is not workable. I think when you met with IDPS especially in el Geneina and Zalinge they told you there is no Doha in Darfur. And some of them go on and say Doha is dead, so what do you think?

Ambassador Smith:

So let me get back to the Doha agreement. As you know when the Doha agreement was signed in July 2011 the US and other international partners said that 'we believe that the Doha agreements contain the basic elements for a settlement in Darfur' that the seven chapters in the agreement included all the basic elements needed for peace. We also emphasized that responsibility for implementation of the agreement rested with the government of Sudan and with the LJM which is now incorporated in the Darfur regional authority. It is not the responsibility of the international community to implement the agreement. The international community wishes to help, to support implementation of the agreement. The second point is, we did not predict the success of the Doha agreement, we hoped for success but we did not predict success because it depends on the will of the government to carry out the provisions of the Doha agreement. And as I said to you, and as I said in the camps, we are very disappointed at the relative limited implementation thus far of the DOHA agreement. That is the position we have taken.

Radio Dabanga:

One of the IDP's, after you visited Geneina and Zalinge, said he quoted from you, that you still continue to support the Doha agreement. So he asked why the US supports the Doha agreement while the people on the ground, the victims on the ground, did not agree with this? And there is no comprehensive peace and there is only one movement who signed the agreement. And now the insecurity according to him is raised in Darfur and the violations raised, and everything he thinks collapsed. And you say, the US still continues to support the Doha agreement, how can you explain to that man to understand now on the radio?

Ambassador Smith:

Well, you are citing one representative of a camp, and that is hardly necessarily representative of all the views of IDP's. There are different views among the IDP's, some of them support the Doha agreement, some of them are opposed to the Doha agreement, and others are skeptical about the Doha agreement. I think that, to the extent that I can tell, the main sentiment is disappointment that it has not been implemented thus far, to the extent that we would like to see, and therefore it needs to be implemented. We have not changed our views because we believe that it should be implemented and we hope it will be implemented. And that's the point, it is not what one or two or other representatives in certain camps have to say about the situation. What is more important is the views of the IDP's and refugees as a whole. Now, I would to go on and say that I think there is an opportunity to move the process forward, and this opportunity lies in the proposed IDP and refugee conference which is to take place in Nyala on our schedule for November. I am not predicting that this conference will be successful but I think it could be reasonably successful and I think it could help move the process along if a couple of things happened. The first is that that conference must be representative of the views of all the IDP's, that is those that participate in the conference must represent the different views of the IDP's including those who reject the Doha agreement or those that are very critical of the Doha agreement. And I have found in my discussions with chairman Tijani Sese, that he agrees with completely with that point of view. I have also discussed it with the DRA commissioner of returns Ashari Shata, he also agrees. And so DRA is working with various agencies to make sure it is representative. That it is working with the UNDP, working with the UNHCR and with UNAMID, and they can help to improve the chances for a representative conference. The second important aspect for success it seems to me is that the final document that comes out of that conference, reflects the overall views of those represented in the conference. That they are able to provide their recommendations and their suggestions about what IDPs and refugees need. So there is a possibility that this could be a successful conference, I certainly hope so. If there is there is a reasonably successful conference that meets these criteria, I believe that that could move the process forward for IDP's and refugees.

Radio Dabanga:

Yes, here is a question that might be raised by someone: what is the guarantee for the people who are participating in the conference? Maybe because there is no freedoms of speech. If you are going to participate and you are going to speak, maybe the security services will arrest you. And this will happen in Darfur. What is the guarantee? How can you prepare this?

Ambassador Smith:

These are important questions and they must be answered in a way that is credible to the IDP's. The question of security, the question of freedom of expression before during and after the conference there must be dealt with. There are certainly restrictions on freedom of speech in Darfur, but my experience is that there are many people who speak their minds and they do so in public fora in Darfur. They certainly do so with me even in the presence of government officials. So I believe there will not be a problem of people speaking out at the Nyala conference. The question is how to make sure that they are not harassed afterwards, that they are protected. These questions are good questions; they need to be addressed in the organization of the conference. So as I said, I cannot predicted that it will be a success, but that will be a very important aspect of it.

Radio Dabanga:

Also, who will select the people to be the real representatives of the people in Darfur, of the peoples in IDP camps, because this has been a problem before.

Ambassador Smith:

I have already suggested to you that the various agencies need to be involved in this process, and I do not think there are any guarantees. but there are certainly good possibilities of getting a representative group of IDPs there and that they will speak their minds if it is organized in the way that I spoke about. We are still in early days in terms of organization, and these questions need to be addressed. As I said, I am not predicting success, but I believe it could be a reasonable success.

Radio Dabanga:

Yes, there are two things regarding the conference, of which it is important to speak to you about it and to hear your view, also for the listener to listen to you. One said on Radio Dabanga when it comes to the guarantees for security, when it comes to the freedom of speech, it is better not to be in Darfur, but to be out of Sudan. Another view form different people say that the displaced persons demand is very clear, there is no need to hold a conference. They said, first bring security and disarms the militias of Janjaweed, and expel the settlers, and give a comprehensive peace agreements and everything will be solved. And give us compensations, and everything is well and that this was very clear from the beginning. And this is repeated in different conferences, even in DOHA and even in Darfur, and everyone in the world following Darfur knows that. So what is the benefit of this conference?

