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Sudan's Ambassador to U.N. Discusses Southern Sudan Situation

Aired December 9, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, while the world mainly focuses on the crisis in Darfur, a peace deal that ended two decades of war in Southern Sudan could be on the brink of collapse.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to the program.

The North-South conflict in Sudan killed 2 million people over 20 years. Now the 2005 peace deal that ended all that is at risk. Already this year, more people have been killed in ethnic violence in Southern Sudan than in Darfur.

The violence is increasing ahead of next year's elections, and a referendum the following year on possible independence for the South, and a simmering dispute, as well, over the huge oil reserves in Southern Sudan. All of those tensions overflowed this week onto the streets of Khartoum after the arrest of three leaders of the South's main political party. They were later released.

We start now with a report by CNN's David McKenzie from Southern Sudan.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Danger, danger, danger," he shouts, clearing the fields of people. An airplane is approaching. For more than two decades, passing planes usually meant falling bombs, but not these days. This plane is dropping food.

These sacks of sorghum carry a lifeline to the 200,000 people here cut off from the outside world. Children here make planes out of mud. It's what they know.

Conflict, drought, and high food prices forces the World Food Programme to drop thousands of tons of food into Southern Sudan. The United Nations is calling this crisis a humanitarian perfect storm, a storm that's engulfed millions of people.

Sudan's civil war has ended, but hunger and violence still plague the South. Ethnic killings have displaced hundreds of thousands, like Rebecca (ph) and her family.

"During the attack, it was terrible," she says. "Three of our children were killed."

At least 180 people fishing here were massacred by a rival tribe. This isn't the peace they hoped for.

For two decades, the Sudan People's Liberation Army of the South fought a brutal war with the Khartoum government over religion, resources, and self-rule. About 2 million people died; millions more suffered.

In 2005, a peace deal was signed, giving the South partial autonomy and a share in oil revenue, offering a potential road to independence. The peace agreement between North and South brought hope to Southern Sudan, but everyone you speak to here says they want independence from the northern part of the country. And if that happens, high-ranking Western officials say that this country will be in freefall.

Southern Sudan is the size of France, but with only 30 miles of paved roads, health facilities so underdeveloped that the U.N. says a 15-year-old girl here is more likely to die in childbirth than finish school. People here are mostly illiterate, but they're well armed.

MAJ. GEN. GIER CHUANG ALUONG, MINISTER OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS, SOUTHERN SUDAN: We have been at war for 21 years, and everybody will agree with me. We have been at war. The focus has been only training to fight the war. We have not been focusing on management, leadership training, financial management, all these type of -- where you can actually sustain good governance.

MCKENZIE: But the South still depends heavily on the central government in Khartoum. There is tension between the sides, and analysts believe the fragile peace agreement could collapse here along the North- South divide, where most of the oil is produced.

DAVID GRESSLEY, REGIONAL COORDINATOR FOR SOUTHERN SUDAN: On the election side, that's a real issue. On...

MCKENZIE: The U.N. coordinator says that oil, a well-defined border, and credible elections are key to the future.

GRESSLEY: If these pieces don't happen, the -- the possibility of a new conflict is -- is very real. A third civil war is still very possible.

MCKENZIE: In Southern Sudan, they are hoping for peace, but ready for war.

"For us, there is no life," she says. "There is fighting. We have no food. With you here, perhaps you can bear witness to this, because people don't care whether we live or whether we die."


War is all they've known, and it's not yet clear whether the people in Southern Sudan will get a chance to know much else.

David McKenzie, CNN, Walguk (ph), Southern Sudan.


AMANPOUR: Joining me now is Sudan's ambassador to the United Nations, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad.

Welcome, Ambassador.


AMANPOUR: As you saw from our report there, the people in Southern Sudan don't have a huge amount of hope. And, frankly, all the people who our reporters talk to say that, given the chance, they would secede, they do want their independence. Will Sudan allow that to happen if the referendum goes that way?

MOHAMAD: No. I think the reports coming from Khartoum...

AMANPOUR: Did you say no, you won't let that happen?

MOHAMAD: We don't -- we don't -- we do not want that to happen at all, because we are fully with the unity of the country and we are sure that the sentiments of the people in Southern Sudan, if allowed freely to separate themselves, would not -- their choice would never be in secession.

AMANPOUR: Well, let's say they did decide to secede, they did decide to go for independence as the referendum allows under the peace agreement. Are you saying no, the government of Sudan would -- would stop that?

MOHAMAD: It is not like that. Our priority, in accordance with the agreement, is unity of the country.

AMANPOUR: That's your priority.

MOHAMAD: That is not the priority. That is what is enshrined in the agreement itself, that priority should be given to the unity of the country. When we exalt that (ph), when we think that -- and the people think in their own wish and will that there is no hope, we will certainly respect the verdict of the people.

