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Khartoum must be secular national capital - Sudanese rebel leader, Garang

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BBC Monitoring Middle East

The following is the text of an interview with Dr John Garang by Fa’iz al-Shaykh al-Salik in Kapoeta, southern Sudan, on 16 October, published by London-based newspaper Al-Hayat on 18 October; subheadings inserted editorially:

LONDON, Oct. 19, 2003 — Leader of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement Dr John Garang has said that the Sudanese capital Khartoum could not be governed by religious laws if it were to be the national capital. He stressed his continuing commitment to a rotation of the presidency, and denied that other opposition groups had been excluded from the talks, explaining that the agreements had made provisions for input from these parties. He said that "partnership" with the government meant nothing more that implementing an agreement to end 20 years of war.

[Al-Salik] When will the final peace agreement be signed?

[Garang] I do not know exactly when, but I am optimistic that it will be signed very soon. I cannot, however, say exactly when this will happen.

[Al-Salik] President Umar al-Bashir asserted that the [Sudanese People’s Liberation] Movement [SPLM] and government delegations achieved 90 per cent of the agreement during the recent negotiations. Do you think this is true?

"Recent agreement... a fundamental step"

[Garang] These are his statistics, not mine. But I believe that the recent agreement concerning military and security arrangements represents a major breakthrough and is undoubtedly a fundamental step towards the final agreement. There are still many issues concerning the sharing of power, such as the presidency, the capital, executive and legislative questions, the judiciary and the civil service. In the sharing of wealth issues, there are the matters of distributing the oil revenues between the production areas, the central government and the southern government as well as the matter of the currency and banking system. The dinar is in circulation in the north and the areas under the government’s control while in other areas it is the dinar and the old pound - which was legal tender under former President Ja’far al-Numayri - are in circulation. The Kenyan and Ugandan shilling and the US dollar are also in circulation. We recently printed a new currency we called the "new Sudan pound" and will start issuing it for circulation in the coming stage. There are also the issues of the three marginalized regions: southern Blue Nile, Abyei and the Nuba Mountains.

Khartoum and the presidency

[Al-Salik] You raised issues related to the presidency and the capital within the framework of power-sharing. This angered the government and was also one of the reasons for the collapse of some previous rounds [of talks]. How has your position developed on these issues?

[Garang] There is no change in our position. We are still committed to the rotation of the presidency during the transitional period (six years), that is, to split it equally between the movement and the government (three years of presidency for each one of them). All these proposals are on the negotiating table. Regarding the national capital issue, it should not be governed by religious laws. If it is governed by the religion of one party, then Khartoum cannot be a national capital but a sectarian one.

[Al-Salik] But the government says Khartoum is in the north and the Machakos protocol stipulated Muslim rule in the north?

[Garang] How can it be for the north when it is the national capital for all Sudanese? Washington does not belong to any geographic area but is the capital of the United States. The capital should not belong to the north or the south.

[Al-Salik] Did the government propose moving the capital to the south to solve the problem?

[Garang] This too is contradictory, it should be national.

Other opposition groups - ignored?

[Al-Salik] In the issue of military and security arrangements, the armed Sudanese opposition in the east and west of the country has apparently been ignored, which means that areas of tension will remain. How will you deal with this fault?

[Garang] There is not a fault. There is a recognition that these forces have not been included in the military and security arrangements agreement. There will be negotiations between the government and these forces about this because we do not have the right to negotiate on behalf of others. Article 7-C in the security arrangements agreement says that the government will negotiate with these forces and the results of these negotiations will later be included in the final peace agreement. There will be a fault if there are no negotiations on this issue. I believe, however, that negotiations will be held before the final agreement between the SPLM and the government.

[Al-Salik] This covers the political factions’ forces such as the "National Democratic Alliance" [NDA] in the east and the "Sudan Liberation Front" in Darfur. What about the armed southern militias?

[Garang] We also dealt with this in Article 7-C and asserted the need to include them in the agreement. We rejected the presence of militias that operate outside the government army and the "Sudanese People’s Liberation Army" [SPLA] (the SPLM’s military wing). We in the SPLA consider them to be southern citizens and agreed to absorb them into the southern government’s establishments, army, police, prisons and others.

[Al-Salik] What if they refuse?

