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Press Conference in Khartoum, Sudan

Andrew S. Natsios, Special Envoy for Sudan
Hilton Hotel (Darfur Room)
Khartoum, Sudan
March 7, 2007

Special Envoy Andrew Natsios: I am President Bush's Special Envoy to Sudan. I just had a meeting with President Bashir. We had a discussion of the political situation. From our perspective in the U.S. Government, the only way to end the Darfur conflict in a sustainable way is through a political negotiation that deals with the real issues: the power sharing issues, the security issues for people, the economic development issues, and the wealth sharing issues. These cannot be dealt with unless the rebels and the government talk.

I visited Chad in January to spend some time with many factions of the rebel movements and urged them to unify politically to engage with the Sudanese government based on the DPA, with amendments, to deal with those issues which remain unresolved from their perspective. The Sudanese government has not placed any prerequisites on these conversations, which I told the president we appreciated. I don't know how this will go once the rebels sit down with the government, but from our perspective the next step is for the rebel movements to establish a unified position politically. The war cannot be won by the Sudanese government or by the rebels. The only way to end it is through negotiated peace.

We believe there should be only one political track for negotiations, and that is the one of the United Nations and the African Union. We know that there are other tracks being organized and we would urge the other regional efforts to merge with the United Nations in an integrated fashion so that there is only one effort. This was the formula used between the North and the South in negotiations which led to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. IGAD sponsored this, but there was also involvement by the British, the Norwegians, and the United States, in terms of the contact group, and the United Nations. So, there was a formula that worked in the North and South. We have a formula that I think could work to involve the regional powers that are deeply involved with what happens in Darfur. They have interests in it. They need to be involved. I will be leaving this evening to go to Tripoli to meet with President Gaddafi about Libya's role in this.

I did tell President Bashir that from my perspective, I think people are tired in the international community. For four years this war has gone on -- a massive loss of life. The real risks, we think, are present for more loss of life in the future if we don't take advantage of this current phase in the conflict and use it in the negotiations.

I told President Bashir that we believe that some effort should be made to implement some of the reasonable provisions within the DPA that can be effectively implemented under the current situation from the security perspective. The Sudanese government needs to send some messages to the rebel movements that they will implement what they agreed to, because there is a history of broken agreements in this country. I think a lot of people are very suspicious. I think one way of dealing with that is to implement both the CPA and some provisions of the DPA now, particularly with respect to the TDRA, which is this new regional governmental unit that has been set up that Minni Minawi has.

We dealt with the issue of the peacekeeping operation, which in my view is one of the remaining issues, and perhaps the remaining issue, of substantial importance that has issues that need to be resolved - issues about command and control, issues about UN financing and under which circumstances the Security Council will vote to have the UN finance. Third, the backstopping and the administrative systems in the United Nations and how they will work. I did tell him that the process for moving through the three phases is much too slow, and unacceptably slow from the perspective of the United States government, and I think I can speak for the international community. A war is going on. The only way to deal with this is to have peace negotiations, but also to have that peacekeeping force in there that was agreed to in Addis. They can't keep renegotiating what was agreed to in Addis. What was agreed to was agreed to, and that's it. The president said that he understands that and apparently is going to release a letter responding to phase 2 plans for the UN and the AU. You would have to talk to him about when that would be sent, but he said it would be imminent.

We discussed the need for troops from outside Africa. We do not think that there are sufficient peacekeeping troops with experience in these operations to come from Africa under the third phase of the Addis compromise, and that there will have to be troops brought in from other countries. I think that is clearly an issue where we have a disagreement on that obviously has not been resolved.

I think the greatest immediate threat to people on the ground is the deteriorating humanitarian space in Darfur. The government has constructed a very onerous set of bureaucratic requirements that are essentially paralyzing the relief effort, with visa delays, with customs duties that are really expensive, with holding up commodities and equipment at Port Sudan. This harassment of the NGOs and the incident in Nyala on January 23 was just outrageous and was completely unacceptable from our perspective. I urged him to drop the charges immediately against the NGO workers because they have no basis at all in them, and to announce immediately an investigation into the people who perpetrated the brutality against the NGOs and the UN agencies. I said you cannot treat people like that. We talked about a specific set of regulatory changes, I don't want to list all of them. They are things that are commonly known. Manuel De Silva has mentioned them and some of the NGOs have mentioned them.

