Pronk: Hidden forces undermining Sudanese president authority

Interview Sudan Tribune, 13 February 2007

Feb 11, 2007 (AMSTERDAM) —The former UN envoy to Sudan said that some hidden forces in Khartoum are hindering a peaceful resolution to the Darfur crisis as well as destabilizing the implementation of the peace agreement in southern Sudan. He further added they could be motivated by a combination of economic, political or religious factors.

Jan Pronk

The former Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to Sudan, Jan Pronk, told the Sudan Tribune in an interview that some forces are hindering efforts to realize peace in Darfur. He identified these forces as the same ones that attempting to destabilize the south by arming militias.

Pronk said that these forces had “never liked the CPA and in turn blamed al-Bashir and his 2nd Vice president Ali Osman Taha for what they thought to be too many concessions made.” He said they could be composed of economic forces linked to oil “or it could just be traditional political forces who want to have a strong huge big Sudan or simply more conservative Islamists. It could be a combination of all that.”

Pronk mentioned that theses forces are vague in structure and spread across the state apparatus such as the army, the ruling National Congress Party and the security services. However he added that president al Bashir is not personally behind it though he “allows it and may close his eyes in order to stay in power but these forces are quite strong.”

He also vehemently accused these forces of undermining the role of the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).

“I have stood up for my staff and defended them when I was there. The UN mission in Sudan (UNMIS) has been beheaded and the current leadership is officially in charge but in reality they are handling more of the managerial aspect of the peace agreement and they are not backed by New York.” he said.

Pronk explained that the Sudanese president opposition to the deployment of UN peacekeepers in Darfur is the outcome of a complex balance of power within the ruling party. He said that Bashir was misinformed and manipulated by these omnipresent forces. He also added that Sudanese president has to weigh two risks: the risk of international sanctions and diplomatic isolation or an internal power strife and domestic turmoil. According to Pronk, al-Bashir chose to avoid the second because the first risk is “practically non-existent.”

Pronk welcomed the role of the International Criminal Court in Darfur. He said that the upcoming indictments by the ICC would help neutralize forces that are mobilizing militias and are behind the Darfur atrocities.

In his response to the motives behind the negative attitude of the Sudanese foreign minister towards him, Pronk said that Lam Akol has acted as the foreign minister of the national unity government and that the SPLM wasn't supportive of his decision to expel him. However, he underlined that the expulsion “was a violation of the agreement with the UN resolution establishing the UNMIS.”


The former UN SG envoy said that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement is, in spite of the political disagreements hindering its implementation, still on track. “The road to peace is bumpy and the train may easily derail at some points yet it is still on track.”

Nonetheless, Pronk considered that the political will of the two peace partners is the key element to resolve all these difficulties. On issue of Abyei, he said that what is important is to “solve the issue politically while guaranteeing security on the ground.”

The former UN SG envoy to Sudan said that the CPA is strongly linked to the resolution of Darfur crisis, and that even if the CPA didn't collapse, Darfur crisis may lead southerners to vote against the unity because of their lack of confidence in the Khartoum government.

Southerners “will take their own decisions of becoming independent as they don't want to run the risk of being attacked in the same manner so it ends up being a vicious circle.” He further said that this decision “would be legally acceptable but will not be good for Sudan as a whole and a reason to return to war.”


The following is the full text of the interview with the former UN Secretary General envoy to Sudan, Jan Pronk.

CPA still on truck

- There was a public row in Juba between the Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his First Vice President Silva Kiir in the celebrations marking 2 years since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Also, hundreds of people have been killed in bloody clashes that erupted in the southern town of Malakal. In light of all these developments can you give us your assessment of the CPA at this point?

Pronk: The CPA is indeed in a difficult situation, but like I said in my last UN Security Council (UNSC) briefing a couple of months ago that it is still on track. The road to peace is bumpy and the train may easily derail at some points yet it is still on track. However there are a number of items that pose significant risks to the CPA such as the events in Malakal which could be repeated in other areas like Wau and Juba. The fighting in Malakal was the worst of its kind since the signing of the CPA. The fact is that the political disagreement between al-Bashir and Kiir has been ongoing for quite some time, but maybe for the first time it came out publicly in this manner. This is not a bad thing in itself and perhaps it is better to have it in public than having it in private. This was not so much of a dispute between the President and his Vice President, but rather between the President of Sudan and the President of Southern Sudan. I think that you should make this distinction.

