Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Darfur

Agence Europe - 30 July 2004

An agreement on bringing peace to Darfur was signed by the Sudanese government in the presence of Kofi Annan on 3 July this year, with a three-month "time-life". "Give us time" to implement it as it is not easy to disarm militia, these "bandits who terrorise the population" in a region that is as big as France, was the appeal was hammered out on Thursday before the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs by the Sudanese Ambassador to the EU, Ali Youssef Ahmid. The ambassador, however, did not convince MEPs - just as he had not convinced their colleagues from the development committee - whom he shocked by stating on several occasions that there was no famine, there was no genocide in Sudan, and that the notion of "genocide" comprises a specific legal definition. Between 35,000 and 50,000 people have been killed in Sudan since February 2003 and "I don't care what one calls it", Christian Democrat Elmar Brok, Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. He told the ambassador that the important thing is to put an end to the situation, adding that he agreed with the political solution recommended but that he found the "time factor" distressing. He said "you are asking for more time but the conflict has already lasted for years". If necessary, he said, their parliamentary committee would be ready to meet on the subject of Sudan even during the holiday period. An EP delegation should go to Sudan, several MEPs said, including British Liberal Emma Nicholson. (We recall that an EP delegation was in Sudan from 19 to 24 February).

The chairperson of the development committee, Luisa Morgantini (Rifondazione comunista), has written to President Borrell calling on him to send a delegation from the EP to Sudan, Chad and possibly Addis Ababa, the seat of the African Union, to meet representatives of the Sudanese government, rebel movements, UN agencies and NGOs. In her view, such a visit could take place from 23 to 27 August. Ms Morgantini also hopes to include on the agenda of the plenary session to be held from 13 to 16 September a question to the Council and the European Commission asking: Would military deployment to restore peace be appropriate? If so, in what conditions? What is the assessment made of cooperation with the African Union (AU)? Does the Council consider that the signing of a peace agreement between the government and the SPLM (Sudan People's Liberation Movement) is sufficient to resume full cooperation with Sudan?

The conflict in Sudan is "to a great extent colonial heritage", exclaimed Ambassador Ahmid, who recalled that it dates back some fifty years to one year before independence was proclaimed in 1956. The ambassador rose up against any idea of military intervention, saying: "Look what happened in Somalia or in Iraq. Is Iraq safer after US intervention?" In his view, the situation in Darfur is still dramatic but has become better since the government has moved. There are still human rights violations (perhaps also among military forces, he admitted, when pressed by MEPs), but "not on the same scale". He repeated: "Give us time to disarm the militia, which has risen up over years in a regional context of conflict in Chad, between Chad and Libya, and in the Central-African Republic." "There are weapons and they must be collected", he added.

Christoph Heusgen, responsible for the Planning and Early Warning Unit at the EU Council took stock of EU initiatives for contributing to peace to Sudan and humanitarian aid if necessary (see EUROPE of 13 July p.4, and 27 July, p.4, on the subject of Council deliberations, mainly concerning the possibility of international sanctions against Khartoum). The conditions of observers on the ground are very difficult, he admitted. He noted (like several MEPs after him) the "massive reproaches" made against the Sudanese government accused of adding, or at least "tolerating", the militia. The integration of the militia into the Sudanese military forces is perhaps not the "right method" for restoring confidence, Mr Heusgen warned. He said, moreover, in response to a question by Raul Rueda Romeva (Spanish member of the Greens Group) that they did not have any proof of arms sales to Sudan by France, the United Kingdom or Cyprus.

Ionnis Kassoudlidis (Nea Demokratia) told the Sudanese ambassador that, although he states there is no famine, people are dying because of the "atrocities" committed. He asked: Is your government able to protect its own citizens on its own? Emma Nicholson gave a posed warning to the ambassador, saying it is difficult to accept his description as totally correct. She added that Sudan did not subscribe to the International Criminal Court (ICC) (for crimes against humanity) but that the government of Sudan could be called to account for genocide before the ICC. The spokesperson for the State Department said that what is happening in Darfur is not genocide and that the African countries do not believe it to be so either, Ambassador Ahmid said defending his position. The Security Council would perhaps be the appropriate forum to take a stance on this? Baroness Nicholson insisted. "Why should I go to the UN with such a request", the ambassador said angrily, noting in passing that the conflict in Darfur had broken out just at a time when international public opinion was "obsessed" by the Rwandan genocide (of which it is the tenth anniversary).

Portuguese Socialist Ana Maria Gomes asked about the possible implication of western oil companies in this conflict, and British Conservative Charles Tannock set out the "theory" expounded by an American journalist whereby the presence of oil in Sudan incited Al Qaeda to set itself up there to make it a sort of "mini Afghanistan". Al Qaeda has never pardoned Sudan for having expelled Bin Laden eight years ago under American pressure, Mr Tannock said, for whom a chaotic country like Sudan is a "perfect place" for terrorists. We shall cooperate closely with the Americans against terrorism, and there are "no Al Qaeda elements" in our country, Ambassador Ahmid assured, admitting: "but the general environment is conducive to terrorist activities".