London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Abdelwahid Muhammad Nur, leader and founder of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLA), has launched a scathing attack on “the peace agreement in Darfur,” which the Sudanese Government and the wing which split from the SLA, led by Mini Arkoi Minawi, signed in Abuja last Friday. He said the agreement does not fulfill even 1 percent of the aspirations of the Sudanese people in Darfur.
Nur told Asharq al-Awsat that he will “absolutely” not sign this agreement unless radical changes are introduced into it. He, however, stressed that he is for peace and is committed to the two cease-fire agreements signed in Abuja and N’djamena. He said he will not carry arms against anyone, but he will not stop his peaceful struggle. Nur stressed that there are large pressures on him by the international community to make him to sign the agreement. He said: “Eighteen leaders and foreign ministers in the EU, the United States, and Africa talked to me to persuade me to sign.” He indicated that he received a personal letter from President George Bush and said he told them he “came to Abuja to sign a peace agreement but not an incomplete peace and it should be a just and comprehensive peace.” He said he stressed to all leaders that he struggles for the people’s rights and will not sell his people at a cheap price. He also said he does not want to be an employee in the salvation government in Khartoum. He denied that he was expelled from the presidential palace in Nigeria before the signing ceremony. The following is the text of the interview.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What are your objections?
(Nur) This agreement does not fulfill even the minimum of our demands. We do not want to sign a paper and then things go back to how they were. The document requires a radical change. The people of the Darfur region must be given their right to live in one undivided region and end marginalization. In the field of government, the post of vice president must be given to someone from Darfur. Our people must also be represented on all levels of government in Sudan and in the state executive and legislative departments in accordance with the percentage of the population, especially since the problem is originally political.
In the field of the distribution of wealth, we want fair compensation. We all know that the Sudanese Army, police, people’s defense services, and the Janjawid carried out annihilation and (ethnic) cleansing operations against the people of Darfur. Therefore, they should be fairly compensated for the property they lost. The four-year war destroyed the infrastructure, particularly in the field of education. Therefore, not a single school exists in Darfur now. One of our demands is reopening these schools and compensating people. In this regard, we have also called for introducing languages and local dialects into the curricula in the region as is the case with the southern and Nuba Mountains agreements. The agreement ignored all these things.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What about the security arrangements?
(Nur) We wanted the agreement to include a clear mechanism to disarm the Janjawid and pinpoint the side that will undertake this job in a clear and frank manner. The government will not do this. Therefore, we wanted an international mechanism. Otherwise, the millions of evacuees will not return to their regions and villages. Large demonstrations are now staged in the camps against the agreement. Peace is not a matter of signing a paper without thinking if it addresses the needs of the people even on a minimum level. I do not want to sign so that I will not be an employee in the salvation (the Sudanese regime). I want a radical change. What has this agreement offered to make me sign it?
(Asharq Al-Awsat) But the other wing of your movement has signed this agreement. Do you think they have not read it well?
(Nur) I am the leader and founder of this movement. I did not sign it.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) But you fully coordinated with them and with the Sudan Justice and Equality Movement during the talks.
(Nur) This is not true. I have been here in Abuja for five months and 10 days and I have not coordinated with any side except for a few days at the start of talks. This coordination was then cut off. I have stayed away from people throughout these months for the sake of the negotiations. A baby was born for me in Nairobi four months ago but I have still not seen it because I have not left Abuja for five months now.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) We heard that you were exposed to large pressures in order to sign. How true is this?
(Nur) Frankly speaking, I faced countless pressures and received phone calls from 18 world leaders, foreign ministers, and senior officials, including Tony Blair, Condoleezza Rice, and Javier Solana. I also received a personal letter from Bush. Robert Zoellick, US deputy secretary of state, conveyed it to me but I rejected all pressures because I do not want an incomplete peace for my people. I told them I fight for freedom and the rights of the people of Darfur and I cannot sign any document unless it contains these rights. I told them: You came to end the genocide but genocide has not ended.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Zoellick said contacts are taking place with you to persuade you to change your mind. Are there contacts?
(Nur) Yes, there are continuous contacts. I met with Zoellick for more than four hours before signing, but he did not succeed in making me change my mind.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) But African Union officials said they will outlaw those who refuse to sign the agreement and threatened to adopt international sanctions against them.
(Nur) Let them say what they want. None can put any pressure on the one who derives his strength from his people. I derive this strength from my people. I am basically a fighter. I consider the years I am living now additional years in my life. I am supposed to have died or killed a hundred times. My hands are now fractured and several pieces of shrapnel are still in my body. I do not have time for a surgery to get them out. They scare me. Moreover, I am committed to a cease-fire in Abuja and N’djamena. As for the sanctions, I am prepared for them if their price is depriving me of demanding our rights. I am not a criminal. I demand legitimate rights. I said in the past and I say again now that I am ready to turn myself in to The Hague court or any international tribunal if my name is among the 51 Sudanese officials accused of perpetrating crimes against humanity in Darfur.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Robert Zoellick and other officials downplayed the importance of your objection to the agreement and said Mini (Arkoi Minawi) has a larger force on the ground.
(Nur) Zoellick and others can say what they want. The agreement is incomplete and I will not sign it. I assure you that more than 90 percent of the Darfur people are against this agreement.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) This means it will not be signed by 15 May, which is the deadline set by the African Union.
(Nur) The deadline does not concern me. What concerns me is making radical changes to the agreement. If these changes are made now, I will sign it.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) You said you are committed to a cease-fire. What is your new method of resistance?
(Nur) Peaceful means. I call on all the people of Sudan and Darfur and the students to undertake at least a minimum level of struggle by taking to the streets, demonstrating, and staging sit-ins for the just cause.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Some Khartoum newspapers said Nigerian President Obasanjo expelled you from the presidential palace in Abuja before the signing ceremony. What is the truth?
(Nur) (Laughing) I was with President Obasanjo in his palace for two hours. I told him that I cared for peace but the agreement had nothing to do with peace. I also told him that the peace they are talking about is not the peace I mean. He listened to me very sympathetically and his eyes filled with tears. He told me that he was convinced of what I said. He then told Zoellick what I thought about the agreement. He called me again shortly before signing and said: “Will you attend the signing ceremony?” I told him: If I attend, this will mean I accept it, but I do not. Therefore, I left. This departure was used to say Obasanjo summoned me to ask me to leave. That did not at all happen. I would like to stress here while still hosted by Obasanjo that I have all respect and appreciation for this man.
* Abdelwahid Muhammad Nur was born in the city of Zalinji in southern Darfur in 1969. He received his primary and secondary education in Zalinji. He studied Law at Khartoum University and graduated in 1993. He practiced law in Zalinji for several years. He led the Sudan Liberation Movement when it was established in 2002. His movement split into two upon differences between him and Mini Arkoi Minawi, former secretary general and new leader of the faction which split from the movement.