- But don't you think that the charged and negative atmosphere that prevailed during the celebration of the CPA's 2nd anniversary was a major setback?

Pronk: No it is not a setback. This is an example of what I have reported before to the UNSC that the CPA may derail from its track and therefore they should stay alert. It is simply a political debate that was made in public and not a violent clash. The CPA is not dead and if there are differences then it is better to come out in the open rather than using it as a means to destabilize the CPA. Everyone have to be made aware of these differences rather than having the armed groups continue to carry out destabilizing activities in the dark.

- In the same context the status of Abyei remained a controversial issue between the National Congress Party (NCP) and Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) with no resolution till this very moment. The Abyei Boundary Commission decided that Abyei's should be part of southern Sudan. The Sudanese government argued that the commission has exceeded its mandate by issuing such a recommendation. Is this true?

Pronk: This is no longer an important question because these statements were made a year and a half ago. The question now is how to resolve this issue and it does not help repeating what have been said before. The important thing is to solve the issue politically while guaranteeing security on the ground. As long as the issue has not been solved politically this should not result in more insecurity on the ground which is the main concern. If the NCP and SPLM do not disagree on the Abyei issue then it is not for the UN to take sides because it was neither a UN report nor a UN decision to have a committee presenting a report and setting forth the procedures on the implementation of its findings. The important thing for the UN that there has to be a political solution and as long as they don't reach one, then it should not have a negative impact on the ground.

The DPA is a step forward towards peace

- Let me move on to Darfur. The Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) was signed in May 2006 in Abuja. You have been present at these talks. At the time the DPA was signed you were supportive of it and then later down the road you became critical of it. What made you change your position?

Pronk: I signed the DPA as a witness. I did not think it was the best outcome, but this is how it came out to be. I was not present during the last couple of days of the negotiations in Abuja, since I had to fly to New York for a meeting. The tables were turned upside down because when I was still there on Sunday Minni Minnawi was vehemently opposed to the proposed text of the agreement. On the other side Abdel Wahid's faction was more positive towards it. In two days everything changed and Minnawi ended up signing the agreement while Abdel-Wahid did not. It was a complete shift of positions and I am not sure what caused the change. This question needs to be directed to the U.S. & U.K. delegates who were present at the Abuja talks. When I returned back from New York decisions have already been made so the UN signed as a witness. It was a peace agreement and a cease fire deal. Abdel-Wahid was asked to leave the room because he refused to sign. I did say that the agreement is a positive thing because clearly this is the only way to resolve the conflict. However I made it very clear from the beginning that if this agreement was seen as a finish rather than a step forward towards peace, then it would be a big mistake. During the weeks following the signing of the DPA many mistakes have been made by all parties to the conflict and the international community who assumed the agreement was the conclusion of the crisis. They labeled the non-signatories of the DPA as outlaws and threatened them with sanctions if they don't sign. This attitude was adopted by the parties which signed the agreement along with the African Union (AU), US and UK. I warned them this is not the right way to follow up. As a result, the agreement became a splitting instrument rather than a politically binding one. Six weeks later I stated that the peace agreement was in disarray and gradually I raised my voice telling the parties that if they continue along this path there would not be a peace agreement anymore. The government and Minni Minnawi had no political will to bring the non-signatories on board but rather bombed and attacked them. These attacks were not in line with the spirit of the DPA.

- So you are saying it was the implementation that ruined the DPA?

Pronk: Absolutely, and I emphasized this in all my press conferences that if you read the text of the DPA it is not a bad one from an institutional or legal perspective. That being said it was not a politically viable agreement because it between the government and a single rebel faction. The non-signatories were labeled as outlaws and they were being bombed. This resulted in a situation where the constituencies of Abdel Wahid rejected the DPA because they believed it was being used as tool to attack them. Gradually the DPA became paralyzed, near dead. I used a stronger term coma, to describe the DPA because the first few months the DPA did not function anymore.

Western countries legitimized attacks against holdout rebels

- The UNSC has issued a communiqué saying that the DPA should the basis for the peace in Darfur. The Sudanese government is insisting that the agreement would not be changed and that the non-signatories have to accept it as is.

