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Sudan Democracy First Group: ‘Chief Spy of Sudan in Paris’

October 25 - 2018 PARIS

Lt Gen Salah Abdullah (aka Salah Gosh), the director of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) recently visited Paris in France, for the first time since his reappointment to the position in February.

The Sudan Democracy First Group released an article on Wednesday by Paris-based Sudanese journalist Rashid Saeed which explores Saleh’s visit, which included dinner with the French Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly.

“It is quite difficult to report on visits made by chiefs of security agencies of countries due to the secretive nature of such visits,” Saeed’s article says. “The complexities begin with confirming whether the visit will take place or not and its time and schedule and finally, the topics to be discussed therein. After this comes the most difficult aspect of reporting on these visits which is knowing the details of the discussions, the opinion presented by each party and the results thereof, such as the conclusion of agreements and shared views and/or a declaration of disagreements and the different positions adopted by each party.”

Saeed asserts that “it is imperative to present this introduction so that the reader is informed of the circumstances wherein this report has been prepared”. The report sheds light on this visit and discusses some aspects thereof without claiming to have covered everything comprehensively. Certainly, it does require completion and additional confirmation in the absence of any official statements about the visit.

This is the first visit of Lt. Gen. Salah Abdallah to France since his re-appointment as the director of the NISS in February this year. An appointment that came at a crucial juncture as part of a time-bound road-map by the Government of Sudan (GoS); Re-organization of the Agency and re-affirmation of its loyalty to the President after the sacking of Gen. Taha El Hussein, the former director of the President's office, which came as a result of internal developments preceded by mass anti-government protests in the beginning of 2018, The recovery of a part of the resources and funds empuzzled by the governing Islamist elites and allies and the re-injection of these funds into the economy in order to overcome economic constraints following in the footsteps of Prince Mohamed bin Salman; and lastly, ensuring the re-election of President Omar Al Bashir in the 2020 elections.

The first difficulty faced by one reporting on this visit is knowing if Gen. Salah Abdallah was invited to visit France or did the director of the NISS seek a visit to the French capital by himself. The answer to this difficult question can gleaned from the assessment of three main incidents:

The Sudanese regime classifies France as one of the non-friendly countries considering that the latter has, over the past four years, been meeting with opposition forces (Sudan Revolutionary Front, Paris Declaration, Sudan Call), along with providing refuge to several leaders of armed movements operating in Darfur.

The highly tensed meetings of the joint committee of the two countries that convened in Khartoum in July 2018 in the backdrop of serious developments in the Central African Republic.

The prevalent negative view of former spy chief Gen Mohamed Ata El Mawla among the French Security Services is that his performance is weak and he does not have the ability to impact political decision, specifically with President Omar Al Bashir, a matter that has greatly weakened the role of the NISS in favour of the President's office and the Rapid Support Forces. On the other hand, the return of Salah Abdallah has been viewed as a positive development that will help ease the cooperation between competent authorities in both countries.

A “technical” visit, not political

Gen Salah Abdallah reached Paris in the second week of October 2018 in a visit, which his hosts have insisted on describing as "technical". As such, the meetings have been scheduled only with the leadership of the technical agencies, the External Intelligence Agency (DGSE) and the Internal Intelligence Agency (DGSI). The efforts of the Sudanese side to propagate a holistic nature of the visit have clearly failed since no meeting of Gen. Salah Gosh has been scheduled with the officials of the Sudan Department at the French External Ministry or even with the officials of Security and Africa Offices in the French Presidency. However, this does not mean that the political aspect of the visit was entirely non-existent according to the StreetPress, a French news website. It revealed that the list of invitees of a dinner party held at the Sudanese Embassy included Carole Bureau-Bonnard, Deputy Speaker of the French National Assembly and Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, head of the France-Sudan Friendship Parliamentarian group, both belonging to the ruling party (La Republique En Marche), along with the French Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan; Stéphane Gruenberg, all of whom met the Sudanese visitor.

