Darfur: Interview with Unamid head Mohamed Ibn Chambas

In an exclusive telephone interview with Radio Dabanga on 4 September from his headquarters in El Fasher, capital of North Darfur, the Joint Special Representative of Unamid, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, called on all parties to cease hostilities and sue for peace. This is a full transcript of that interview: Radio Dabanga: Following the Arusha meeting with SRF leaders, what are your thoughts on the two visions on how to achieve peace, comprehensively or regionally. Is there now a way forward after the consultations? Mohamed Ibn Chambas: The meeting in Arusha was my first substantive one with the leaders of the non-signatory movements from Darfur. It was an opportunity to discuss and for me to understand exactly their position on the current situation in Darfur – the security challenges we face there, the humanitarian challenges and the peace process. For me as mediator it is important that I meet the leaders of the non-signatory movements. Arusha was a good opportunity for me to have done that. As you know, unfortunately one of the leaders, Abdul Wahid, was not able to attend, but I am very grateful and I appreciate Mr Minni Minawi and Dr Jibril were able to attend and to give me the opportunity to understand better their own perspective and position regarding the situation in Darfur. But this was just a beginning and I hope that we will continue to maintain contact so that together, we can advance the peace process because it is important that we bring to an end the current conflict, the war and the military approach, and on the political side, to give attention to a peaceful negotiated settlement of the conflict in Darfur. Radio Dabanga: Both Minni Minawi and Dr Jibril say that to solve the problems of Sudan, a comprehensive, holistic approach is required. Also the Sudan Revolutionary Front will not attend any negotiations that do not address a comprehensive solution. In terms of your mandate, what is your opinion of the options? Mohamed Ibn Chambas: This was the very first time that we met. We have not had the time to engage the non-signatory movements. It was important to establish the contact and be able to exchange views and perspectives. As you very well know, a lot has been invested by the international community, the African Union, United Nations, including of course the state of Qatar in the Doha peace process and especially the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), and more recently, in the Darfur development charters. Of course, on is not arguing that the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur is cast in iron. Of course there can be some suggestions on how to improve the process, however this is what the international community has endorsed as the as the document for peace. But we would be very pleased to engage the non-signatory movements, those who have not been part of Doha, and to see what specific suggestions they have and we will try to accommodate their legitimate concerns. We are very much aware that you cannot make peace without involving the main parties that are on the ground and that are the source of conflict and the military issues between rebel movement and the Sudanese Armed Forces. In that regard, I think it was important to have that first meeting. We will continue to engage them and continue to treat their views. Of course, everybody would like a comprehensive and inclusive peace in Sudan. I mean, for the peace to be lasting and to be durable, it has to be comprehensive; it has to be inclusive. I do not think that that is a major difference between the mediation and the parties. We would like to engage them further to advance the peace process. Radio Dabanga: Is there now a way forward after the consultations of Arusha? Mohamed Ibn Chambas: I believe there is a way forward because we undertook to remain in constant contact. I myself have been engaged in the consultations. I did inform the movements that after Arusha, I will consult and brief the AU and the UN and the other stakeholders, the government of Sudan and indeed Qatar which has invested a lot in the search for peace. Then, after all these consultations, I suspect we can make some new initiatives on how to engage in dialogue; in negotiations, so this is a good beginning. We are hoping that it will lead to a cessation of hostilities. Sometimes when you need to talk, you don’t need the sound of guns and weapons. It is better that the weapons fall silent, and that will facilitate more dialogue and more negotiation. Radio Dabanga: The head of the Darfur Regional Authority, Dr Tijani Sese, said that Arusha neglected the Doha Document. Head of the Darfur Peace Follow-up, Dr Amin Hassan Omar said he did not recognise any forum other than the Doha forum to solve the crisis of Darfur. What is your reaction to these comments? Mohamed Ibn Chambas: the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur was not neglected in our discussions. There was a full presentation of the Document, to explain the content of it, explain what it seeks to do, and to examine ways of which it can be if interest in order to move forward. It is true, of course, that not all parties have accepted it at this point, but I don’t think that’s a rejection of it. There is continuing dialogue and negotiation and engagement. Even those that reject it at this point may come to see the merits of it. But the only way that will happen is through negotiation; is through dialogue and I believe that this is what we have to continue to do. On the other hand, we must also acknowledge that the movements came there with their objections and the reasons why they did not at this point adhere to the DDPD. As mediation, we should not take that at face value as a total rejection. We should find ways in which we can accommodate both sides and bring both sides together to the negotiating table in order that it will advance the peace process in Darfur. Radio Dabanga: With regard to the current attacks on Unamid peacekeepers, three times in the past week. How is the UN going to respond and what is the outcome of