Pronk: This is a power statement not a political one. The government can insist all it wants but if the other parties don't agree then the DPA will not function. You can bomb and attack the non-signatories or use the Jinjaweed militias against them, which was the case. The mistake of some western countries is that they legitimized these attacks as a way to implement the DPA through calling the non-signatories outlaws or terrorists which encouraged the Sudanese government to attack their positions. As a result the DPA ended up pushing the peace away. It could have been different if at the outset all parties were admitted to the DPA institutions such as the ceasefire commission. Any ceasefire agreement needs to have a very strong and efficient commission and for that all parties should be present or else you can't resolve ceasefire violations. The non-signatories were not allowed to join this commission which meant that they could be attacked and not have their voices heard. The commission that was meant to safeguard the ceasefire ended up being a vehicle to legitimize further attacks

Darfur crisis may lead southerners to vote against unity

- Do you think the Darfur crisis would lead to the collapse in the CPA?

Pronk: I am concerned that this may happen even though it shouldn't. I personally see that peace in the South is strongly linked to the peace in Darfur. When you have an ongoing war in a major part of the country then the unity of Sudan is at stake. The CPA may not collapse but it may result in a situation where Southerners will vote against unity because they have no confidence in the Khartoum government. This in my view, would legally be acceptable but will not be good for Sudan as a whole and a reason to return to war. If there is no peace in Darfur then there will be no confidence in the government since the southerners will blame them for the attacks on their fellow citizens in Darfur. They will take their own decisions of becoming independent as they don't want to run the risk of being attacked in the same manner so it ends up being a vicious circle. The only way to avoid this is to have peace in Darfur as soon as possible. This is what the international community should understand; if they want to have peace in the North East part of Africa then Darfur is the key to that.

UNSC ineffectiveness

- Given the fact that you have voiced all these concerns to the UNSC yet the latter has been almost ineffective in trying to resolve the Darfur crisis. You have mentioned in one of your press conferences that the UNSC is not taking itself seriously. Why do you think that the case?

Pronk: I don't know. I can offer a number of explanations but they will remain speculations. Perhaps they are busy with other issues such as the situation in the Middle East or they are too divided amongst themselves. It is also possible that they are underestimating the scope of the crisis. I personally think that it is a combination of all these reasons.

No one knows exactly where the power lies in Khartoum

- Every time the rebel groups convene in an area and discuss uniting their ranks the Sudanese government bombs these areas. What is the reason behind that?

Pronk: Unfortunately the Sudanese government does not fear international reaction since any bombing raids or Jinjwaeed attacks are violations of UNSC resolutions and even the DPA. The Sudanese government knows that they can violate the terms of these agreements without fearing any repercussions from the international community. The Sudanese government became determined to pursue a military victory. One example of is that when the rebel groups make promises to refrain from initiating attacks, the Sudanese government bombs them. The other explanation I can think of is that these attacks are carried out by other forces in Khartoum such as the army.

- Launching attacks without the consent of the political leadership in Khartoum?

Pronk: This is possible. No one knows exactly where the power lies. However if the second explanation is true that then this means that those who are politically in power would be more trustworthy because these forces are making life difficult for them but then they should be more open and ask the international community for help against those forces in Sudan that aim to destabilize the South as well as Darfur. As long as they don't do so they are responsible.

- You made frequent references to 'the forces' that are obstructing peace in the South and seeking a military solution to the Darfur crisis. Who are you specifically referring to?

Pronk: I am not mentioning names but we all know that there are some groups in Khartoum that never liked the CPA and in turn blamed al-Bashir and his 2nd Vice president Ali Osman Taha for what they thought to be too many concessions made. These groups in my view they are the ones behind the attempts to destabilize the south by arming some militias. There could be economic forces behind it linked to oil or it could just be traditional political forces who want to have a strong huge big Sudan or simply more conservative Islamists. It could be a combination of all that. There are similar forces who are trying to keep Darfur under control for economic reasons. I think you will find these forces in the army but not the army as a whole; in the National Congress Party but not the NCP as a whole. You will also find them in National Security but not the apparatus as a whole. It is very vague and I do not think that President himself is behind it. I mentioned before that he allows it and may close his eyes in order to stay in power but these forces are quite strong.

- Do you think that these are the same forces that marginalized Vice President Taha in Sudan?

Pronk: I suppose that this part of the game. I think these are the same forces that are sidelining the UN and making life very difficult for their staff. The UN is much more under pressure than it was before I was ousted. I was standing up for my people when I was there but at the moment who is standing up for the UNMIS? The attack on the UN compound in Nyala for instance is a shame since no one said anything against it. The Sudanese government can make life very difficult. This is intimidation and harassment and could go on even further.

