Will the Sudanese government disarm the janjaweed?
In an exclusive interview for HARDtalk on 9th August, Zeinab Badawi talks to the Sudanese First Vice President, Ali Osman Taha about the deepening crisis in Darfur.
The United Nations has given the Sudanese government 30 days to start disarming the janjaweed militias who are accused of indiscriminate murders, rapes and other attacks against black African villagers in the western Darfur region.
More than a million people have fled their homes in the region and aid agencies are warning of a humanitarian disaster.
The government has been accused of backing the janjaweed.
Ali Osman Taha is the country's First Vice President. Here are some key points from his HARDtalk interview.
Meeting the UN deadline
ZEINAB BADAWI - You've been asked by the United Nations to disarm the janjaweed. Are you going to do that?
ALI OSMAN TAHA - We are really committed to disarm whoever is acting outside the law, be it the janjaweed, which is a local term which means the tribal outlaws and irrespective of their background, the government is determined and decided to disarm whoever acts or behaves outside of the law and make the life of people there in trouble.
ZB - Are you giving us a commitment now that you are prepared to completely disarm the janjaweed?
AOT - We are really committed to disarm all militias that are acting outside the law. Janjaweed, tarabora (PHON) or whatever name they have.
ZB - The janjaweed though in particular, who it is claimed, you have supported - are you going to be disarming them completely? And if so, within what time frame?
AOT - Janjaweed and other militias will be disarmed. This is a plan that the government has already embarked into and it will take the time that is necessary for us to deploy and put up logistics and manpower that's needed.
ZB- What is the time necessary? You've been given until the end of this month to demonstrate your total commitment to doing so. How much time do you think you'll need exactly?
AOT - We have already deployed 6000 police troops and we are planning to put the number up to 12000 men..
ZB - When?
AOT - Maybe over the coming weeks but definitely not within the time limit of this August
ZB - So you can't meet the deadline which the United Nations has given you to demonstrate your ability to disarm the militias, the janjaweed completely. You can't meet that time frame. Is that what you are saying?
AOT - We are doing our best to meet that deadline but definitely, due to logistical problems and limitations we have at the moment, I don't think the time frame is practical.
Disarming the janjaweed
ZB - Are you not going to try to disarm the janjaweed until the rebels start disarming?
AOT - I think, to have a real, stable situation in Darfur, it has to be done on both sides.
ZB - Is that what you're saying then, that your government will not disarm the militias until the rebels start doing the same?
AOT - The government has already started disarming the janjaweed and other militias but we say clearly that we cannot begin to have comprehensive stability without having disarmed both sides.
His reaction to various human rights reports
AOT - These reports, attributed to the UN, African Union...they are not correct.
ZB - Well, I mean, the African Union - we spoke to them personally before this. They said your government could be doing much more, the reports are in the public domain, there are eye witness accounts..
AOT - But they are not saying these reports are true. They may say the government of Sudan can do more but this doesn't mean..
ZB - No, they are talking about atrocities perpetrated by the janjaweed against innocent civilians, elderly men, women, children, innocent people.
I have to give you some examples. Have you heard about Human Rights Watch saying 65 mosques burnt in Dar Masalit with scores killed in mosques, one elderly Imam near Habila killed as he rushed home from the mosque to save his 3 year old orphaned grandson. Both of them were killed by the janjaweed.
AOT - These reports are reports of war and everywhere there is war, there could be atrocities. I'm not defending that these atrocities ..
ZB - You're changing your story now. First you were saying they weren't true and now you are saying they might have happened..
AOT - No. No. I'm saying that the degree..the numbers..the figures are not correct. But I'm saying that in the case of war, there would be atrocities, there would be violations of human rights. There's no doubt about it, but what we are supposed to do is to have a serious and genuine commitment to support the government of Sudan to perform.
ZB - So you admit these atrocities have gone on, the kind of atrocities I just described to you..
AOT - I don't admit that...in particular, there are no evidence. We stand to call on international communities to set up commissions to verify and investigate these allegations.
Arresting janjaweed leaders
ZB - Let me ask you about one specific alleged janjaweed leader, who the United States has identified as being somebody they would be interested in seeing being apprehended, Musa Hilal, often in Khartoum.
A Washington Post article dated 12th July this year said he was jailed in 1997 for killing 17 Darfurians. Why haven't you arrested him? I was in the same house as him here a few weeks ago in Khartoum..
AOT - No, no..He was arrested a few years back when there was enough evidence to do so by this very same government and if anything comes up again to warrant him being arrested or even sentenced, we will not hesitate to do so.
ZB - Why haven't you arrested him? You've had many chances.
AOT - Because we don't have anything. Nobody has come up with specific allegations against this very Musa Hilal.
The fact that he has been apprehended and arrested years back under this government is a proof that whenever there is proof the government will not hesitate to action.
ZB - But there have been very strong allegations, as you know. He has been accused of coordinating..
AOT - Allegations , you know better. We are talking about human rights. We can not just apprehend anybody or sentence him just on allegations. We have set commissions of investigations.
We have set offices of public prosecution and they are investigating the cases there. We have set an independent judicial commission to investigate the situation in Darfur and if any evidence comes up that warrants apprehending Musa Hilal or anybody, then the government will take action.
Stability in the South
ZB - Colin Powell says the crisis in Darfur could cost you peace with the South which you have worked many decades for. That's a possibility isn't it?
AOT - It may cause the peace in southern Sudan to collapse. Especially if those who are not happy with what has been achieved in Naivasha will take an upper hand in directing the events specially on the international media focus on Darfur.
But for us who have made this achievement in Naivasha and for the Sudan government in that case, we are interested in managing the crisis in Darfur as quickly, as promptly as we can.
International troops and observers
AOT - I don't think the presence of international troops in Darfur would help providing security. What we do feel that if international security came to Darfur, that would aggravate the situation rather than pacifying it.
ZB - African Union peacekeepers acceptable?
AOT - African Union observers are acceptable at the moment.
ZB - The African Union has spoken of sending maybe two to three thousand people, soldiers to Darfur. Would that be acceptable?
AOT - That would only be acceptable if we think really this helps in controlling the case but we still believe Sudan's government as far as manpower is concerned can do the job.
HARDtalk can be seen on BBC World at 03:30 GMT, 08:30 GMT, 11:30 GMT, 15:30 GMT, 18:30 GMT and 23:30 GMT
It can also be seen on BBC News 24 at 04:30 and 23:30