'We can only promote negotiations'
US special envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman tells Radio Dabanga in an exclusive interview that America imposing a no-fly zone in Sudan will only lead to more conflict
What’s your opinion on what is going on now in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan? What needs to be done?
I think the situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile is extremely serious. There is fighting, there is human rights violations. There is a potential humanitarian crisis and there is a danger of the war spreading. I feel or I think very strongly that there is no military solution to this situation. There are fundamental political issues that need to be addressed between the SPLM-North and the Government of Sudan. And we are working with the UN and the African Union and trying to get those negotiations restarted at the earliest possible time.
What is your view on the latest developments in Abyei?
In Abyei, the situation is that there is an agreement for the withdrawal of all the forces, i.e. armed forces, in that territory. There was just a meeting and they have agreed on the detailed time table for the withdrawal to take place. So the withdrawal should take place by the end of September.
What is the situation in Darfur currently?
The situation in Darfur is also serious. We do not believe that a commitment to overthrowing the regime is a sensible stand for the parties or the armed movements to take. And in all my meetings with representatives of JEM and others I have urged them to articulate a political platform and to engage in negotiations with the government on Darfur. Now, there are larger issues, constitutional issues in Sudan but once these parties become part of the political process in Darfur, they will have an opportunity, we hope, to participate on the larger constitutional issues, which of course are going to be and must be addressed by the government in Khartoum.
We hear that there is a new American initiative towards Darfur – that there is a meeting supposed to take place in the US this month. Some people are saying it is an initiative, others are saying it’s a symposium, some others are claiming it to be a conference. So we don’t know what exactly it is…
I am glad you asked that. It is not a new initiative. It is a symposium or conference to allow the various groups to speak to people in America and among themselves on the various developments in Darfur. For example, both the government and the LJM can speak to the agreement they reached in Doha. We hope the other movements will speak to their political objective. And that we will be able to discuss among ourselves and have a better understanding of what the view points are and what are the obstacles to further negotiations. It is also an attempt to explain to the American public more about what the actual situation is in Darfur and the meaning of the recent developments such as the Doha agreement.
Do you think that the Doha agreement can achieve peace and security in the region without inclusion of movements like JEM, Abdul Wahid etc.?
I think it is a very good basis for peace but you can’t have peace if the major armed groups have not come to an agreement and are not part of the peace process. We tried very hard to have those groups come to Doha and be part of the process. Now we are urging the government to keep its position open on negotiating with those groups and as I said earlier, we are urging those groups not to commit themselves to armed action but to commit themselves to a political process and a readiness to negotiate on their political objectives in Darfur and their views can be expressed beyond that to other issues related to national political change.
The refugees in Darfur are complaining of lack of humanitarian aid in Darfur owing to the expulsion of more and more organizations from the region. What can the US do about it?
Well, I think the situation in Darfur for the people in the IDP camps is very serious. They have been there for eight years now. Some young people have grown up there and this is not a way to live. We don’t have all the NGOs we would like there to provide humanitarian assistance. We also think that where it’s safe and where it’s voluntary, people from those camps should be allowed to go home or to take up new professions in the cities and we would like to do more to help them but it has to be in an environment that’s safe and one in which is voluntary on their part. We are very concerned. We work closely with the UNAMID, the World Food Programme and others to get as much assistance there as possible.
The situation in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile is serious, as you say. People have been demanding a no-fly zone in the region in the wake of the bombings carried out by the Sudanese Air Force. What is your position on this?
See, the purposeful bombing of civilians which is going on is a violation of the human rights and we have told the government over and over again that they should cease the bombing. However, I can’t say that the United States or anyone else is prepared to enforce a no-fly zone in Sudan. That would take us into a confrontational situation in Sudan. Whereas our efforts are concentrated in getting the parties back to the negotiation table and an end to the fighting and that’s where we are putting all our efforts now.
And what is your message to the government of Sudan?
Our message to the government of Sudan is several things. On Darfur, as I mentioned, we are urging them to keep open the prospects of negotiating with the remaining armed groups and not to insist simply that they sign on to the agreement in Doha but to be open to additional ideas or changes that they feel are important. The issues in Souther Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur all relate to the way Sudan will now be governed after the secession of the South. The government has said that they are going to undertake a major constitutional process. Our message to the government is: this is the opportunity for the government to draw in the parties from all around the country and deal frankly with issues of decentralization of power, of wealth sharing, of new government arrangements. This will take account of the issues that have led the conflict in these areas. This is our message to the government and also that they must stop the violation of human rights by acts such as bombing. And that they should also allow immediately, a credible international agency to provide humanitarian assistance in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. Those are the messages that we have been carrying to the government
There has been international intervention in Libya. The US also imposed a no-fly zone. But the situation in Sudan is equally serious. Why hasn’t the same action been taken?
Well, I think the situations are different and are quite different. And I think moving towards more conflict in Sudan, not only the conflict that is now underway, but having more conflict with the no-fly zone etc. will not produce more freedom and democracy. I think it will produce a long and very costly civil war in Sudan. I think our view is that the situation in Sudan is to make room for negotiations and things that have lingered for a long time. And the opposition parties and the armed groups, they have specified much more their political platform as a basis for those negotiations. And we from the outside, I think can do the best for Sudan if we do everything possible to encourage and facilitate those negotiations.
What is your current plan for Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan?
For Blue Nile and South Kordofan, we are working very closely with the African Union high level panel and with the United Nations special representative for Sudan. And in our conversations with the parties to restore the negotiations that was started at the end of June in Addis Ababa, but were broken off. Second, we are urging the government of Sudan for taking initiative of inviting a humanitarian organization right away in Southern Kordofan to address the humanitarian situation. We are also meeting with the SPL-North and with the Darfurian groups, urge them to put more impetus on their political platform and not simply talk about militarily overthrowing the government because that rhetoric makes it more difficult for people in Khartoum who want to negotiate. So we are doing everything we can diplomatically and every other way to bring a return in negotiation. On Darfur, it is difficult because we have one peace agreement but most armed groups are not part of it. So we are working with those groups as we get in touch with them to see how they can also develop a political approach and how we can get the government to agree to listen to that approach. And that’s what we are doing now.
What would you like to say to the Darfurians?
I appreciate that very much. To the people of Darfur, I would like to say that we in the United States, and I have visited there recently, are deeply, deeply distressed that after eight years we still do not have a comprehensive peace. We still have more than a million people living in camps or as refugees. We still have a situation that doesn’t have sufficient political freedom. We find this deeply, deeply disturbing. I wish I had answers as, obviously, urgently as required. But I can say to the people of Darfur that we would for every day of every week try and get to that point about comprehensive political peace. And for all the people of Darfur to be home and to be able to pursue their normal lives.
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