Full interview in english
Q. The Obama administration has offered to resume diplomatic relations with Sudan and review its sanctions against the country, provided Khartoum meets certain conditions. Could you spell them out for us?
General Scott Gration: The United-States is really looking to see what can be done in order to achieve full implementation of the Comprehensive peace agreement and bring peace to the troubled area of Darfur and we are also interested in making continued progress in countering terrorism.
In an effort to do everything we can, one of our various projects is offering a way for the normalisation of relations between Sudan and the United States. Recently, in September, we took unilateral action releasing specific licences for services and goods to be provided as a demonstration to the government of Sudan that we are serious and to tell the people of Sudan that we are very concerned about them as individuals. These licences concern the agricultural sector and aim to improve the production of crops and agricultural products within the Sudan. That is the first project. If we can successfully pass through the referendum period there are a variety of things that will happen. We have already reached out and made suggestions to the banking communities of how we can help with Sudan’s debt issue, including a suggestion that a technical working group be formed at the World bank to work on these issues and to set up international forums to look at what can be done and what are the options.
We have proposed that if the referendum is carried out smoothly, in a peaceful way and reflecting the will of the people, we will exchange ambassadors; we will be more active in terms of access to international financial institutions to help the Sudan with its economic issues.
In effect, we have in mind a series of other moves, but the major action will be timed to occur when the peace agreement and a real solution is implemented in Darfur, resulting in the termination of the conflict and of human rights violations that have existed there in the past. When all this is done, then we will effectively remove the economic sanctions and the label “State sponsor of terrorism” associated with the Sudan.
We will also work with Congress to remove the restrictions that are associated with the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act.
In the end, Sudan could have full relations with the US but this depends on how the nation moves on the track resulting in full implementation of the CPA and brings peace to Darfur.
Q.Despite your consideration of Sudan as a State sponsoring terrorism, there are frequent reports on collaboration between American and Sudanese secret services on the war against terrorism. What is the reality of such reports?
S.G. I can just say that Sudan has taken some significant stands against terrorism and that the situation is significantly different than it was in the nineties when Osama Bin Laden was using Sudan as base for operations and as a haven; so we are very pleased with the efforts that the government of Sudan has taken to reduce access to terrorists and tighten up security in terms of international relationships.
Q. In a pessimistic mood, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton said that: The looming referendum in South Sudan is a ‘ticking time bomb’. Recently, the United States asked U.N. officials to brief the Security Council on peacekeeping preparations in Sudan, including Darfur, and is stepping up contacts with aid organizations to evaluate what might happen after the vote. What is your assessment, as of today, on the risk of a new conflict, after your many contacts with the country’s authorities?
S.G. I think that what Secretary Clinton was alluding to is that we are now only a few weeks away from the 9th of January, from the day that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement laid out for the people of Southern Sudan the right to decide whether they want to be unified with the North or independent as a separate country. During these few weeks, much has to happen in terms of carrying out a referendum that is peaceful and reflects the will of the people. Passions run high and I think that what she was saying was that if the parties themselves don’t take all the actions that are required, if the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission does not do all the things set out in the original mandate and the South Sudan Referendum Act, then it is difficult to predict what will happen. That’s why, the US and the international community, including the African Union and the United Nations, are very concerned and are working very hard whether by offering incentives or by working on the field. We want the parties to be successful. We want the Sudan to benefit from full implementation of the CPA and peace in Darfur.
President Obama is very clear: he is seeking peace in Sudan, prosperity, stability and security which the people of Sudan need so desperately. They have been in conflict for so long, and are longing for the peace they deserve. That is why we are working with the international community, the African neighbours and the parties themselves to make sure that all that can be done is done. We are using all the available tools; we want the parties to be successful. We want this referendum to take place and we want the will of the people to be expressed in a way that is credible and whose outcome will be accepted and implemented.
Q. Could the Southern Sudan people vote freely under conditions where one armed party controls the region? In other words, do conditions actually exist for a real democratic campaign open to free and contradictory ideas?