The dinner meeting, despite not being part of the official schedule, caused a major embarrassment for the Deputy Speaker of the French Parliament after several non-governmental and human-rights organizations criticized her participation in a meeting attended by Gen. Salah Abdallah who was described as one of the persons responsible for the "ethnic cleansing" in Darfur. In a statement to the French Press Agency, Ms. Carole Bureau-Bonnard said that she had not received a list of invitees to the dinner at the Sudanese Embassy held on the 10th of October, implying that had she known that Gen. Abdallah would be present at the gathering, she would not have attended. On his part, the Member of Parliament Jean-Baptiste Djebbari asserted in a statement given to the French Press Agency that the invitation was a continuation of the Sudanese Ambassador's visit to the parliament, a normal protocol which is observed in all 154 friendship groups existing in the parliament. He said that the matter was limited to cultural cooperation and they were not diplomatic actors. The head of the France-Sudan Friendship Parliamentarian Group insisted that they had merely responded to the Sudanese ambassador's invitation and their accepting the invitation and participating in the dinner was unrelated to the presence of Salah Gosh there. The embarrassment caused by the dinner with Gen. Abdallah was behind the French authorities insistence that the visit was "technical" and had no political dimensions.

Regional Dossiers

Three regional dossiers were the main focus of the visit: While the French side prioritized the ongoing crisis in the Central African Republic and the developments in the Horn of Africa, the Sudanese began with the Libyan dossier. It is no secret that Paris is unhappy with the role that Sudan is playing in the Central African , which is essence is enabling the Russian’s presence in that region . The French reiterated its rejection of the Sudanese initiative to resolve the crisis in the Central African Republic and continued to stick to the path set by the UN Security Council through African mediation. Paris alerted Khartoum of its repeated violations of the UN Security Council's resolutions by welcoming of persons from the Central African Republic who have been included in the international sanctions list. The French said that they have done so in order to clearly reiterates their position because Sudan is no longer have control of the situation in the Central African Republic and only become a tool in implementing Russian policies  in that country. Towns in western Sudan such as Nyala and Um Dafuq have been turned into bases of Russian security companies that execute military and security policies of the Russian in Central Africa. Khartoum has also hosted training workshops, organized by Russian Intelligence, for elements of the new security and intelligence apparatus in the Central African Republic, a move that  contradicts the international road-map for resolving the problem in that region. Furthermore, it has been reported from reliable French sources that the French Minister of Armed Forces, Florence Parly, had told the Chadian President, Idris Deby, during her last visit to N’Djamena that France rejects the Sudanese initiative, calling upon Chad to limit its cooperation in this respect to the African initiative. What is certain is this dossier will continue to be a subject of disagreement between Sudan and France in the forthcoming period. Especially after the Khartoum invitation of the warring factions in the Central African Republic to attend a reconciliation meeting in Khartoum without considering the French and American positions, building on the success it achieved in reaching a peace agreement in South Sudan. The Sudanese Foreign Minister will be received in Paris as a guest of the French diplomacy in November 2018, a visit that might be postponed for the third time, first during the tenure of Professor Ibrahim Ghandour and second after the appointment of the current Minister, El Dirdeiri Mohamed Ahmed.

France is closely following the developments in the Horn of Africa, especially after Abu Ahmed took over as the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. Paris is of the position that Sudan was marginalized and did not play an important role in these developments, and as such; it fears the negative role that the Sudanese might play to frustrate these positive movements using its “traditional” methods and powerful allies in these countries. Gen. Salah Gosh has reassured his interlocutors in Paris that Sudan is an integral part of these developments and it will positively impact them, asserting that these developments have impacted Sudan positively. He also of the view that the Eritrean regime has played an important role of keeping Sudan out of these developments but he hopes that his country will be part of these regional developments once the Renaissance Dam technical issues are resolved and the dialogue between Khartoum and Asmara will bring back lost confidence.

As for the Libyan dossier, Sudan complained about not being invited to participate in the meeting organized by France that brought together Libya’s countries and international actors concerned with the Libyan crisis. The said meeting was held on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. This is the second time that Paris did not extend an invitation to Sudan to participate in a conference about the Libyan crisis. The conference was organized in Paris last summer, where the Paris Declaration on the constitutional processes and the organization of elections in Libya was issued. It is clear that the French diplomacy does not consider Sudan to be an honest party to the resolution of the crisis in Libya since it  provide support to Islamist extremist groups in Libya. Similarly, France is also taking into consideration the reservations of the Libyan ally, Gen. Khalifa Haftar, towards any Sudanese participation in attempts to find a solution to the Libyan crisis.

