Alan Goulty, the British Special Envoy for the Affairs of the Darfur Region of West Sudan, downplayed the difficulty of the situation in the region. In an interview that "Asharq al-Awsat" carried out with him, he expressed his optimism that progress would be made in the peace negotiations. He believed that the existence of Sudanese officials on the list of accused who would appear before the International Criminal Court is just rumor and he called for waiting for the official announcement about the names. He denied any knowledge of the decision of the armed persons to withdraw from the negotiations if Khartoum took over the presidency of the African Union. He did not rule out the Sudanese becoming "a beacon" on the African continent, provided they first extinguish their disputes. It should be noted that Goulty, who has remained London”s envoy to Sudan for years, is currently his country”s ambassador to Tunisia and he is performing his tasks pertaining to Darfur in addition to his job there.
(Q) No doubt you have known the new Sudanese vice president for years. Are you optimistic that he will play a positive role toward strengthening the peace?
(A) I met Salva Kiir for the first time in 1997 and I find him delightfully reasonable. He believes in extending bridges and mutual understanding with others who do not share his opinion. He is a politician with a good reputation that has not been tarnished by corruption and he enjoys broad respect in the movement. If the movement had to lose a good leader, then Salva is a good successor to a good predecessor. think that he has made a good start, albeit not as fast as we had hoped. He was endeavoring to carry out more consultations, get others to participate, and follow on the road laid out by Garang. I think he will do a good job but, of course, I am not able to completely know the future.
(Q) He has re-extended bridges to Lam Akol, the foreign minister. Is that because, as you mentioned, he believes in collective action instead of exclusivity in decision making?
(A) I think that he thoroughly understands the need for including all the most competent persons. As you know, he also summoned Martin (Elia), who was residing in London, so that he could take up a ministerial post. This is also a good sign that he is ready to forget the past that has not necessarily been forgotten and to work with the persons who were among the dissidents.
(Q) Is there any progress at the level of the investigations into the death of Garang? Are you not taking part in the committee?
(A) I do not know any of the details about that. My impression is that there is an acceptance by everyone that Garang was the victim of a tragic (accidental) incident. But we are waiting for the publication of the official report.
(Q) With respect to Darfur, the dispute is still ablaze two and a half years after it broke out. Do the external parties bear a portion of the blame for the lack of success of the peace efforts until now?
(A) I do not think that the dispute is ablaze. What the region is witnessing is a lack of security over a broad level and reciprocal raids from time to time. This is all regrettable and the African Union investigates (these skirmishes when they occur). Likewise, [the foreign organizations) express their concern because of these raids as soon as they happen. We call on the parties to exercise restraint and carry out their obligations. In the case of the Sudanese Government, this means carrying out the Security Council resolutions that it agreed to. We call on everyone to create the appropriate climate through a ceasefire so that it will be possible to pursue the negotiations and settle the situation quickly.
(Q) Do you believe that the appearance of a number of Sudanese officials before the International Criminal Court would make such a quick settlement possible?
(A) Consideration must always be given in establishing a balance between justice and peace. But I think that you, with this question, are speculating quite a bit, especially in your assumption that senior officials would be subjected to investigation by the International Criminal Court! I simply do not know who are among those accused and I do not think that anyone outside the court team itself knows the names of those persons. The investigation is important and it must run its course. But it should not prevent anyone whatsoever from moving forward in the (peace) process. I hope that everyone is giving priority to the goal of bringing about peace.
(Q) So we should not believe what is being said about persons in prominent positions being among those who are accused?
(A) I would advise to wait until the court”s announcement about the names officially. I do not want to encourage speculations about this issue because I simply do not know.
(Q) It has been said that European countries and other foreign organizations put pressure on the Sudan Liberation Army with the objective of preventing splitting among its ranks.
(A) The organization was divided. This made it difficult for them to adopt a unified position and, consequently, it became difficult to gain progress in the negotiations in general. There are initiatives to help the organization mend rifts and all I hope is that they will yield positive results. Of course, with respect to the Sudan Liberation Army itself, it is the one that has to plan how to put its situation in order and pursue its programs. It is the one that we hope will put forth the peace efforts and create the discipline that will prevent the occurrence of security violations.
(Q) It appears that the extremists have threatened to withdraw from the negotiations if Sudan takes over the next presidency of the African Union. Do you consider this position to be reasonable?
(A) I have not heard anything about that. But it does seem to me that if you were to bear arms in order to fight against oppression, then the priority must be to pursue the attempt so that the objective is achieved: the continuation until a political settlement. There is no reason to justify a withdrawal. As the United Nations secretary general said, it is necessary for these talks to end by the start of the (new) year. If that were to happen, then this becomes a moot question.
(Q) You are dealing with a government that is different from the one you dealt with two years ago. Has it become easier or more difficult to achieve progress?
(A) It is still too early to make a judgment on that. The one who is leading the negotiations in Abuja is still the same person. I hope very much that the Sudan Liberation Army element in the negotiations is disbanded and they have a single team representing them there.
(Q) The European Union promised material assistance to Sudan that has not yet arrived even though more than ten months have passed since the start of the peace that was the condition for it to be granted. Is this causing problems, in view of the economic situation, especially in the south?
(A) You have to look at the matter in its overall picture. The money will be distributed, but we also have to take into consideration the ability to absorb and utilize this assistance. How can you expect a donor to provide assistance to a government that does not exist in the south? Everything will be implemented, albeit somewhat slower than we had expected. It has been shown that the timetable that we had established was more ambitious than what could actually be achieved. I do have to state that the British ministers did fully explain that we will provide a lot of assistance. You have to provide it in a reasonable manner and then launch some of the development projects that need financing. It may take some time.
(Q) Could you give us an approximate timeframe for launching any of these projects or for the arrival of an installment of this promised assistance?
(A) The fact is that I should first talk to my colleagues who are concerned with the matter. I am a special envoy for Darfur affairs and it has not been in my power to follow the issues of assistance distribution. What I can say is that the preparations are being undertaken for large efforts.
(Q) What is your opinion of the Al-Turabi initiative to achieve unity among the countries of the African continent so that the moderate Sudanese Islamists will contribute to curbing the recalcitrance of fundamentalism in the region?
(A) I believe that the priority with respect to any Sudanese should be to put a check on the conflict inside the country. They can be a beacon to the region from the standpoint of extinguishing the conflicts of Darfur and the east and the achievement of a better understanding on the basis of mutual understanding and tolerance (he said the two terms in perfect Arabic). But the pressing issue now is peace. However, let us not get into the realm of speculations about who those able to play this role will be or how moderate or extremist they are because this is a matter for the Sudanese themselves when they carry out their elections that are stipulated by the Nifasha comprehensive peace agreement. With the existence of the National Unity Government in Khartoum, it appears that they are trying to improve relations with Eritrea and, undoubtedly, with other neighbors, as well. This is something excellent. We want to encourage that because it may be very beneficial not just in the east of Sudan, where the borders are with Eritrea, but in its west, too.