[Garang] Why should they refuse? I do not see a reason for refusing. I am not expecting this unless the government wants to continue to exploit them, like it did in the past. But we will be part of the government if there is a final agreement. Where will they go?

[Al-Salik] What is the future of your relations with the other political forces in the south?

[Garang] The SPLM is conducting a dialogue with all the Sudanese political forces and has called for national consensus and participation in building the peace process. The SPLM also calls for a comprehensive and fair peace. We conducted the southern-southern dialogue in the south and have started one with the armed militias. The political forces are working to conduct an intensive dialogue that I believe is extremely important at this stage. We take into account all the political forces that disagree with us. It is not important for us to have all the forces in the SPLM ranks by absorbing them, because we believe that disagreement creates the democratic environment.

Participation in government

[Al-Salik] What will be the position of the present first Vice President Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha if Al-Bashir remains the president and you become the first vice president?

[Garang] Ali Uthman came as the government representative and not to negotiate on his own behalf. The government authorized him, just as the SPLM authorized John Garang, to negotiate on its behalf. I do not see any problem. As to my status or that of Taha, I am not seeking a post and did not go to the jungles and forests and fight a long war so as to become the vice president. I could have got it without going to the forest. We are negotiating for the sake of a comprehensive and fair peace and real democracy. We are fighting and negotiating too for the sake of achieving a new Sudan and are seeking a unified Sudan on based on new foundations. We will work to make unity our choice during the transitional period, through the referendum on the right to self-determination after six years of unity, or independence.

[Al-Salik] You met Al-Bashir twice in Kampala and Nairobi and met his first deputy Ali Uthman in Naivasha for 20 days. Which of the two men has the key for taking the difficult decisions for reaching the final agreement?

[Garang] We are not judges to pass judgment on government officials.

[Al-Salik] The government said that it was ready for a partnership with the SPLM. What is your position?

[Garang] Partnership for implementing a peace agreement that puts an end to a war that lasted for 20 years. This is the meaning of partnership and nothing more. The important thing for us is to stop the war and create stability.

[Al-Salik] You fought for more than 14 years and this created bitterness and wounds. How can you be in one government?

[Garang] We can consider the South African government’s experiment a model and there is what is known as truth and reconciliation in this experiment.

Al-Turabi

[Al-Salik] You were among the first to contact the Islamic leader Dr Hasan al-Turabi after his release, though he was your bitterest enemy. What about this change?

[Garang] Who was not an old enemy of us? The country is coming to a stage of transformation, so why should we not talk to Al-Turabi while negotiating with Al-Bashir? Why was Al-Turabi imprisoned? He was imprisoned because he signed an agreement with us. We found ourselves morally bound to stand with him and greet him after his release.

[Al-Salik] And you invited him to visit you in the south?

[Garang] Yes, I asked him and I am ready to receive and welcome him. I also welcome at the same time Al-Bashir, Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha, (NDA leader) Mawlana Muhammad Uthman al-Mirghani, (former prime minister and Ummah Party leader) Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, and all the Sudanese. I recently received a delegation from the "National Grouping" here in new Sudan.

"We are not a military movement"

[Al-Salik] You had announced earlier you were turning into a political movement and building a broad movement for the new Sudan. You also agreed with the NDA forces to merge but this has not been done so far?

[Garang] We are not a southern movement and are therefore moving in the direction of establishing a movement for the new Sudan, north and south. The merger with the NDA forces will happen soon. We are not a military movement but a political one and our aims are political, while weapons are just a means for achieving political aims. We are now preparing ourselves for democratic change by holding conferences for women, the youth, the Nuba mountains, armed militias, the southern-southern dialogue and for the new Sudan forces. We are giving priority at present to the achievement of peace and then will concentrate on building the movement across Sudan as a whole.

[Al-Salik] Do you believe that the current round of negotiations is the last one?

[Garang] If we reach an agreement, then it will be the last.

[Al-Salik] Are you optimistic or pessimistic?

[Garang] I am optimistic.

[Al-Salik] What about the international pressure on you, especially from the United States?

[Garang] I only know the pressure from the Sudanese people who have been exhausted by the long and destructive war. The international community also wants peace for us, but not through pressure. The international community has a real desire to see the achievement of a comprehensive peace.

[Al-Salik] What do you demand from the international community at this stage?

[Garang] Prayers and good intentions.

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The Sudan Tribune editorial team.

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