We discussed the CPA and the implementation of the CPA. Without a fully funded census process and a border commission, there aren't going to be elections in 2009. So, our position we need to begin immediately the process of demarcating the border, because without the border demarcation, you cannot do the census. Without the census you cannot do the elections. There is a sequential set of steps that must to be taken. We have done this all over the world. This is not a new thing. If you don't do the steps in the process early enough, then you don't have elections on time. The CPA says by mid-2009, the elections must be held. I urged him to begin those processes and fund the commissions fully right now.

I also told him that from the perspective of the Southerners and the United States, that the security situation in the South was a real problem. I raised this in December. The government said they would deal with it by the end of the year. That has not happened. There has been a second incident in Malakal. This is the problem of the militias in the South and of troops that should be demobilized who are Southerners and members of the Sudanese Armed Forces during the war, but who don't want to move to the North and don't want to join the SPLA. They could potentially destabilize the South. In fact, some of them are doing that right now. Those issues need to be dealt with.

Finally, on the CPA, the issue of Abyei continues to be a sore in the relationship which is causing tension that could undermine the CPA if it is not dealt with now.

I explained to him that I think the United States is tired of delays in all of these areas, and that to the extent his government can speed up progress that we can defuse some of the tension. But if that doesn't happen, I think the growing movement in the West and in Africa to take other measures will simply accelerate.

If there are any questions I'd be glad to answer them.

Opheera McDoom (Reuters): There seems to be a deadlock over the UN force that has been going back and forth for a very long time. People are suffering in Darfur. What is the way forward as there seems to be no solution to this?

Natsios: I spent a long time with the UN staff in El Fasher. I hear it from the perspective of the headquarters in New York, but I wanted to hear it from the people on the ground. Apparently, all but one or two of the people have been recruited for Phase 1 of the Ban Ki-Moon/Koffi Annan plan that was agreed to on November 16 in Addis. So they have people recruited. They have 35 blue helmet, blue beret people in Darfur now. There are 30 more if you can build barracks quickly. The United States government has made commitments to do that working through our State Department contractor. We need a signed agreement on what land we could use. I talked to the wali when I was out there and he said the agreement was ready for signature. Once that happens, it will be a couple of months before we can actually construct the physical facilities to transfer the rest of the people. I think it's a total of 189 people under Phase 1. I think Phase 1 is actually moving along.

For Phase 2, the UN has submitted a detailed planning document and the government has now said they were going to respond imminently to it. We did not see the letter so I do not know what is in the letter. We are waiting to see what the Sudan government response is. I understand that the UN and the AU have just completed the drafting of the Phase 3 plan. (inaudible) have to go to the Tripartite Commission that will be submitted to the Sudanese government. I told the president that he needs to accelerate the approval process. It's taken too long for Phase 2. It can't take that long for Phase 3.

The final issue is the definition of command and control. Without effective UN command and control structures that were agreed to in Addis - they are in the Abuja Agreement and in the PRST - the UN Security Council will not vote for UN funding unless they have some control over how the money is being spent. This is a new model for doing this. It's really a different chapter in the Charter that is being used for the first time. We are prepared for a new resolution on the issue of financing, but these other issues have to be dealt with before we can go to the Security Council because they are not going to approve this unless these issues are very clear. You cannot have vague ambiguities about command and control structures in the middle of a war where you have troops and people at risk. They have to be very clear because decisions have to be made on a rapid basis and it has to be clear who can give the orders and who takes the orders and carries them out.

Jonah Fisher (BBC): Why do you think the Sudanese government is, as you say, paralyzing the aid effort? Is it a conscious decision on their part, just bureaucratic? Secondly, this is your third visit as an envoy here. Is there any sign that the Sudanese are actually listening to what you are saying to them?

