May 2, 2013 (LONDON) - Sudanese rebel leader Abdel-Aziz Adam El-Hilu said this week that he is fighting a "just war" against Khartoum, and denied reports that he had recommended the arrest of his former colleague, Telephone Kuku, over differences relating to who should lead the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-North) in South Kordofan state.
- SPLM-N’s top military commander, Abdel-Aziz al-Hilu (ST)
El-Hilu served as the Deputy Governor of the state until mid-2011 when all out conflict between the SPLM-N and the Sudanese over a disputed election in which El-Hilu lost his bid to become the governor.
Despite being held in a prison on South Sudan, Kuku’s name appeared on the ballot paper of the April 2011 gubernatorial elections, a move seen by many as an attempt to split the SPLM-N’s vote.
In August 2011 the SPLM-N signed a framework agreement with the government with was abruptly scrapped by the Sudanese president, leading to the conflict spreading to Blue Nile, where the Sudan Armed Forces deposed the SPLM-N governor Malik Agar.
El-Hilu is the Deputy Chairman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-North) serving under Agar as well as the overall commander of the armed branch of the group the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-North).
When the SPLM-N formed the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) - an alliance with the three main Darfur rebel groups - in late 2011, El-Hilu became the new group’s General Chief of Staff.
In his interview with Sudan Tribune on Tuesday El-Hilu denied ever having any personal or leadership difference with any of his colleagues either before or after South Sudan’s secession from Sudan in July 2011.
He described such allegations as the “divide and rule policies” of the government in Khartoum designed to stir conflict amongst the Sudanese opposition.
- General Telefon Kuku - FILE
But Kuku on 23 April said in an interview with Sudan Tribune that he was arrested at the directives of the SPLM-N leadership on “clumsy grounds”, allegedly born out of fear that he would have divided votes against El-Hilu if he was allowed to campaign during the 2011 gubernatorial elections in Southern Kordofan State.
“The SPLA command had nothing against me. I did not do anything wrong in all my assignments at the general headquarters. The problem started with preparations to contest elections after I was denied the right to be nominated as official candidate of the SPLM. The leadership nominated Abdel Aziz Adam El-Hilu. So I said fine. I respected the decision and I went ahead to contest independently but some people did not like this, and they asked the SPLA command to detain me on clumsy grounds”, Kuku explained.
Before Southern independence in July 2011 the SPLM was a national Sudanese movement that had its base in what is now South Sudan as well large controlling of large areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile state, which now lie north of the new international border.
South Sudan’s deputy defence Minister, Majak D’ Agoot in April confirmed Kuku’s arrest in 2010 was on the grounds that he was at odds with his colleagues in the northern sector of the SPLM.
“Kuku was a foreigner in our jail because he had odd views about his colleagues in the SPLM-N and sometimes a bit of rancour about South Sudan. Simply, I couldn’t find any logic keeping [him] in our detention cells”, D’ Agoot told Sudan Tribune.
Full text of the interview with Abdel Aziz Adam El-Hilu:
ST: What is the SPLM-North fighting for?
The SPLM-North is fighting for the basic rights of the Sudanese people and to put an end to decades of tyranny. The objective is to bring total peace and stability so that Sudanese people can rebuild their lives which have been destroyed by the decades of conflicts. There has not been anything done with Sudanese wealth, since it became an independent State. Resources have been used to buy weapons to kill its people by the leadership in Khartoum. People who are supposed to be sources of wealth have over the years been subjected to displacement as their places have been turned into conflict zones. We are therefore fighting for total change in the thinking that views others as not equal stakeholders in matters that relates to Sudanese affairs. The objective as I have said before is to make Sudan a country that respects human rights, value importance of diversity, equality and adoption of democratic ideals which are fundamental rights.
ST: Why fighting after Peace Agreement with Sudan?
You know that Comprehensive Peace Agreement was an accord which brought an end of the conflict between the SPLM and the government of Sudan. This agreement gave the south the right to exercise to self determination and the people of Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan the right for popular consultation to decide the type of governing system in the united Sudan and how they should manage their internal affairs.
All these provisions were supposed to be implemented during the interim period but the National Congress Party refused to implement these provisions that allow the people of Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile to exercise their rights to popular consultations, to decide what type of governing system they want to manage their affairs in the united Sudan. They delayed the elections in Southern Kordofan because of the census results which were contested. The National Congress Party deliberately decided to change geographical constituencies, curving them to their own. We said no and asked for another conduct of the census based on the existing administrative boundaries as per the CPA. With our determination and the pressure from the international community and partners, they reluctantly accepted and another census was done. Then came elections period which also had a lot of ill intentions, the preparations and the processes were not inclusive. Despite our observations, we accepted and went ahead to contest because our interest was in popular consultation.
With the will of our people given the fact that they know what the SPLM had done for them and based on our programs during campaigns, they voted overwhelmingly for our candidates to various seats. All the polling stations showed that we were in the lead. The international observers were even coming forward to congratulate us but National Congress Party again decided not to recognise the results, changed all the figures and even announced results outside polling centres.
