September 3, 2011 (WASHINGTON) – A suspected leader of the notorious Janjaweed militias in Darfur was apologetic over the crimes committed in Sudan’s western region but blamed it on the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and a core group of Islamists within it, a leaked US diplomatic cable discloses.
- Leader of the Mahameed clan and suspected Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal (NYT)
The document says that on September 23, 2009 the US Charge d’affaires (CDA) Alberto Fernandez attended a Ramadan Iftar held by Darfuri-American activist and prominent Arab tribal leader Walid Madibo who is also a USAID implementing partner.
In attendance also was Musa Hilal who is described by several rights groups and eyewitnesses as the man who led a terror campaign against the African tribes in the war ravaged region.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) imposed travel and financial sanctions on Hilal and three other individuals in April 2006. The US president George Bush issued an executive order enforcing similar sanctions on them.
At the event Fernandez met one-in-one with Hilal which was described as the third meeting of its kind with a US official.
Hilal told the US diplomat that the Arab tribes were manipulated by a hysterical Khartoum afraid that Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) leader John Garang was seeking to open a new front in Darfur just as negotiations reached their final stage on the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
"I was let out of prison and was angry at the world. My tribe had been attacked. Khartoum armed me and pushed tribal vengeance into something worse" the tribal leader was quoted as saying.
The 46 years old was jailed by the Sudanese authorities in 1998 for leading armed robbery of the central bank in the city of Nyala in Darfur. However the First Vice president Ali Osman Taha secured his release in 2002 in order to fight the rebellion in Darfur according to multiple reports.
In early 2008 Hilal was appointed by president Omer Hassan al-Bashir as an Advisor to the Ministry of Federal Rule. The move, according to the US cable, was intended to keep him on a short leash after he flirted with joining the SPLM in Juba in late 2007 during the SPLM "cabinet crisis".
He sarcastically noted his role as a ministerial advisor, "We advise them on nothing. We have no power, everything, every killing is decided in Khartoum. You call us ’Janjaweed’ but that is not a word we use, those are bandits, thieves and robbers".
The suspected Janjaweed leader in his conversation on the beginnings of the Darfur conflict said the region was awash in weapons, supplied by Libya in the years of its many Chadian interventions.
"We don’t feel we had a choice as our tribal enemies were with the rebels" he said. The Arab tribes couldn’t disarm unilaterally in the face of heavily armed rebel groups aching for revenge.
Nonetheless Hilal said he regretted much about those years adding that he has apologised to the African Fur tribe and other leaders for his actions and those of the Mahameed clan that he leads.
Hilal lashed out at the NCP and hardcore Islamists within it saying they are responsible for Darfur carnage.
"I am not a member of the NCP. My family has always been Unionists (Democratic Unionist Party members). We are Sufis and not fundamentalists" Hilal said.
He said that Bashir had been led astray by the likes of Islamic fundamentalists including Vice President Taha and deputy NCP chairman Nafie Ali Nafie.
Hilal indicated that he would like to see the Sudanese president arrest the NCP leaders, hold them responsible for their crimes and rule Sudan with the help of the Northern opposition parties National Umma Party, DUP and the SPLM.
"Someone said that President Bush wanted the heads of two people: Bin Laden and Musa Hilal. But I am not as you think I am,” he said. "The political leader I am closest to and admire is President [Idriss] Deby of Chad."
The cable said that Hilal “snorted appreciatively” when CDA described the NCP earlier as experts in "deception, delay and false promises," commenting that "you know them well then."
"If we had a choice, we would be with America against the NCP."
Hilal described Darfur’s Arab militias as "disloyal to Khartoum. We found out that we have more in common with the Africans of Darfur than with these Nile Valley Arabs". He added that the Arab tribes of Darfur were constantly told by Khartoum officials that the Americans were "out to get them."
In 2004, the then Director of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services Salah Gosh gave a rare interview to Reuters and made the first confession of its kind that the government armed the Janjaweed militias. He added that they would not make the same mistake in the country’s east where the local population at the time began to take arms against the central government.
Prior to this interview, the Sudanese government has vehemently denied any links to the militias. Furthermore, Gosh acknowledged that human rights violations took place in Darfur and stressed that those responsible would be brought to justice.
The application filed by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against president Bashir in 2008 mentioned names of other Sudanese officials that assisted in recruiting Janjaweed including Gosh, Presidential Assistant Nafie Ali Nafie, Defence Minister Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Hussein, Head of Military Intelligence and Deputy Chief of Staff General Awad Ibn Auf and State Minister for Humanitarian Affairs Ahmed Haroun.
Taha was quoted in the ICC application as telling 15 Janjaweed commanders that the war in Darfur “had been imposed upon them and that, as Arabs, they should preserve the unity of their land and religion”.
In his discussion with Fernandez, Hilal pleaded for US understanding.
"We want a place in the American agenda for Darfur. We want to see your policy goals succeed there. He said that he wanted to find whatever way I can to be helpful to the Americans,” Hilal said.
"We don’t understand what your goal in Darfur is, we want to understand and be helpful." He repeatedly emphasised that the loyalty of Darfur’s Arab tribes, and presumably his own, is up for grabs, if the West is interested.
He added that he wanted nothing for himself except the opportunity to travel freely.
Last year sources told the London-based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper that Hilal disappeared after feeling frustrated with the government which barred him from leaving to Jordan to seek medical treatment citing security reasons.
‘FUR SHOULD LEAD IN DARFUR’
Hilal went on to give his analysis of Darfur’s African tribes. He dismissed the power of the various Zaghawa-dominated rebel groups such as the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). He said the latter is strong only because of Chadian support and the heavy use of Chadian mercenaries.
The Mahameed clan leader said that JEM chief Khalil Ibrahim recruits lesser tribes along the border as cannon fodder, "there aren’t that many Zaghawa that are still fighters" as the upwardly mobile tribe moves to the cities to become successful traders and businessmen.
Hilal characterised the Fur people of Darfur are much more formidable as they are “smarter and fight better, but they lack the weapons, vehicles and preparation”.
"The Fur should lead [in Darfur] as they are "wiser, better educated and moderate" he said in an unusual comment from a key Arab figure in Darfur.
In the comment section of the cable added by US embassy officials, Hilal was described as “compelling and surprisingly articulate figure (in Arabic) who seems eager to break with Khartoum and find some sort of accommodation from the West for himself and his band of rogues. He longs for contact and recognition and was not shy about his contempt for the Islamist politicians in Khartoum (he was silent, however, about his likely paymasters in the Sudanese military/security apparatus).
“He [Hilal] does feel, and is probably right, that tribesmen like himself are in danger of being made scapegoats at war crimes tribunals for policy decisions made in the capital. Although Hilal was only one of many ruthless Arab militia field commanders in Darfur, his media exposure during the worse years of the genocide will always make him a marked man. He is smart and aware enough to know that and to look for a way out without comprehending that none is likely to exist for him. If anything, this meeting also underscores the shallow, mercurial nature of Khartoum’s relationship with their most trusted allies in the field in Darfur”.