AMANPOUR: All right.

MOHAMAD: But the issue is not black and white like this. We -- we are for the unity of the country. The people of South Sudan is with the unity of the country. And we are talking about hypotheses. This is only a hypothetical question.

AMANPOUR: You -- you say hypotheses, but the people tell reporters and others that actually they might want to secede. And the question is, will you allow it? You have said, no, yes, maybe.

MOHAMAD: No. I think nobody is giving the territorial integrity of a country in a silver plate to anybody.

AMANPOUR: All right. I understand that the government...

MOHAMAD: This is not only a concern of Sudan; it is a concern of Africa. And also, the international community cannot afford another failed state in the region.

AMANPOUR: Before a referendum...

MOHAMAD: This is why -- this is why we are saying that. All chances, all opportunities should work towards making unity attractive and making unity workable in Sudan.

AMANPOUR: All right, so making it attractive. Let's talk about the elections that are due next year. First of all, there's meant to have been a census taken.


AMANPOUR: Three times this has been delayed. There are people who are saying that the government is obstructing the possibility of free and fair elections. Why are you delaying this census?

MOHAMAD: No, no. I want to correct your information, because the census has already taken place, and the United Nations has recognized the completion of that process. And -- and it was a wonderful experience for the people of Sudan to have the fairest census after a long time.

Maybe you are talking about registration of voters for the election, which is going on now. Yesterday was the last day for registration of -- for the elections in April.

AMANPOUR: So they've been registered?


AMANPOUR: Well, then why is there this crackdown now? For instance, some of these leaders from the Southern Sudan main political party arrested and then released. Why is the government of Sudan, the Khartoum government, cracking down on them?

MOHAMAD: These events were blown out of proportion.

AMANPOUR: But the thing is, they were arrested, so you can describe them how you like, but why?

MOHAMAD: This is -- it is a...

AMANPOUR: The question is, why?

MOHAMAD: It is a very simple issue: unlawful demonstration, in which the government asked the organizers to take the permission. This happens everywhere in the world, here in the U.S., in U.K., in Europe, in Africa, elsewhere. You have to take a permission to stage a demonstration, and they were asked to do so. So they cannot take peace and order in their own hands.

AMANPOUR: You know, a lot of times when there are protests and people get arrested, then the authorities say, well, they didn't have the right paperwork or they didn't have the right bureaucratic or administrative things, but clearly some of these protestors and some of these leaders believe that they did. So I guess the question is, everybody wants to know, is the government trying to intimidate the political leaders, the people of Southern Sudan ahead of these elections?

MOHAMAD: No. By the way, the Monday demonstration should not be linked to South Sudan, because it was done also in coordination with northern political parties. So there is no isolation for South Sudan on this.


This is over-exaggeration to say that it is targeting the Southern Sudan. Never.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you another question about the oil revenues.


AMANPOUR: According to the agreement, they're meant to be shared 50/50.


AMANPOUR: Now, they are saying and activists and -- and -- and concerned citizens about the Southern Sudan issue that you're not doing that, that you're not sharing it 50/50. Why not?

MOHAMAD: No, no. It has been shared. The process is going on since CPA was signed. Indeed, your question should be, where did the $8 billion U.S. dollars go?

AMANPOUR: My question is, why are they not sharing the revenues?

MOHAMAD: No, no. We transferred the amount, the government in the North transferred the amount to the South Sudan government, but we are -- we don't know. They should be accountable to this -- to this amount.

AMANPOUR: All right. And one more thing. Your government wants to be a leader. You're leading, for instance, in the -- in the G-77 climate negotiations.

MOHAMAD: Yes, climate change.

AMANPOUR: Exactly. Now, you also happen to be a government led by a man who's been indicted by the International Criminal Court, which kind of undermines your whole system. Is it not time now that President al-Bashir gives up or that he is given up to the court of the International Criminal Court?

And let me ask you this. I'm going to play for you a sound bite from General Gration, who is under a huge amount of pressure, wants to engage with your government, but look at what's happening in the United States because of this very issue.


SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: You are dealing with a government that is conducting an ongoing genocide. Is that correct?

SCOTT GRATION, SPECIAL ENVOY TO SUDAN: I'm dealing with a government.

BROWNBACK: That is conducting an ongoing genocide in Sudan?

GRATION: I'm dealing with a government and in -- in an effort to end the conflict, in an effort to end gross human rights abuses.

BROWNBACK: I understand the objective. I'm asking you, are you dealing with a government that is conducting an ongoing genocide in Sudan?

GRATION: I'm dealing with -- as I said, I'm dealing with a government in Khartoum of Sudan.

BROWNBACK: Which is currently conducting a genocide in Sudan. Is that correct?