Ambassador Smith:

Well I would take issue with the way you to present this as a problem. You seem to represent the views of some IDP's as representing all IDP's and I reject that view. That is not my experience in my travels in Darfur and my meetings with various people. There is certainly a group that says we have to have peace and security and disarmament before we can have any progress. I do not think that that is a constructive approach, obviously things have to move forward at the same time and there need to be programs for helping IDPs who return to their own areas. They need to have services, they need to have protection in their own areas, they need to have their own community police trained to help them. The notion that all this has to stop dead until all the arms are collected or all the militias are disarmed, is a recipe for defeat and continued stalemate. So, I think that is not a constructive approach. And there are possibilities of moving forward through this conference that I would like to see taken advantage of.

Radio Dabanga:

So in Darfur, yesterday on our website, one of IDP coordinators in North Darfur said: 'justice before peace'. And he stressed that peace is a top-priority in Darfur, but that it cannot be achieved until the displaced persons demands are met and that all those who committed crime are brought to justice.

Ambassador Smith:

I think this is a point along the the lines I suggested, if you suggest that all justice must be done before peace occurs, that is a recipe for defeat and prolongation of stalemate rather than moving towards progress. Obviously justice needs to be done, obviously the special prosecutor needs to move forward in his work, and we have been very disappointed that repeated special prosecutors have resigned, and there has not been progress on the justice side. That has to come, that is part of a solution but to say that justice needs to be done before anything else happens is a recipe for defeat and stalemate and does not benefit the IDP's and refugees.

Radio Dabanga:

Our questions is about your meeting with a rebel movement in Kampala I think this is important.

Ambassador Smith:

I will respond to that. I went to Kampala and met with representatives of JEM I met with chairman Mini Minawi and with chairman Abel Wahid and I described my trip to Darfur and what my observations were from that trip. And I also suggested that the rebel movements consider encouraging their representatives people in their movements among the IDP's, to participate in the IDP conference in Nyala, provided that the conditions are established so that they have security and guarantees. The kind of questions that you raised earlier. I got different reactions from different groups and in the case of one leader a rejection of any participation in the conference. I suggested that this was not a constructive approach; I suggested that it was important for IDP's to have a seat at the table, and to voice their views and contribute to the DRAs ideas for moving forward with voluntarily returns, security and service for returnees. We also met as a group with the SRF and we discussed the US side's view, that it is important that the SRF pursue a political agenda, both in its approach to governance to Sudan as a whole, but also we emphasize the importance of articulating their particular goals for peace in Darfur. And that it would be constructive if these goals were articulated in terms of the Doha agreement. That is in terms of the chapters of the agreement and the issues which they raise. We discussed that, we had a good discussion in-depth of those issues with the SRF representatives as a whole.

Radio Dabanga:

Your message to the Darfurians through Radio Dabanga in this interview, what would you like to say to all Darfurians now that they are listening to you?

Ambassador Smith:

Let me say, before I get into that, let me just note, that I have been very clear and transparent with the government of Sudan in that I have told them, and I have told them each time that I met with rebel leaders, and every time I have met with the SRF, I have made clear what I was doing. With regards to the message to the IDPs and refugees I would like to say that we very much recognize their suffering, the distress that they are still experiencing. We are very anxious to see that distress end see them return to their homes, or regularize their situation in the cities and towns of Darfur as they wish. That is our effort. We also believe that justice must be done for Darfur. Justice sometimes is delayed, but I pointed out that even though it was delayed in the case of former Yugoslavia, or in the case of Liberia, or in the case of in Rwanda, that justice eventually comes. That is not an excuse for delay, but I believe that justice will come. And I think it is important to look for practical solutions. In particular ways to support IDPs that are seeking to find security and return to their home areas, sort out problems in those home areas. Make a good living, a reasonable living for their families as time goes on. It is important to look for practical ways to bring security and livelihoods and peace and justice for Darfur.

Radio Dabanga:

What about shortage of water, shortage of food, lack of services what can you bring to them?

Ambassador Smith:

Well, let me just explain, when I talk about services, these are the services I am talking about. In addition to security there must supplies of water, there must be medical facilities with medications available for the people. There must be schools and teachers, and all of these services must be available for those who have the courage to return home. And of course if they do not get these services they become discouraged and I believe that the international community can help with that. And we are trying to do that. We are also providing some initial assistance to the Darfur Regional Authority to help increase its capacity to operate, and to come to grips with these challenging solutions. So that would be my message.

Radio Dabanga:

Yes, I want to thank you, but I have one more question. If you want to reply it is okay, because yesterday we spoke with the number you met in Kampala. They said they concentrate on a comprehensive peace, not on a part peace. They said this is the solution of the Sudan. not an agreement for Jebala Nuba and for Blue Nile and for Darfur, but it must be a comprehensive peace agreement, and that this is the only solution after the regime is out.

Ambassador Smith:

Well just let me say that in the case of Sudan, we agree with that. There does need to be a solution related to improvements in governance in Khartoum. These individual conflicts that have arisen, have often arisen out of bad governance and a feeling of marginalization by peoples of parts of Sudan. That certainly has to be addressed. But at the same time the particular issues related to the individual conflicts themselves need to be sorted out, and they all have their particularities including Darfur. So we need to move ahead. We have to see movement forward on both and I agree that that is very important, so thank you very much and I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you.

Radio Dabanga:

We are very thankful to you Mr Ambassador Smith, for giving us this time to speak to the audience in Darfur, and we appreciate your patience for our questions and the long interview, and thank you very much.

Ambassador Smith:

Thank you.

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