Natsios: I think the Sudanese are listening to what I am saying. Whether they will change their actions, I can't tell you that. Only time will tell. You notice that I did not tell you what we agreed to or did not agree to because what typically happens to people from other countries who are inexperienced in Sudan is that they come in and make all these announcements and the next day nothing happens or the opposite happens. I am not engaging in that. I have avoided that. Very shortly we will tell whether or not what we agreed to is being carried out. If it is not being carried out, we will just have to reassess the situation. We are not making any announcements about what actions are going to be taken. We will see by what happens in the next few weeks.

A whole set of very important issues around humanitarian space are what is bothering me most now because we could begin to have an exodus of UN agencies, the ICRC, or the NGOs, if the situation continues to deteriorate. We had 13 vehicles looted from the NGOs and the UN humanitarian agencies in calendar year 2005. In 2006, we had 123. There has been a massive increase. It is completely unacceptable. Many of those are by thieves, but many are by rebel movements, but the bureaucratic obstacles to getting your work done are what are really tiring everyone out. They can't get people in here, they can't get goods through the port. That is something the Sudanese government can do. I might add, if you read the accounts of the 1985-86 famine, and there are a lot of books on it, they went through the same thing, under Saddiq Al-Mahdi's government. So this is not a new problem with the Sudanese bureaucracy. The question is whether there is the will to change that. I have been told by my staff at AID and the NGOs and UN, that in 2005 we actually had a much freer hand in getting this work done, but there has been a radical deterioration of this in 2006. So all they have to do is return to the regulatory framework of 2005 and things will improve - in terms of what they are responsible for. The Sudanese government did not steal all those vehicles, I recognize that.

Yes, sir.

El-Hadyai Ahmed (Sudan Now): From your meetings with these non-signatories, what reservations do they have about the DPA? What do they like and what do they not like?

Natsios: I don't want to speak in specific detail for each movement. JEM was there, SLM was there. There are 12 different factions and I can't remember which one has which position on which issue. I listened to them for a whole day. But the broad category is that the compensation package is inadequate - $30 million, which is really infuriating people in the camps. I think that is a big issue. I think a lot of people in the camps don't know what's in the agreement. They listen to their leaders. Some of their leaders have made some aggressive remarks, which I think are not very realistic. But there is an issue with respect to compensation. I think there are issues about the implementation of the security guarantees. People are suspicious about whether or not the janjaweed will be demobilized, whether the security apparatus along the border, the border patrol, the popular defense force. These are, for people in the camps, mechanisms of oppressions that need to be disassembled or they are not going to be safe in their villages. I think, third, there is an issue of wealth sharing, the same kinds of issues that the South dealt with. I think finally there are issues of political representation. I don't want to characterize each individual group's position on each of those issues. These issues will have to be dealt with. It's not for the United States to sit and try to negotiate this. It's for Jan Eliasson and Salim Salim to get both sides together to start talking, instead of fighting, because people are suffering, people have had it, they are exhausted. They want their land back. They want their animals back. They want to return to their homes.

Khalid Tijani El-Nour (UPI): Did you raise with President El-Bashir the issue of the International Criminal Court?

Natsios: I did not.

Khaled Tijani (UPI): How do you see the effect of this issue on these talks?

Natsios: You are a reporter. You live here. You probably know better than I do. We'll see very shortly whether it has one effect or another.

Karl Meier (Bloomberg News): Do you think some of the nomadic groups, the Arab groups, the Arab militias, the Musa Hilals of the world, will be included in the negotiations?

Natsios: I don't think the people who committed the atrocities should be at the bargaining table. I think, however, that if we do not include the Arab tribes from all over Darfur, that we will never have an end to this conflict. They are going to live there after the peace agreement is signed. If they are not part of it, they may resent it so much that there will be another conflict. We have had three conflicts in 20 years. I went to the war that took place in the late 80s between the Fur and the Arabs, because I ran the relief effort for the U.S. government for USAID. I didn't realize it was going to be the first of three wars. Then there was a Massalit war with the Arabs in 1996-98, and now we have this war which involves many of the tribes in the most destructive war in the history of Darfur. I think one of the goals diplomatically and politically is to achieve a settlement that deals comprehensively with these issues so that we don't have another war in three years. People are so poor in Darfur to begin with. They don't have a lot of coping mechanisms left given the destruction of the economy. The ecology is very fragile there to begin with. The only way Darfur is going to develop is if there is a comprehensive approach to this that ends these disputes permanently. Now there are wars going on in the south between the Arab tribes that are not related to the conflict with the rebels. That is killing a lot of people.