They also did not allow the result to be challenged in the constitutional court; they just declared themselves and pushed the army to disarm our forces by forces. We said no. So they finally decided to launch an attack on June 6th 2011, starting it with my residence and our forces that were part of the joint integrated units. They use the army to carry out aerial bombardments, indiscriminately targeting villages, farms, everywhere. They did not leave anything untargeted. They bombard anything that moves using all types of weapons including medium-range missiles. They also carry out ground attacks mostly targeting civilians. They burn villages; they destroy crops, loot cattle and all the property of civilians.
Since that time Khartoum denied access to relief workers and the international community, those who are interested in coming to assist the needy people in the Nuba Mountains. People are now dying of hunger.
You can see clearly from this explanation that it was the national Congress Party which started this war and the international community decided to keep quiet. They allowed government under the National Congress Party to violet the terms of the agreement they supported and to openly slaughter innocent civilians.
ST: What have you achieved?
We have achieved a lot of things as movement. One of the first achievements is that we managed to confine the fighting to Kadugli where they remained in trenches until today. We are able to protect civilians who were targeted by the regime in Khartoum which decided to attack us in Nuba Mountains with intention to disarm us by force. They also did not stop with the attack on our forces; they went to Blue Nile and attacked Malik Agar who was the elected governor. They were the ones who announced the results of his success. This sends clear message that the National Congress Party is actually targeting everybody. They do not want anybody to appear in position of leadership even when the people have expressed their choice in peaceful manner.
Despite several attempts to take our positions, they have never succeeded. This is a big achievement. We are now controlling most parts of the areas. They are there in the towns and in barracks. They dug themselves in trenches inside towns. They do not move freely. The soldiers are not comfortable. They do not have moral. They are demoralised and frustrated because they have been confined to their trenches. It is actually a matter of time before we can smoke them out and you will soon see them running like rats running from the bush fire. They know we are capable to chase them.
The reason they cannot defeat us is that we believe we have a cause for fighting. When you know the cause you fight with determination. We have people from SAF who decided to join when the war started. This is because people have started to know cause for fighting. We do not recruit into the army by force. Nobody is forced just like the national congress party government does. They collect young people, just children and send them to the frontline without proper training. This is why we do not execute them when we capture them in the frontline because they are innocent.
The other reason is the nature of the terrain is our best weapon. We are familiar with mountainous terrain. We know all the corners of the mountains. They are our strong shields. They can not just move in and defeat us. We can be here for 100 years and they will never defeat us. Our mountains are equivalent of 100 tanks. This is a big challenge for Bashir and his forces. Their attempts to move in have always resulted into delivery of military supplies to us. They weapons we have come from Bashir and his forces. We get all our supplies from them. We get them from the attacks. They bring everything and leave it for us.
We now have their cars mounted with machine guns, files of ammunition, shells, rockets, different types of guns which some of soldiers do not know how to use. But because Bashir is always the sources of our resources including humans we get people who can train us. We make use of those we capture. Actually most of the technicians with us now were captured during some of the attacks and we did not kill them because we are using them.
ST: Is there any chance of a negotiated settlement with Khartoum?
We have never rejected negotiations. Our delegation was recently in Addis Ababa but what did they (Sudan government) do? They raised unnecessary conditions which mediators themselves did not accept that the talks had to be adjourned. The fact that our delegation went to the venue showed our readiness and commitment to negotiate the way forward on the basis of the framework of previous agreement. What they did is now left to the international community to judge but one thing is certain. The government of Khartoum under the leadership of National Congress Party has never honoured any agreement in its totality since independence in 1956 from colonial powers. The history and experiences about the government of Khartoum is a known.
ST: Who you do see in the alliance as unifying leader for presidency?
The war we are fighting is not about who should be who but how can the root cause of the continued conflict be addressed. You know Sudan has been at war with itself since gaining independence from colonial power in 1956. The causes of all these wars which started with South, which is now an independent country because of the failure by the leadership in Khartoum to apply the correct medicine, have been lack of respect for diversity and continuation of exclusive policies by successive Khartoum based regimes of peripheries from critical national issues and desire to impose one identity. The issue of who should be who is not the focus now? The objective is to change the system first. If the doctor knows the cause of the disease then it is simple for the disease to be cured. The war we are fighting is now to cure the disease because we have already identified the cause. The system in Khartoum is the disease. The medicine we are looking for now is to change this system in order to bring stability and lasting peace. We are therefore fighting a war of identity. We are fighting a just war for equality.
ST: How will these causes be addressed?
The only way to address is to first of all accept that the root cause is the centre and then work together to agree on how to address it which is very simple. The Sudanese people know that the system in Khartoum has lost direction and it is isolated from the outside world. Khartoum has no friends. The friends of Sudan are actually in support of the needs to transform the system .The people must write new constitution based on democratic ideals and values which will recognize existence of different identities.