GRATION: That's correct.


AMANPOUR: So, you see, that was under questioning in the Senate by Senator Brownback, and there are a lot of people who disagree with President Obama's decision to engage with your government, precisely because of this issue. Is it not time, Ambassador, to come into the fold of international law, for the good -- for the good of Sudan itself?

MOHAMAD: No, not at all. Our leader is one of the best African leaders. He put an end to the longest civil war in Africa. The Security Council of the U.N. itself recognized and commended our president. He cannot overnight be a criminal -- a war criminal.

What is going on in the United States is really amazing. Nobody invades (ph) Gration. He's standing like a student listening to war- mongers telling him what to do in Sudan. We call for engagement, not confrontation. And -- and -- and...

AMANPOUR: But the United -- the United States is trying to engage with your country.

MOHAMAD: So what's the problem?

AMANPOUR: But they're put into an embarrassing situation...

MOHAMAD: Not embarrassing situation.

AMANPOUR: ... because of who leads the government.

MOHAMAD: If the situation is rosy and good, there would never have been any need for a special envoy. If things are normal and everything on the ground is good, then there -- there is no need for a special envoy.

AMANPOUR: So, Ambassador, are you saying there is no chance that Sudan will comply with the ICC warrant?

MOHAMAD: Never. That would never happen. And the United States itself is not member of the ICC. Let the government of the U.S. join the ICC.

AMANPOUR: Is the president going to Copenhagen, President Bashir?

MOHAMAD: He is not going, because he has -- he's on...

AMANPOUR: Because of this?

MOHAMAD: No, no.

AMANPOUR: Because of the warrant that's out?

MOHAMAD: No, no. He has his own calculations about this. There are many considerations prompting the president to go or not. We have our own preoccupations, because there's a decision by the OIC (ph) sometime ago banning visits with -- with Denmark since the cartoon issues (ph).

AMANPOUR: Well, that's -- that's -- that's what you say, I know. We'll continue this conversation.


AMANPOUR: Ambassador, thank you for coming in.

MOHAMAD: Thank you. Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: And next, the dispute that we talked about which lies at the heart of this conflict between North and South, when we return.



AMANPOUR: You're looking at a map showing the pipeline and the principal oil fields which are in Southern Sudan. The country has some of Africa's largest oil reserves, 5 billion barrels in all, we're told. Our David McKenzie went to the region and discovered the many reasons which make oil a divisive issue.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Civil war raged here for two decades. Now there's a fragile peace, but also a new conflict, at the heart of it, oil, and whether it's poisoning the people who live here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Show you the -- this facility, this is -- this is Unity oil field.

MCKENZIE: The governor of Unity state, Taban Deng, takes us inside one processing plant for the first look ever by Western media. He's worried by the oil's impact.

Visitors here are rare and not very welcome. The company's security agent photographs our every move. This plant is run by the Greater Nile Operating Company, a consortium of Chinese, Malaysian, and Indian companies, in partnership with Khartoum.

Deng is concerned pollution from the oil fields is making people sick. Greater Nile says it has conducted tests that refute these claims and told CNN their plants comply with international environmental standards.

But tests in an oil field run by another company have come up with disturbing results.

Recent scientific studies show that there are very high level of mineral content in the water around here. They presume it's because of seepage from these oil facilities.

This is Africa's largest freshwater wetland. A German NGO said it found, quote, "persuasive evidence" here of contamination from oil fields operated by White Nile Petroleum.

Over nearly two years, the group, Sign of Hope, had more than 50 water samples tested by an independent scientist. The study found salinity and nitrate levels in drinking wells near the oil fields as many times the international recommended level for humans. It blames water from the company's processing facilities.

Sign of Hope also found that abandoned drilling sites contained high concentrations of chemicals, like cadmium and lead, that could find their way into the drinking water.

White Nile did not return our calls, but on its Web site says that the study is baseless and unjustified. It says its facilities are not the source of the alleged contamination and continuously tests the quality of its wastewater and that it complies to the strictest international standards.

But in the village of Riya (ph), people are wary of the water.

"Before, our cattle didn't die," he says, "and our children didn't die. Our water was good. Now the water is bad."

There's no independent evidence that the oil company's operations have caused sickness or death. The companies deny it. But the governor of Unity State says that the story of oil in Sudan comes down to one word...

JOHN MAYAL, RICE VILLAGE LEADER: Mismanagement of the -- of the resource itself, mismanagement in the area of protecting the environment.

MCKENZIE: And, he says, it's the people who suffer. They live alongside what is commonly known as the best road in South Sudan, built by the oil companies. Sudan has a billion-dollar oil industry.


But on the edge of the road, some of the world's poorest people collect reeds to survive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Life is so difficult here. That's why you see people here working for -- for their life. They are suffering a lot from the -- they are starving.