the investigation into the people who have committed these crimes and what action will be taken against them? Mohamed Ibn Chambas: The immediate action that our troops are taking, and they have been given clear instructions, that when they are attacked, they need to respond; they need to defend themselves. They need to be very robust and very aggressive in defending themselves. I am very happy that in the three attacks that you refer to recently, that is exactly what they have done. They have hit back; they have defended themselves; they have been extremely robust and aggressive, and you will see that this is the new posture of Unamid. Unamid and our troops will not sit down for rogue elements and others to simply come and attack us. We feel that for our troops, this is totally unacceptable. They are operating under Chapter 7 of the UN Security Council mandate, we have a responsibility to defend ourselves, and do so very aggressively. And this message is very clear to all our troops, and I’m very pleased that in all these three instances, they repelled their attackers, they pushed them away and fought back very strongly. There have been other attacks in the past, those investigations are underway and one they are complete, we hope they will help to identify those responsible for the attacks, and we will make sure that they are pursued and brought to justice. Radio Dabanga: The situation of the protection of humanitarian aid workers and IDPs, tribal clashes, and insecurity has made live very insecure in many areas of Darfur. What is the Unamid vision on practical steps towards more protection? Mohamed Ibn Chambas: In the first instance, we will do our level best, because this is one of our core mandates, to provide protection for civilians. We are stepping-up and increasing patrols in IDP camps; we are stepping-up patrols to help women, for instance when they go out to search for firewood and water, of course, at the same time advising them not to venture too far out from the IDP camps because we don’t have the numbers to go all over the place or escort them very far away. We are also working to increase community policing by training volunteers from the IDP camps as community police. We work with local police authorities to improve security. We do all of this but the situation where there is increased interethnic fighting, Darfur is becoming, from a security point of view, more and more unpredictable; places more burden and more responsibility on the peacekeeping force. And in that kind of situation, always, best solution is to achieve peace, to move away from war; from violence as a means for addressing grievances, return Darfur to peace and security, and in that way the civilian population will be best protected. Radio Dabanga: The IDPs complain of the many rapes and sexual assaults against women in the camps. They also complain of the shortage of food, medicines, and the inability to move around because of the treats from pro-government militia. What are your thoughts on this, and the general security situation in the Darfur region. Mohamed Ibn Chambas: For months, certainly from late 2012 till now, it is obvious that the security situation in Darfur has deteriorated. It has become more volatile and more unpredictable. The reasons include continuing clashes between the armed movements and government forces. Also especially now because of the interethnic fighting which has escalated and spread to North Darfur, Central Darfur, all over Darfur. We are also witnessing a lot of criminality and banditry. All this has been reflected in what you have just observed: an increase in rape and sexual violence, and also making life more difficult and harsh for IDPs in the camps but also for the population generally in Darfur who find it difficult to move even from one major city to another. Only yesterday, as you reported, a convoy of busses on the road from Nyala to El Fasher was ambushed by criminal elements. So that is all true, and it has resulted in more people moving into the IDP camps putting more burdens on humanitarian agencies and it is for all these reasons that we continue to advocate for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. After 10 year, the situation has not improved; there is no military solution to the crisis. The military option is only bringing more hardship and suffering to the civilian population of Darfur. We call on all sides to support the government of Sudan, but we also appeal to the non-signatory movements to give peace a chance through political process, through negotiations, through dialogue. Radio Dabanga: To conclude this interview, would you like to send a message via Radio Dabanga to the people of Darfur? Mohamed Ibn Chambas: The message we have is that Unamid is a show of solidarity from the international community for the people of Darfur. It is there to come and help, to provide protection for the civilian population, to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian support, and to entrench the human rights and the civil rights of the population of Darfur. We call for the cooperation of all sides with Unamid which is there as a friendly force. We sympathise with the people of Darfur; we are doing our best to help them in the very difficult circumstances under which they live. On the other hand I would also like to use this medium to plead for lasting peace, which can come from political negotiations, not through war. File photo: El Fasher, 29 May 2013 – The Joint Special Representative of Unamid, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, inspects a parade during the commemoration of the International Day of the United Nations Peacekeepers at the Unamid headquarters in El Fasher, North Darfur (Albert González Farran/Unamid) Related: Exclusive: Unamid head pleads for ‘lasting peace in Darfur’ (4 September 2013)

In an exclusive telephone interview with Radio Dabanga on 4 September from his headquarters in El Fasher, capital of North Darfur, the Joint Special Representative of Unamid, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, called on all parties to cease hostilities and sue for peace.