Mohamed Hasni (AFP): (inaudible) We saw some threats from jihadist groups threatening people and countries that are operating in Darfur? What do you think about these threats? Are you taking them seriously?

Natsios: I think they are threatening a lot of people in a lot of places in the world. Some of them are real threats, and some of them are idle threats. I think many of the people doing the threatening don't look like the people who live in Sudan. It would be fairly easy to determine whether they are in the country or not. They won't fade into the population. I think they would be a little uneasy being here. I don't think most Sudanese, whether they are Arabs or Africans or mixed, because most people have blood from different tribes, want these people in their country interfering internally.

Opheera McDoom (Reuters): Washington said last year that by January if there had been no progress on a UN-AU hybrid force there was a Plan B that would come into action. What happens to Plan B?

Natsios: There is a Plan B. We don't think that's the best way for us to proceed. We would prefer a cooperative approach to this where the Sudanese government agrees to moving troops in under phases 1, 2 and 3, a political settlement, and dealing with these NGO issues. I would rather deal with this now on a negotiated basis, but there are other options available.

Jonah Fisher (BBC): There isn't a permanent head of either the UN of the African Union here in Sudan. Morale among the aid community certainly is pretty low, and among the African Union soldiers, especially those who haven't been paid.

Natsios: That is why we need the UN command and control and administrative backstopping system because once those take place, we will not have to worry about that.

Jonah Fisher (BBC): Ban Ki-moon has said this is a priority. Do you think it doesn't really go hand-in-hand with that if he hasn't appointed someone.

Natsios: I think things are happening now. I know they are happening. So I think we are approaching a time when some decisions will be made.

Karl Meier (Bloomberg News): Do you have any indication at all, because I haven't seen it, that the government will accept phase 3?

Natsios: They accepted phase 3 in Addis.

Karl Meier (Bloomberg News): In principle.

Natsios: In principle. They accepted it in Abuja, and they accepted implicitly in the PRST that was approved. As far as we are concerned, they need to be held to what they agreed to. Only time will tell when the plan is submitted for Phase 3 goes to the press, the Sudanese government responds to it. I might add, it's in the Sudanese government's interest to accelerate this because the rebels are unlikely to be very comfortable in implementing this without some hybrid force in Darfur. So if they want peace in Darfur, which I think the government does want, of course they want it on their terms, then we need what was agreed to in Addis in force. A lot of the rebels aren't going to give up their heavy weapons to Sudanese military. That is why we need an experienced force that knows how to do disarmament and demobilization.

Armed groups are the biggest factor in the collapse of peace agreements around the world. I have been doing this for 18 years. There are studies on it. Fifty percent of all peace agreements collapse at implementation, and it's usually over the security issues. That's why dealing with the militia issues in the South are critically important. If they are not dealt with, we have a very serious problem with the CPA. I have to say, in fairness to the South, of the 40,000 other armed groups, militias, 30,000 have either joined the SPLA, joined the Northern army, or left. You still have 10,000 left. You have people who are leaving the Sudanese Armed Forces who don't want to go to the North because they are Southerners, and they don't want to join the SPLA, they want to be retired. That is a very large group of people. They have to dealt with through pensions, because if they are not, they are going to cause instability in the countryside. Those are issues that must be dealt with in the South, and if I had to choose something, speaking for my Southern friends, people want to be able to live in their villages in peace. They don't want people running around with guns shooting up their villages. That's what everybody wants in every civilized society. That has to be dealt with or it is really going to undermine even more the CPA.

Thank you very much.

[Recording and transcription by U.S. Embassy Khartoum Public Affairs Section]

Released on March 12, 2007

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