The UN Mission in Sudan has been beheaded

- Do you think the harassment by the Sudanese government has undermined the UN role in Sudan?

Pronk: Yes. This is a deliberate action to undermine the UN role in Sudan. I have stood up for my staff and defended them when I was there. The UN mission in Sudan (UNMIS) has been beheaded and the current leadership is officially in charge but in reality they are handling more of the managerial aspect of the peace agreement and they are not backed by New York. I blame New York for not backing its own mission and instead accommodating the power elites in Khartoum. The awful thing is that you are sending thousands of people to Sudan and let them swim on their own. They are in a very difficult situation. The staff in Sudan is part of our overall operations. This includes human rights monitors, aid workers, NGO's, UNHCR, UNDP, UNMIS and various agencies. They are not backed by their capitals or UNSC.

- When you say New York do you mean the UNSC or the office of the Secretary General?

Pronk: I am referring to the administration of the UN as well as the UNSC. If you send a mission then you have to support them. Currently there is no adequate political backing.

- You have been somewhat bitter about New York's reaction to your expulsion and implicitly blamed the office of the outgoing Secretary General Kofi Annan for not standing up for you?

Pronk: I made it very clear publicly in interviews and more recently on 'Hardtalk' that Kofi Annan has done everything in his power and that he personally backed the UNMIS. I did not blame Annan.

- You blamed his office for not following up on your expulsion. There was a letter from Khartoum that he did not respond to and you also mentioned that the UNSC did not even issue a condemnation of your expulsion?

Pronk: I have consistently said that it's not important whether they back me or not. What is important is that they allowed a decision take place without addressing it which means that the Sudanese government is led to believe that they can go ahead and do what they please. The UNMIS is becoming less effective because the Sudanese government making life difficult for them. Never before did we have so many relocations and evacuations of humanitarian operations in Darfur.

Lam Akol and Jan Pronk

- Why was the Sudanese foreign minister so ardent about expelling you from Sudan considering he was a member of SPLM that did not agree to your expulsion?

Pronk: I don't know. Akol is a very clever and strong diplomat but I don't know the political power structure within the government of national unity. I only know that the SPLM was not in agreement with the decision to expel me.

- Do you think he was trying to please the NCP by taking a more radical approach with you?

Pronk: That is the question that you need to direct to him. I have my own analysis that is merely guessing. The fact remains that he has signed the decision considering me Persona non grata on behalf of the government of national unity.

- So there were no personal differences between you and Akol?

Pronk: No there is nothing personal. He is a clever politician and I am a clever politician. We did have difference in opinions. At a certain moment he reached a certain decision. He has the right to do so as Sudan's foreign minister. This decision however was a violation of the agreement with the UN establishing the UNMIS. However it's up to the UNSC to address that.

Bashir rejected UN force to Darfur to avoid a power strife

- Why do you think Bashir rejected UN peacekeepers in Darfur?

Pronk: I think he has been misinformed and manipulated by some people who are part of the forces I mentioned before. The government is dependent on many power groups of different positions. Al-Bashir has to balance and accommodate these powers to keep the regime stable. Al-Bashir has to put the negative views from these groups into consideration. He has come to the conclusion that he has to weigh two risks; the risk of allowing the UN into Darfur or rejecting them. If he chose the latter then he risks sanctions and diplomatic isolation. If he complies then he runs into the risk of an internal power strife and domestic turmoil. Al-Bashir has weighed these risks and determined that the second risk is higher because the first risk is practically non-existent. The UNSC is becoming all talk; making powerful statements and passing resolutions with no follow up. They receive a report that the agreements are not honored so then they ask for another report, so at the end of the day the only risk that exists for Khartoum is the domestic one. Al-Bashir, being a politician took a rational decision based on his analysis of the risks involved and the power structure within his ranks.

- If I understand you correctly the Sudanese regime or NCP is more concerned about staying in power rather than genuinely than trying to work with the international community?

Pronk: Correct. This is what I said before.

- The New York Times met with a number of Sudanese soldiers in Chad and apparently what they said confirms what you mentioned in your blog about the low morale of the Sudanese army fighting in Darfur and retreating which lead to losses by the army and for sure the army leadership knows that. Given that why does the government insist on a military solution?

