Supporters of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir continue to rally around him following claims by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court that he's guilty of war crimes in Darfur. Luis Moreno-Ocampo says Mr. al-Bashir orchestrated crimes against humanity, including genocide, against black ethnic groups in the region. The United Nations says at least three hundred thousand people have died so far and two and a half million have been forced from their homes in Darfur. President Al-Bashir's colleagues say the action by the ICC's prosecutor is unfair, and they lay the blame elsewhere. VOA's Darren Taylor reports.
The summary of the case against Mr. al-Bashir contains this paragraph: "The evidence establishes reasonable grounds to believe that al-Bashir intends to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups as such. Forces and agents controlled by al-Bashir attacked civilians and towns and villages inhabited by the targeted groups, committed killings, rapes, torture and destroying means of livelihood."
Ocampo has asked the ICC judges to issue a warrant for the arrest of the Sudanese leader, and they're expected to announce their decision on whether or not to indict him within two or three months.
Even as Mr. al-Bashir's supporters rally around him and the African Union calls for the charges against him to be suspended, international human rights activists continue to express elation at the possibility of the president being called to account for his alleged crimes.
Omer Ismail, policy advisor for the Enough Project and founder of the Darfur Peace and Development NGO, calls the ICC action "the way to go" and says "all evidence points to high-level involvement" in the atrocities.
'Everyone to blame…. just not al-Bashir'
But Dr. Eltigani Salah Fidail, Sudan's minister of international cooperation, who's originally from El-Fasher in Darfur, says the roots of the crisis in his homeland are to be found in "geography and history, not in the office of the president."
While Fidail acknowledges that the state has largely failed to develop Darfur, he attributes the problem more to natural disasters and even the international community for not providing enough aid for the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe.
The minister says when drought in Darfur intensified in the 1990s, the government of Sudan was "unable to cope with the disaster, and the international community failed to provide the technical and financial support to contain the consequences. The pressure on the scarce resources became more and more acute and triggered a number of problems."
One of these problems, according to Dr. Bakri Osman Saeed, a senior member of Sudan's ruling National Congress Party (NCP), was the rise of several militias in Darfur, including the janjaweed. Activists blame this group for many of the gross human rights abuses in Darfur, and Ocampo holds President al-Bashir responsible for organizing, funding and instructing the janjaweed.
Government authorities, though, insist that the militias in Darfur are independent and not under state control. Fidail says the groups rose to "protect their own interests," including access to water sources and grazing for their animals. He adds that "banditry and poaching" are to blame for much of the violence and have been rife in the region since the "early days" of Khartoum's war in southern Sudan against the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).
"The government at the time was mobilizing its resources and energy to face the growing threat from the SPLA and its allies. All these factors led to some kind of security vacuum in the area," Fidail states.
As a result of "intertribal conflict," he says, the people of Darfur "retreated to their ethnic or tribal groups to seek protection through the semi-organized armed groups. Small arms flooded the area, and (were) made available at a low price by roaming Chadian rebels."
Fidail adds that "tribal polarization" has become "very strong" in Darfur and a "culture of violence has contaminated the whole area. Groups loyal to their ethnic roots started to fear and hate each other. It's a very sad reality."
The minister contends that the "elite" of each warring "tribe" in Darfur "fanned the flames of the tribal hatred, and other actors joined the course" until the situation was so bad that Mr. al-Bashir's government could no longer contain it.
Fidail also partly blames Sudanese opposition parties.
"Political parties who were not happy with the NCP tried to make life difficult for it through the manipulation of different groups loyal to them. The neighboring countries (such as Chad and Central African Republic) contributed to this complex situation" by supporting anti-Khartoum rebels in Darfur.
Ismail dismisses Fidail's contentions.
"These comments just continue the pattern of the Sudan government blaming everyone but themselves for what is happening in Darfur," the activist says. "The minister says the climate, tribal arguments, ethnic rivalries, the SPLA, Chadian rebels, the Chad government, the CAR, rebel groups are to blame for all the killing – everyone is to blame, just not al-Bashir. It's very hard to swallow."