This is a full transcript of that interview:

Radio Dabanga: Following the Arusha meeting with SRF leaders, what are your thoughts on the two visions on how to achieve peace, comprehensively or regionally. Is there now a way forward after the consultations?

Mohamed Ibn Chambas: The meeting in Arusha was my first substantive one with the leaders of the non-signatory movements from Darfur.

It was an opportunity to discuss and for me to understand exactly their position on the current situation in Darfur – the security challenges we face there, the humanitarian challenges and the peace process. For me as mediator it is important that I meet the leaders of the non-signatory movements. Arusha was a good opportunity for me to have done that. As you know, unfortunately one of the leaders, Abdul Wahid, was not able to attend, but I am very grateful and I appreciate Mr Minni Minawi and Dr Jibril were able to attend and to give me the opportunity to understand better their own perspective and position regarding the situation in Darfur.

But this was just a beginning and I hope that we will continue to maintain contact so that together, we can advance the peace process because it is important that we bring to an end the current conflict, the war and the military approach, and on the political side, to give attention to a peaceful negotiated settlement of the conflict in Darfur.

Radio Dabanga: Both Minni Minawi and Dr Jibril say that to solve the problems of Sudan, a comprehensive, holistic approach is required. Also the Sudan Revolutionary Front will not attend any negotiations that do not address a comprehensive solution. In terms of your mandate, what is your opinion of the options?

Mohamed Ibn Chambas: This was the very first time that we met. We have not had the time to engage the non-signatory movements. It was important to establish the contact and be able to exchange views and perspectives. As you very well know, a lot has been invested by the international community, the African Union, United Nations, including of course the state of Qatar in the Doha peace process and especially the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), and more recently, in the Darfur development charters.

Of course, on is not arguing that the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur is cast in iron. Of course there can be some suggestions on how to improve the process, however this is what the international community has endorsed as the as the document for peace. But we would be very pleased to engage the non-signatory movements, those who have not been part of Doha, and to see what specific suggestions they have and we will try to accommodate their legitimate concerns. We are very much aware that you cannot make peace without involving the main parties that are on the ground and that are the source of conflict and the military issues between rebel movement and the Sudanese Armed Forces. In that regard, I think it was important to have that first meeting. We will continue to engage them and continue to treat their views. Of course, everybody would like a comprehensive and inclusive peace in Sudan. I mean, for the peace to be lasting and to be durable, it has to be comprehensive; it has to be inclusive. I do not think that that is a major difference between the mediation and the parties. We would like to engage them further to advance the peace process.

Radio Dabanga: Is there now a way forward after the consultations of Arusha?

Mohamed Ibn Chambas: I believe there is a way forward because we undertook to remain in constant contact. I myself have been engaged in the consultations. I did inform the movements that after Arusha, I will consult and brief the AU and the UN and the other stakeholders, the government of Sudan and indeed Qatar which has invested a lot in the search for peace. Then, after all these consultations, I suspect we can make some new initiatives on how to engage in dialogue; in negotiations, so this is a good beginning. We are hoping that it will lead to a cessation of hostilities. Sometimes when you need to talk, you don’t need the sound of guns and weapons. It is better that the weapons fall silent, and that will facilitate more dialogue and more negotiation.

Radio Dabanga: The head of the Darfur Regional Authority, Dr Tijani Sese, said that Arusha neglected the Doha Document. Head of the Darfur Peace Follow-up, Dr Amin Hassan Omar said he did not recognise any forum other than the Doha forum to solve the crisis of Darfur. What is your reaction to these comments?

Mohamed Ibn Chambas: the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur was not neglected in our discussions. There was a full presentation of the Document, to explain the content of it, explain what it seeks to do, and to examine ways of which it can be if interest in order to move forward. It is true, of course, that not all parties have accepted it at this point, but I don’t think that’s a rejection of it. There is continuing dialogue and negotiation and engagement. Even those that reject it at this point may come to see the merits of it. But the only way that will happen is through negotiation; is through dialogue and I believe that this is what we have to continue to do.

On the other hand, we must also acknowledge that the movements came there with their objections and the reasons why they did not at this point adhere to the DDPD. As mediation, we should not take that at face value as a total rejection. We should find ways in which we can accommodate both sides and bring both sides together to the negotiating table in order that it will advance the peace process in Darfur.

