Moving Toward Peace in Sudan's Darfur Region
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Rebel groups that refuse to sign the peace deal on Darfur are under heavy pressure to do so before a deadline at the end of May. The agreement is the best hope yet to end the ongoing violence in western Sudan. The pact has already been signed by Sudan's government and the largest of Darfur's rebel groups, the Sudanese Liberation Army or SLA. Bahar Arabie is a leader of that group. Once a rebel fighter, he's now a negotiator. He came to Washington this week to press for more help from the U.S. government, and joined us in our studios.
I asked him why his group took up arms against the Sudanese government three years ago.
Mr. BAHAR ARABIE (Negotiator, Sudanese Liberation Army): We have been marginalized. We have been excluded politically, economically, and socially. There is exception of the population who are monopolizing everything, primarily the people from northern Sudan. They have been in power for the past 50 years. They have not even made any room for people from the west or from the south, or even from the east, to have a share in the power. So we felt that it is only through barrel of gun that the government listens to the demands of the people.
MONTAGNE: What happened to your family, to your own village, since the Janjaweed have attacked?
Mr. ARABIE: You know, my own village, now today, there's no single house is standing. Everything has been burned down. My extended family, if I tell you, many have been killed. Many have been displaced and I don't even know many of them where they are. My own little family now is across the border in Chad in refugee camp. This is the experience of almost every family in Darfur now.
MONTAGNE: Hmm. As simply as you can put it, what did you get out of the peace negotiations?
Mr. ARABIE: Well, to be frank with you, we didn't get that much. But also, if you hinge it and balance it against what will happen when we didn't--we do not sign this deal, then it is, I think, we have got something. Because in--we have power sharing, wealth sharing, and we have the security commission.
MONTAGNE: All right. You've signed on to a peace deal that gives sharing of political power, sharing of wealth, compensation for all the horrible damage that's been done, and some sort of plan for protection. Not all of everything you wanted, but enough to stay committed to this peace plan?
Mr. ARABIE: It is not enough for us. It doesn't go far (unintelligible) to satisfy our demands. But at least we have achieved something and we can build on it. Because now it is not necessarily by you can achieve all your goals through military means. There are other means, several through political means, from democratic means, to achieve those goals.
And that is why we are calling up to our venerable friends in the United States government, all these helpers to build our structures, help us to build our party, for that at the end of the day, we can go and then contest and achieve those things through democratic means.
When the people of Darfur feel that this are not far enough. That is why other groups did not sign. And we now call on them also to come and sign. And then for us to, of course, united we can achieve our goals. Separated, we cannot achieve our goals.
MONTAGNE: Your own group, the Sudanese Liberation Army, it is been publicly rebuked by the top U.N. representative in Sudan for attacking and harassing aid workers. And there have been reports of fighting between the SLA and other factions, where both sides were accused of acting rather badly, including rape being committed. What do you say to that?
Mr. ARABIE: I don't think it's totally correct. Darfur is a very large area. There are some people are saying the size of France. And there are a lot of armed people. We have the Janjaweed; even we have other militias, which are also supported by the government. And the government itself, it has known, and it has been recorded by the African Union and the NGOs, that sometimes they paint their vehicles into the colors of SLA. And sometimes they even paint their cars into the color of the African Union, that is the ceasefire commission, and then they go and attack SLA positions.
So this type of thing, we believe that it is the government of Sudan that is behind them. But SLA, as far as SLA is a freedom fighter, we can never commit such atrocities against our people, or against those people who are coming to assist our people, that is international organizations.
MONTAGNE: Given everything we've seen, given everything we know about the great exodus of people out of Darfur, and all the killing. Can Darfur be put back together again?
Mr. ARABIE: Well, we believe so. But we need a lot of effort. We need a lot of commitment to do that. Because, you know, as of now, the social fabric of Darfur is completely broken down. So we need to go back to square one; and then we need to initiate what we call a Darfur dialogue. And we need to initiate tribal conciliations, and individual, and group conciliations.
And we have also take seriously the issue of compensation, because that is the only thing maybe that will make the people, at least, to feel they have been treated like humans at the end of the day.
MONTAGNE: Bahar Arabie, thank you very much for joining us.
Mr. ARABIE: You're welcome.
MONTAGNE: Bahar Arabie is a negotiator for the Sudanese Liberation Army, the largest rebel group in Darfur.