Illegal Immigration and Counter-Terrorism

Perhaps the biggest mistake of the delegation accompanying Gen. Salah Abdallah during this visit was that it did not look into the immigration statistics of the previous year and the current year before reaching Paris. While migrants from Sudan and the Horn of Africa rank first in the list of individuals migrating to Europe from Africa and Asia, their numbers have now fallen below the tenth ranking in the list. Surely, this fall in numbers is not due to the efforts of the Rapid Support Force as the government in Khartoum claims; but rather to the deteriorating security situation in Libya which has played a great role in achieving this "positive result" from the European perspective. Moreover, the report aired by CNN about the enslavement and ill-treatment of migrants in Libya, has played an important role in the reduction of the number of migrants. As such, the Sudanese delegation lost one of its strongest card in the discussion with the French. It has also been reported that the French side did not consider the topic of migration a bilateral priority and they are of the opinion, it better to discuss this issue within the context of the multilateral framework between the European Union and the Sudanese Government.

Counter-terrorism and intelligence cooperation in this area continues to remain a strong point, which the NISS focuses on to maintain ties with western countries in general. Gen. Abdallah initiated this policy direction before his dismissal from the agency's leadership in 2009. It is true that the agency does not cooperate with all western agencies equally, Washington has been the biggest beneficiary of this arrangement, however, the French did not concealed their fascination with the operational capabilities of the Sudanese especially in existing regional atmosphere. NISS immense capabilities allow it to be effective when compared with security agencies in countries similar to Sudan. Paris greatly relies on the Sudanese cooperation in its war against terror groups in the Sahel region, especially after the threats that have engulfed countries such Burkina Faso and Cameroon. However, the influence of Russia and Turkey in directing Sudanese policies has raised concerns amongst western security agencies and especially France.

The Sudanese Opposition in Paris, a Different Approach

As expected, the leadership of the armed movement in Darfur and/or the Organizations of the Sudanese Opposition represented by the Sudan Revolutionary Front and the Sudan Call, were not absent from the list of demands/Asks that Gen. Salah Gosh had brought to the French capital to present to the French. However, what is new in this respect was the "soft" approach adopted by the chief Spy as revealed by a senior French official. This came as a reversal to the previous policies of NISS during the former chief , Gen. Mohamed Ata El Mawla, who usually request from France to expel the opposition leaders because he (Ata El Mawla) consider  them impediments to the peace process and to ban the Organization of Sudanese Opposition in Paris. This time the NISS demand from France was not to object to  the UN Security Council plans to adopt a resolution against a number of leaders of the armed movement from Darfur, when the UNSC review the report of the Expert Committee this coming December 2018. It is well known that Russia and China had demanded the imposition of these sanctions in a meeting in June 2018, but France, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, was able to postpone the adoption of a resolution in this matter. The Sudanese NISS delegation went so far as to demand the French to pressure the opposition leadership to engage in direct negotiations with the Sudanese Government. It is worth noting that President Thabo Mbeki had adopted the same approach of the GoS during his last visit to Khartoum. He warned the parties of the Sudan Call representatives in the country that the UN Security Council is inclined to impose sanctions against the leaders of the armed movements and that they need to put pressure on their colleagues to engage in direct negotiations with the government to prevent the adoption of such resolution.

Internal Reforms in Sudan

In this dossier, France reiterated its call to all parties involved to adopt positions that are more flexible in order to reach a comprehensive solution of the Sudanese crisis. Paris called for the need to allow humanitarian access to the war-affected areas and praised Khartoum's commitment to the declared ceasefire, calling for developing it to a comprehensive and permanent cessation of hostilities. It is further reported that the French side notified Gen. Abdallah of its opposition to the current attempt to amend the constitution and the nomination of President Omar Al Bashir for elections. Moreover, Khartoum delegation hinted towards exploring an alternative to the African mediation panel (AUHIP), led by President Thabo Mbeki. Suggesting it to be replaced by a tripartite mediation composed of: the United Nations, the African Union, and the Arab League, or an international liaison committee that brings the five permanent members of the UN Security Council together with Germany, because of its active engagement trying to resolve in the Sudanese crisis, which a formula similar to the 5+1 group that negotiated on the Iranian nuclear deal.

The only tangible result of the visit to France that Gen. Salah Abdallah took home, was that the crisis and problems of Sudan and are not only the concern of Sudanese alone, but its complexity require internally and externally involvement , and that personal ambition must be set aside at this stage because solutions cannot only come from individuals.

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