Pronk: One of the 'mistakes' of the government, and this is a soft description of what it really is, that they armed the Arab militias against the rebels. They didn't use the army because there were too many Darfurians in their ranks who did not want to fight their own people. The government took the very wrong decision to arm the Arab militias known as the Jinjaweed. The Sudanese army is disciplined and I had regular contacts with them. It is a well organized and disciplined and up to a point respect international law and human rights. However they are not strong enough to fight the war in Darfur so they resorted to the same tactics that was used by the government in 80's of deploying militias to fight the southern rebels when the army was not winning the war. The forces that are looking for a military victory are using paramilitary forces. By the way let me add that there are also Chadian forces in Darfur.

- So you are confirming the link between the Jinjaweed and the government even though the latter keeps denying that it is supporting them?

Pronk: Definitely however I don't say the Sudanese government but forces within them. I don't even accuse al- Bashir even though he allows them to do so. It's a conglomerate of power containing forces which can carry out those activities, but it is not a decision by al-Bashir. He assured me that they are not doing it and I trust him but it is being done and weapons are provided to these militias. Al-Bashir told me before that he instructed his commanders not to bomb areas in Darfur and I believe him but the aerial bombardment is continuing.

- But al-Bashir has publicly admitted that his air force is bombing Darfur?

Pronk: This is a current event but I was speaking of discussions I had with him last year. The forces I refer to are very strongly relying on paramilitary units. The PDF, Jinjaweed are very clever in the way they incorporate these forces.

ICC can help to neutralize destructive forces in Darfur

- The Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has announced his intention to file his first case before the judges this month. Do you feel that arrest warrants at this point will complicate matters in Darfur crisis or will it help resolving it?

Pronk: I think it would help.

- Even if the court indicted senior members of the government?

Pronk: Yes because they have had their chance. In August 2004 I told them that if you don't want to have international legal proceedings then show that you are serious and do it your self and start your own proceedings in the national courts. What happened is that they have created something which was not serious. The courts which they established are only indicting low-ranked people not the real masterminds of the atrocities. They have shown that they can do it if they wanted to, but perhaps they unable or unwilling to do so due to the conglomerate of powers I described. It should now be handled by the International Criminal Court.

- Do you support a possible compromise that would grant immunity from prosecution to Sudanese officials in return for a resolution of the Darfur crisis and allowing UN peacekeepers in?

Pronk: If that happens then it becomes part of a political deal and I don't think the UN can subscribe to that. I don't believe in such a deal which will be between the government of Sudan and people abroad, but who is speaking for the victims and all these refugees who lost their family members in this war? You cannot have such a deal. What you can have is peace first and then justice. But in no way can you accept a deal exonerating those who are guilty. During the Nairobi peace talks between the Sudanese government and SPLM the issue of immunity was discussed to those responsible for the killings during the 21 years war between the north & the south. Both parties decided that they don't want to talk about it. You will not find anything in the CPA on that which means there is no impunity. If anyone wants to raise this issue they can do so. It is up to the Sudanese to make that decision and the international community cannot do that on their behalf.

My relationship with the Sudan goes back to the seventies

- You have been in Sudan for quite some time. What are your personal feelings on Sudan and their people?

Pronk: You have said that I was bitter which is not true. I loved the country and the people. I have been visiting Sudan during the early 70's. Sudan has a very special place in my heart. I took the decision at the time to start an aid program to Sudan after the Addis Ababa agreement in 1972. The following year I became the Dutch Minster for development and determined that Sudan deserves assistance so I went there and I spoke with President Nimeiri. I told him that we want to be partners since he took a bold step by making peace in the south and provide aid half to the North and the other half to the South. I went to the South and had contacts with Vice President Abel Alier. We were involved in a number of projects such as the Juba University, bridges in Juba and the Jongeli Canal. In the 1990s I maintained contacts with president al-Bashir and late Jon Garang. I was the one who started the groups of friends of Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to give support to the peace process in the region from outside. I know the situation inside out and have been there very often so I feel I am friend of the Sudanese people. It is true that there are atrocities committed in Sudan and there are people responsible who I blame for it, but this doesn't mean that I don't feel myself a friend of the country and its people.

- Do you intend to write you memoirs on your tenure in Sudan?

Pronk: If I have time I will do that but I intend to be politically active and whatever I can do I want to continue doing rather than wasting time looking backwards. Memoirs are interesting but they are vehicle to look backward and I want to look forward. I have my notes and I will continue writing but at the same time I want to be active.