Ismail continues: "Just to say this Darfur thing became too big for the government to control is a very lame excuse. They did not even try to stop any violence there. In fact, they are the one's who caused all the killings – either by turning a blind eye to the janjaweed's murderous actions or by bombing and attacking the villages with their very own forces."
Dr. Gerard Prunier, an internationally respected political consultant on East African affairs based in Addis Ababa, says when he listens to those who defend Mr. al-Bashir, he gets the impression that "it's all a question of natural catastrophe, it comes down from heaven or drought" when in reality, Darfur is a "human-made conflict."
Prunier says it should now be left up to the ICC to decide whether or not it was President al-Bashir who planned and executed it.
Chadian Proxy War
Dr. Mudawi El-Turabi, the chairman of Sudan's Parliamentary Defense and Security Subcommittee, says neighboring Chad must shoulder a large part of the blame for the problem.
"The crisis in Darfur is…. a regional problem, and it also involves the use of multiple proxies. A number of Sudan's neighbors are involved, including Chad…. And according to a recent study, the conflict is characterized by cross-border activities by the combatants with fluid loyalties."
El-Turabi says rather than the janjaweed "exporting" conflict to eastern Chad, as activists say, the reverse is true, and rebels supported by N'Djamena are attacking Sudan government forces in Darfur.
"The problem of Darfur was caused (by) the Chadian wars in Darfur; we just found that in 2005 the proliferation of small arms in Darfur raised up to one-point-five million small pieces of guns in a population of four to five million," he says.
El-Turabi is convinced that not enough attention is being paid to the "political crisis" in Chad itself as a key underlying cause of the violence in Darfur. Instead, he maintains, the spotlight is now on one man: President al-Bashir.
El-Turabi says, "The chronic conflict between the Chadian government" and political groups in Sudan's neighbor who feel they have no other alternative than to take up arms against the administration of President Idriss Deby, means that "this (Darfur) crisis is rooted in the failure of democratization in Chad."
But a spokesman for the Chad government, Nurane Bashir, denies that N'Djamena is supporting rebels against Khartoum.
"The Sudanese government wants (Darfur) to be a proxy war," he says, because they're increasingly eager to divert attention away from themselves, especially in the light of the ICC charges against their leader.
He explains, "The conflict in Darfur (is) no longer a Darfurian problem, it's an international problem. It's related to human rights, it's labeled as genocide. So the consequences of such a label will be enormous…. Khartoum wants to (say) this issue is not the janjaweed supported by Sudanese government, trained and funded by Sudanese government, rather that it's a regional, tribal conflict, a dispute of land and grass and… water resources…. This is the purpose of trying to label the conflict as a proxy war…."
'Regime-change, not justice'
Dr. Bakri Saeed says the international spotlight on Mr. Al-Bashir and a "government gone mad" in Darfur "suits the minds of some politicians, who obviously have an interest in bringing the government down."
The gist of Saeed's argument, which is shared by others in Khartoum, is that the ICC action and international condemnation of the Sudan government as a result of the Darfur situation is less about ending the violence there and gaining justice for the victims and more about a quest for "regime change" in Sudan.
They say "the West" is using the ICC to overthrow President al-Bashir in order to put in place a more "Western-friendly" government.
"When I talk to my colleagues and friends in the government (in Khartoum), it's what they tell me; that this is the objective of these people, they keep accusing the government (of various crimes that) it didn't do, because their final objective is to change the Islamist regime in Sudan," says Saeed.
Omer Ismail responds, "This is what we expect from the Sudan government, that they will use any international actions against al-Bashir to show that he is being victimized, that he is a victim of international interference and therefore deserves protection from the Arab League, from the AU, from whoever is for Western hegemony…."
But Mr. al-Bashir's supporters insist that the way to peace in Darfur lies not in war crimes charges against the president, but through negotiations between the conflicting parties. With a view to national elections in Sudan in 2009, they maintain that ICC action against Mr. Al-Bashir will disrupt the entire country at potentially the most important juncture in its history.