S.G. Well, the CPA has set out a situation where the people have to choose between unity or independence. The United States has not made a decision, and is not choosing one side or the other. We are committed to a process, committed to a procedure that will allow the people to express their will, including those living in the diaspora communities in the countries where the Sudanese settled during the conflict. But it is not for us to judge how they vote. We will accept the will of the people. What we want is a process that allows a credible referendum in Abyei and in the South. It will depend on the parties and the Referendum Commission to ensure that the people can express their will freelyand then we will accept the outcome; and we will help this people if they choose independence. They will need a country that can help meet their needs and take care of all the issues, be the choice independence or unity, and that will bring peace and stability not only to the people of Sudan but to the neighbouring areas and the African continent.
Q. The African Union has expressed the fear that, besides the risk of war between the North and the South, the probable secession of Southern Sudan will deprive the North of a third of its territory and 80% of the known Sudanese oil reserves. Don’t you fear that, as a result, this might have strong destabilising effects on the Northern power and open another period of uncertainties for the entire region?
S.G. If there is just a breakaway without a transition period, and these problems are not addressed, surely there will be a problem. We recognise that the Khartoum government will be losing about a third of the territory, about 30% of the people and 80% of its national resources and therefore a lot of income they are currently receiving from the oil. That’s why President Thabo Mbeki who is the Chairman of the AU High Level Implementation panel, myself, ambassador Princeton Lyman participating in the negotiation team in Sudan, are all working together to ensure that the Sudanese, both the NCP and the SPLM, can come up with an arrangement, an agreement that will allow them to have a smooth transition concerning these economic issues.
You are exactly correct that if the Northern Sudan loses these resources and income this could destabilise the economy and that is why the international community is interested in looking at debt relief options, subsidy options. We are looking at things that we can do externally to help but then we are also encouraging the parties to come up with an arrangement so that they can transition smoothly from the arrangement that was laid down in the CPA to some arrangements that will allow a win-win situation for both sides.
The South needs to have continued access to the infrastructure, the pipelines and pumping stations that are in the north, and the North needs to be able to transition smoothly to other forms of earning foreign exchange. There are many questions : whether there will be oil in the northern side, whether there will be economic growth in terms of the agriculture sector, or of manufacturing industrial branch. I’m not sure how they will generate foreign exchange, but there is definitely a need for some process and programme that allows for a stable transition to a new economy.
Q. Could the existence of an independent South-Sudan add to the list of failed African States, since the country lacks administrative structures and traditions to manage an independent and oil rich state with undefined borders and in an area already destabilised by other factors? What do you think is necessary to ensure that this does not happen?
S.G. Very good question! We agree with you and we are concerned about it and we are working very hard to make sure that the government of South Sudan has the capacity to build the infrastructure in governance from the national level to the traditional local level. In other words, there is need for a good strong national policy to be put in place, a good strong budget, fiscal capability, from the national level down to the local level.
In addition to this there must be a strong agricultural programme, there are 3.4 million people at risk of famine, they need much better agricultural processes, from subsistence farming to macro agricultural schemes that will bring food security and more income to the south from the agriculture side.
It is a rich land and the people are motivated for agriculture, and just need agricultural inputs, better seeds, possibly irrigation, better techniques and equipment, more markets and access to markets, biological analysis, etc. Agriculture is a big market, a big deal.
The other issue concerns the public sector services government should be providing. As you know, the literacy level is very low and we really need to help Southern Sudan with this basic issue. There may be many people coming from the North who are well educated but only in the Arabic language. They can however give some transition assistance. We understand that only 80% of the teachers are fully trained and we need to have a strong teacher training programme. And because of the conflict many people missed an opportunity to become educated, so there is a definite need for a literacy programme for these people who are now perhaps in their thirties or forties and never had an opportunity to gain these skills when they were youths, fighting, not attending schools. And then there has to be standard cooperation in the educational programme for the next generation of youth. So there is a big effort in the field of education, a major priority.
The last issue is security. We need to make sure that the people feel safe at the individual level, that there is confident interaction between the various tribes. The cattle robbers and that kind of thing that have resulted in loss of lives and loss of property must be minimised. All this, we believe, will lead to an environment and infrastructure with real promise of economic growth, prosperity and development. The new government has to work hard on all these internal issues. But there must be something else that Sudan’s neighbours, including Egypt, have to work on to help the new situation to consolidate. The international community must also support and contribute to this. It is a multi-faceted question, it is a multi-issue problem and it will take multilateral and internal efforts to make sure we work out a solution that results in a State that is at peace both internally and with its neighbours, a State that is economically prosperous and where future generations will see a brighter picture than what it’s people have experienced during the past four decades.