It must be a constitution that accepts values which promote justice, equality and respect for diversity regardless of whether they are individuals or group or whether they are Muslim or Christian or from other denomination. Identity must not be enforced.
ST: What can you say about reports of the attack on convoy in which you were reported to be travelling? There is a general believe that you been killed. What do you think is the intention of the government of Khartoum in quickly spreading this allegation?
First of all let me assure our people that I am alive. Nothing had happened to me. The Sudan Armed Forces know where we are and we know where they are. The wish of the government of Khartoum will not make me disappear into the air. I will not vanish into the thin air. The National Congress is trying to raise anxiety among Sudanese people to discourage them from supporting Sudan Revolutionary Front but they will not succeed. Wishes do not make the cause of fighting disappear.
ST: Do you have any knowledge of why Telephone Kuku was detained in Juba?
No. I do not have details but I think it was just an administrative issue which has been resolved. He is no longer under detention.
ST: What about allegations that it was the SPLM-N leadership to which you are a deputy which asked your former commanders in the South to arrest him? Do you have any knowledge of who made the request in the leadership?
No. There is nothing like that. Nobody I know has made the request.
ST: Some leaders from Nuba Mountains, especially your colleagues with whom you fought during the war appear not happy and most of them have now decided not to participate in the current war. Do you know the reason? We are told you are only fighting with those who were junior officers. The most seniors like Daniel Kodi have abandoned you. Is there a reason you know?
Fighting is a commitment of motivation for a cause. The people you have mentioned fought the first war with full commitment until peace was signed. They have nation at heart but if they have decided not to fight in the second war, we should not blame them. They are fighting in another way. Fighting for a cause is in different forms.
ST: But there are reports claiming differences between you and your former comrades over the leadership, some say you do not come from Nuba Mountains. This is why you returned them to war because you will have nothing to lose. They say only Nuba mountains people are now paying for the price of the second war. Is this true?
First all I want to tell you clearly that I have never had any personal difference with any of my comrades in SPLM leadership even before the South secedes because we all know our positions and assignments. The leadership positions are freely contested at the general convention held after every five years, and the last convention was held in 2008 during which I was elected to the leadership position without complaints. I also want to repeat that the current war is not about who should be what but the need to change the system in Khartoum which is the one promoting all these kinds of divide and rule policies to remain in power. If we can get a person from anywhere in world who will accept to work for regime change, I think Sudanese people will warmly welcome the person. It does matter who will bring the change. What is needed is a change.
The other thing is that Nuba mountains people are great people. They know the history of Sudan very well. They know their cultures and traditions. They are Africans. They are not Arabs. They are fighting for their identity, dignity, equality. They do not segregate. This is why they are unique people. What you are saying is the policy of the government of Khartoum with clear intention to divide people so that they remain in power.
ST: What do you see as the root cause of the conflict in the Nuba Mountains?
It is about diversity which the government in Khartoum doesn’t recognize. Their minds are blocked by the desire for the monolithic type of state based on only two identities: Arabism and Islam which do not give a breathing space for those who are not Muslim, who are not Arabs. This is why Khartoum attacks its own civilians and this was what led the South to secede on 9th July 2011. If Sudanese people do not work together to change the current system in Khartoum I think Sudan will be fragmented again.
ST: What role do you see the international community played?
The international community has done very well. The international community has tried to persuade Khartoum to peacefully resolve the conflict. They are pushing for access to our areas with relief assistances. I think these are all efforts with good intentions but the government of Sudan has always defied them and the international community is not putting out strong measures. They are not putting clear action plans. They seem to be paying too much effort on diplomatic engagement which Bashir does not care.
And instead of working with Sudanese people to help them change the system, they are dealing with Bashir they have accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity and all type of atrocities he has committed in Darfur and all other areas. It is the same Bashir who has killed more than 2 million South Sudanese, more than 200,000 people in Nuba Mountains.
It is the same Bashir who introduced Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda to the world. It is the same Bashir who made an attempt on the life of Hosni Mubarak, who attempted to destroy the World Trade Center in New York. It is the same Bashir who smuggles guns to Hamas. It is the same Basir who created the Lord’s Resistance Army. It is the same Bashir who is using tribes to fight one another in order to keep him in power.
It is the same Bashir who defies directives of the international community. He does not respect international law. You know very well that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was not a simple agreement. It was the most important agreement reached after involvement of the key international players. It was a baby born after hard labour. It was after international pressure. I didn’t expect the international community would just turn their backs and throw away it like that. They should have defended it. Even after failing to defend, they are not allowing us to try our best with the government of Sudan. They are not allowing us to fight freely. There is always pressure on us and our friends. The international community is always accepting false claims by the government of Sudan that we are supported by foreign countries even when they know our capabilities to engage them. They are always on our necks for no reasons. They make us go to negotiations which they do not support when they are violated. So what is the meaning of negotiations? Why go to the table to talk if there is no going to be an action?