Radio Dabanga: With regard to the current attacks on Unamid peacekeepers, three times in the past week. How is the UN going to respond and what is the outcome of the investigation into the people who have committed these crimes and what action will be taken against them?

Mohamed Ibn Chambas: The immediate action that our troops are taking, and they have been given clear instructions, that when they are attacked, they need to respond; they need to defend themselves. They need to be very robust and very aggressive in defending themselves. I am very happy that in the three attacks that you refer to recently, that is exactly what they have done. They have hit back; they have defended themselves; they have been extremely robust and aggressive, and you will see that this is the new posture of Unamid. Unamid and our troops will not sit down for rogue elements and others to simply come and attack us. We feel that for our troops, this is totally unacceptable. They are operating under Chapter 7 of the UN Security Council mandate, we have a responsibility to defend ourselves, and do so very aggressively. And this message is very clear to all our troops, and I’m very pleased that in all these three instances, they repelled their attackers, they pushed them away and fought back very strongly.

There have been other attacks in the past, those investigations are underway and one they are complete, we hope they will help to identify those responsible for the attacks, and we will make sure that they are pursued and brought to justice.

Radio Dabanga: The situation of the protection of humanitarian aid workers and IDPs, tribal clashes, and insecurity has made live very insecure in many areas of Darfur. What is the Unamid vision on practical steps towards more protection?

Mohamed Ibn Chambas: In the first instance, we will do our level best, because this is one of our core mandates, to provide protection for civilians. We are stepping-up and increasing patrols in IDP camps; we are stepping-up patrols to help women, for instance when they go out to search for firewood and water, of course, at the same time advising them not to venture too far out from the IDP camps because we don’t have the numbers to go all over the place or escort them very far away. We are also working to increase community policing by training volunteers from the IDP camps as community police. We work with local police authorities to improve security.

We do all of this but the situation where there is increased interethnic fighting, Darfur is becoming, from a security point of view, more and more unpredictable; places more burden and more responsibility on the peacekeeping force. And in that kind of situation, always, best solution is to achieve peace, to move away from war; from violence as a means for addressing grievances, return Darfur to peace and security, and in that way the civilian population will be best protected.

Radio Dabanga: The IDPs complain of the many rapes and sexual assaults against women in the camps. They also complain of the shortage of food, medicines, and the inability to move around because of the treats from pro-government militia. What are your thoughts on this, and the general security situation in the Darfur region.

Mohamed Ibn Chambas: For months, certainly from late 2012 till now, it is obvious that the security situation in Darfur has deteriorated. It has become more volatile and more unpredictable. The reasons include continuing clashes between the armed movements and government forces. Also especially now because of the interethnic fighting which has escalated and spread to North Darfur, Central Darfur, all over Darfur. We are also witnessing a lot of criminality and banditry. All this has been reflected in what you have just observed: an increase in rape and sexual violence, and also making life more difficult and harsh for IDPs in the camps but also for the population generally in Darfur who find it difficult to move even from one major city to another. Only yesterday, as you reported, a convoy of busses on the road from Nyala to El Fasher was ambushed by criminal elements.

So that is all true, and it has resulted in more people moving into the IDP camps putting more burdens on humanitarian agencies and it is for all these reasons that we continue to advocate for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. After 10 year, the situation has not improved; there is no military solution to the crisis. The military option is only bringing more hardship and suffering to the civilian population of Darfur.

We call on all sides to support the government of Sudan, but we also appeal to the non-signatory movements to give peace a chance through political process, through negotiations, through dialogue.

Radio Dabanga: To conclude this interview, would you like to send a message via Radio Dabanga to the people of Darfur?

Mohamed Ibn Chambas: The message we have is that Unamid is a show of solidarity from the international community for the people of Darfur. It is there to come and help, to provide protection for the civilian population, to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian support, and to entrench the human rights and the civil rights of the population of Darfur. We call for the cooperation of all sides with Unamid which is there as a friendly force. We sympathise with the people of Darfur; we are doing our best to help them in the very difficult circumstances under which they live.

On the other hand I would also like to use this medium to plead for lasting peace, which can come from political negotiations, not through war.

File photo: El Fasher, 29 May 2013 – The Joint Special Representative of Unamid, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, inspects a parade during the commemoration of the International Day of the United Nations Peacekeepers at the Unamid headquarters in El Fasher, North Darfur (Albert González Farran/Unamid)

Related: Exclusive: Unamid head pleads for ‘lasting peace in Darfur’ (4 September 2013)