MCKENZIE: For now, they only see oil as a curse.

David McKenzie, CNN, in the oil fields of Unity State.


AMANPOUR: Joining me now is Randy Newcomb, head of Humanity United, involved in trying to end Sudan's conflict.

Welcome to our -- to our program, Randy Newcomb, from San Francisco.

RANDY NEWCOMB, HUMANITY UNITED: Thank you. Good evening.

AMANPOUR: Tell me something: What is the situation with the oil revenues, first and foremost? Are the southerners getting the half that they should?

NEWCOMB: Well, I think -- I think there are some questions around how that revenue is being distributing. And we only need to look at a recent Global Witness report in September of this year that points to some discrepancies there.

AMANPOUR: And how is this affecting, if at all, this dispute over the -- over the election, over the referendum, over the whole peace agreement?

NEWCOMB: Well, I -- you know, that's an excellent point. There's this -- this old Dinka saying that the -- the thread that stitches the North and the South together goes through these oil fields. And so these oil fields are -- are a place where much of this conflict exists between the North and the South.

AMANPOUR: How do you think it's going to be resolved? What do you see, come the elections in 2010, next year, come the referendum in -- in 2011?

NEWCOMB: Well, I think -- I think we have the beauty of knowing these things well in advance. Nobody can -- nobody can say that we were caught by surprise. We have elections coming up in, what, about seven months from now, the referendum in about 14 months. And I think it's a moment in time where the international community can get this one right.

AMANPOUR: So -- so walk me through it a little bit, because you heard Ambassador Mohamad talk about the priority for the government of Sudan is - - is unity of the country. On the other hand, a lot of the people there certainly told our David McKenzie that they would like to secede and like to be independent. How is that going to be resolved, do you think? And which way does your finding show that the people want to go in the South?

NEWCOMB: Well, I -- I -- you know, with all respect to the ambassador, I think the -- you only have to be on the ground in the South a few hours to find out that really the preponderance of opinion is that -- towards secession. And some of the -- some of the polling over the last couple of years have pointed to a significant influence towards secession by the South.

AMANPOUR: And is, in your view, the preparations for the elections -- is that being done?

NEWCOMB: Well, I -- I have to tell you, Christiane, that it is falling far behind. And I -- I think if the North wants to make unity attractive, as the good ambassador pointed out, that there are steps that can be taking place right now, even before the elections began to...

AMANPOUR: Such as?

NEWCOMB: Well, I think it's beginning to pass legislation that's been held up in the parliament around freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, freedoms of other political parties to election year for these elections in 2010.

AMANPOUR: And what happens if this all goes belly-up, if the elections don't happen properly, and if the South decides to secede?

NEWCOMB: Well, I think that's a scenario that we don't even want to imagine. It was -- it was a bloody -- it was a bloody civil war. And I'm fearful of what could happen if -- if the North and the South went back to war. And to tell you the truth, I think it's in the international community's interests to ensure that -- that Sudan remains stable during this transition.

AMANPOUR: So do you support the Obama administration's engagement, despite the indictment of President Bashir?

NEWCOMB: Absolutely. And I think we only need to point to history to determine that there's ways in which the U.S. government can -- can engage with countries that have a sitting head of state that -- that's indicted.

We only, you know, need to look at Bosnia. We -- we figured out a way to engage in Bosnia, even though Milosevic had been indicted. And so I think -- I think -- I think the U.S. government can figure this one out.

AMANPOUR: Randy Newcomb, thank you so much, indeed, for joining us.

And for something different on Sudan, go to our Web site,, where we have a special feature on what happened to the wildlife parks in the South during the civil war and afterwards.

And next, our "Post-Script." Iran, the reform movement rumbles on, when we come back.



AMANPOUR: And now, our "Post-Script." An update on a story that we're following closely on this program, the turmoil in Iran following the disputed presidential election in June and the government crackdown that continues.

Monday was Student Day. Despite a ban on any protests, opposition supporters held their biggest demonstrations in months, and opposition leaders sent out messages of support and solidarity. The support and the opposition protests happened on university campuses across Iran because people were banned from going outside. Two hundred people, though, were arrested, but the protest showed that the campaign of intimidation by the government has failed to stamp the movement out.

And these pictures did get out, despite government efforts to block access to the Internet and prevent foreign correspondents from reporting the story. They sent journalists SMS messages banning any coverage between Monday and Wednesday of this week. But as we see, the story continues, and we'll have more on this on our program on Thursday.

We're also watching what's going on in the Philippines, so go to our Web site,, where you can read a blog from Manila about the world's most dangerous place these days for journalists.

That's it for now. Thank you for watching. For all of us here, goodbye from New York.