Washington, D.C., Asharq Al-Awsat- In an exclusive interview, Ezekiel Gatkuoth, representative of the Southern Sudan Government in Washington, said that he will welcome unity with the north “if unity became attractive.” He added that it is the people of southern Sudan who will decide their future in a referendum to be held in 2011.
Criticizing the National Congress Party, partner of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement [SPLM] in government, he said that the party seeks to make amendments in the 2005 peace agreement with the aim of restricting the southerners’ freedom to determine their fate.
Ezekiel Gatkuoth downplayed the importance of reports, which indicated that the south is on the verge of a new war. However, he accused the National Congress Party of recruiting tribal militias in southern Sudan to impede implementation of the peace agreement and to tell the world that the southerners cannot govern themselves.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you support unity between the south and the north or separation of the south?
[Gatkuoth]Under the peace agreement of 2005, the people of southern Sudan will decide their future in a referendum in 2011. Personally, I do not reject unity with the north, provided that it is attractive.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What do you mean?
[Gatkuoth] Our slogan has been the establishment of a new Sudan, a free, democratic, secular, pluralist, and tolerant Sudan. I do not say this because of hostility toward the Arabs and Muslims. Nevertheless, I am not an Arab or Muslim.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Should the southerners too not prove that the unity is attractive? Why do you raise the flag of southern Sudan with no flag of the Sudan next to it?
[Gatkuoth] We raise the flag of Sudan in Juba over the office of the Sudanese vice president (and president of the government of the south). It is the parliament of the south that decided that the flag of the south should be raised in the south and over every office belonging to the south.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How can you prove that unity is attractive while you impede the spread of Islam in the south?
[Gatkuoth]These reports are promoted by people who seek to create problems. President Salva Kiir announced many times that freedom of religions is respected in the south.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why do you say that 60 percent of the Sudanese are Africans? Are all Sudanese not African?
[Gatkuoth] Some of the Sudanese people say they are not African. In any case, I do not want to engage in a discussion about who is an Arab and who is an African. Each one of us can determine his own identity.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There have been reports and commentaries lately indicating that war will break out again in the south.
[Gatkuoth] I do not expect that. Neither the SPLM, nor the National Congress Party wants war. Neither the south, nor the north wants war.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about reports that the southerners are arming themselves in preparation for anew war? What about the tanks that were carried by the Ukrainian ship, which Somali pirates hijacked? It was said that these tanks were on their way to southern Sudan.
[Gatkuoth]First, the purchase, sale, exportation, and shipment of weapons are issues of interest to arms dealers. You ask them. Second, what is unusual if the south has tanks? We had tanks during the civil war. We may not have been able to achieve what we achieved without tanks. Third, these are not nuclear weapons. They are conventional weapons. Fourth, the peace agreement did not forbid the south to arm. It stipulates that the south must have a government and armed forces. How can there be armed forces without weapons?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] And what about reports that the south imports missiles?
[Gatkuoth] I know nothing about this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do the southerners seek to invade the north?
[Gatkuoth]There is no need to exaggerate this subject. There is no need to cause excitement and fear. And there is no need to say that the south has become an arsenal of weapons and that all tribes of the south are armed with modern weapons.
Actually, it is the Khartoum government that causes the problems because it sends weapons to southern militias with the aim of impeding the implementation of the peace agreement. The fact is that there are some traditional weapons in the possession of some tribes. These weapons are used in disputes over cows and pastures, and the government is working to confiscate them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Citing disputes over cows and tribal clashes, even Western newspapers said that the southerners will not be able to govern themselves.
[Gatkuoth]After a war that lasted more than 20 years, it is not easy to establish a stable government, like governments of states that were established hundreds of years ago. Yes, there are problems regarding government, but they are normal problems that all governments face, and we are able to deal with them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does the SPLM acknowledge that separation will not happen unless 75 percent of the southerners vote for it?
[Gatkuoth] This is the strangest condition in the history of elections. It is the ruling National Congress Party that set this condition. It said separation will take place if 75 percent of the voters vote for it, but unity will be established if 51 percent of the voters vote for it. I told you that the National Congress Party seeks to impede implementation of the peace agreement.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Would the SPLM agree if the southerners in the north vote for separation or unity?
[Gatkuoth] We say they are southern citizens. By this, we mean those who are affiliated with the south and this affiliation can be proved. In addition, the definition must also include the south, in other words, not everyone who resides in the south is a southerner.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat last week, Lam Akol, leader of the SPLM-Democratic Change Party, said that the SPLM failed and turned the south into hell.
[Gatkuoth] Lam Akol broke away from the SPLM and established his new party, which is a tool of the ruling National Congress Party.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But Lam Akol is a southern leading figure and was Sudan’s foreign minister.
[Gatkuoth]Throughout his political career, Lam Akol made alliances, rebelled, and made alliances again. This is not the first time he broke away from the SPLM. He defected in the past and attempted to revolt against leader John Garang. Lam Akol’s record is not a bright one.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Lam Akol said that the post of vice president of the republic, which is now held by Vice President Salva Kiir who is also president of the government of the south, is vacant because Salva Kiir is not in Khartoum and he resides in the south almost permanently.
[Gatkuoth] You answered your question and responded to the criticism of Lam Akol. Salva Kiir is president of the government of the south, and his main place of residence is the south.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Lam Akol complained that the Dinka Tribe (the tribe of late leader John Garang and current leader Salva Kiir) controls the government of the south.
[Gatkuoth] It is not a strange move for Lam Akol to raise the slogan of tribalism. He wants to portray his new party as one belonging to the Shilluk Tribe.
However, the problem is not the Shilluk, Nuer, or Dinka tribe. Vice President of the Government of the South Riek Machar belongs to the Nuer Tribe, and Lam Akol who was with us belongs to the Shilluk Tribe. Also, Secretary General of the SPLM Pagan Amum is from the Shilluk Tribe. The speaker of the parliament of the south belongs to the Barea Tribe, and so forth.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Lam Akol complained of corruption in the government of the south. He said $8billion from the oil revenues were delivered to the SPLM, but the south saw no development.
[Gatkuoth]There is corruption everywhere. Why does Lam Akol not complain about corruption in the ruling National Congress Party that finances him? And what about the corruption in his newly established party? His party has been corrupt from the beginning because it was founded with funds from the ruling National Congress Party.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But even Western newspapers spoke about the spread of corruption in the south.
[Gatkuoth] As I said, corruption exists everywhere, and President Salva Kiir cares about transparency and honesty. He sacked the finance minister and set up a commission to fight corruption that has legal powers. Even the Khartoum government did not do this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your relationship with the Sudanese ambassador in Washington?
[Gatkuoth] Our personal relationship is firm. He and I belong to the SPLM. Officially, however, he is not my boss, nor am I his boss because according to the constitution of Sudan after the peace agreement, Sudan is one single state governed by two regimes.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But you govern the south and participate in governing the north.
[Gatkuoth] We govern the south and participate in governing Sudan, not the north.