Southern Sudan leader speaks of justice
Southern Sudanese leader Salva Kiir spent most of his life as a guerrilla soldier battling the northern-dominated government of President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir.
Long before the Darfur conflict in western Sudan captured international attention, southern rebels led by Kiir’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, or SPLM, fought a devastating civil war that claimed more than 2 million lives. In 2005, the warring parties signed an accord that turned former combatants into political partners in a unity government.
The alliance has had its ups and downs, with each side accusing the other of reneging on terms of the deal and even sporadic armed clashes between their armies.
Now Bashir is fighting for his political life as the International Criminal Court prepares to issue an arrest warrant against him today for alleged war crimes committed during the government’s counterinsurgency campaign in Darfur.
On the eve of the announcement, Kiir, who serves as president of the semiautonomous region of southern Sudan as well as national first vice president, talked about what the ICC case means for Sudan.
You just issued a statement that was very supportive of Bashir, calling him “Brother Bashir” and warning the international community against provoking chaos in Sudan. Does that mean you think the ICC case against Bashir is a mistake?
It’s not a mistake. I didn’t say it was a mistake. It’s something that is looking for justice. The ICC is not indicting the whole country. It’s looking for particular people that are accused of crimes against humanity and human rights violations. These include the president. The issue is that the president is still in office. The ICC has never done this to any president before. Why is it being done for the first time to the president of Sudan? That’s the question that everyone is asking.
Do you take it as a sign of disrespect toward Sudan?
I can’t answer that question.
Do you think Bashir deserves to be prosecuted for war crimes and genocide in Darfur?
It’s not my business. I’m not the judge. I cannot be the one to say President Bashir has to be questioned or taken to court. He is the president. He is my president. He has all the immunity of any president. So if the ICC thinks it’s easy to take him to court, we will see what is the formula and process for taking a president to court.
Is what is happening in Darfur genocide?
We did not want to call it that. We know that people are dying. Whether it is genocide or not, we cannot say. In southern Sudan, there was war and I was one of the commanders. The number of people who died in the south were more than those who died in Darfur -- almost 3 million. Nothing was said about genocide then. A quarter of the number of people in southern Sudan died. If the ICC was looking for the truth, they should have looked for the people who were responsible.
Should it have been?
We didn’t complain. We knew we were fighting a war.
How fragile is Sudan’s government right now? Could an arrest warrant lead to its collapse?
The warrant by itself cannot make the government collapse. The government will continue to discharge its duties and functions. The problem will be if there are people who intend to create problems. Whatever the ICC says, we in the government have to act as responsible people and we should not allow ourselves to be carried away by emotion. We must control the situation and protect the rights and property of the people.
There have been reports about pro-government militias arming and organizing in the south, Darfur and in Khartoum.
So far we have no information about that.
The ICC case puts the SPLM in a tricky spot. Are you worried that if Bashir’s government collapses, the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] could be at risk? At best, the ICC case will likely distract the government from implementing the final provisions of the peace deal.
It puts us in a very difficult situation as a country to have an indicted president who is not flexible in his movement. But we have said let us maintain the situation so that there are no clashes that will throw the whole country into chaos. The situation in Darfur can still be handled. And in southern Sudan, there is the CPA.
Unless somebody is interested in taking people back to war, there is no connection between the ICC and peace in the south.
Are you preparing militarily for possible violence?
I’m a soldier. I’m prepared.
Are you planning to run against Bashir in the national presidential election, expected to be held sometime later this year?
Our party has not nominated anybody so far.
Do you want to be president of Sudan? Is it anything you have a passion for?
If I’m nominated and if I accept, I will tell you.
With falling oil prices, Sudan’s budget has been drastically reduced. More than 95% of the southern government budget comes from your share of oil revenue. Now you’re having trouble paying government workers and the military.
It’s a very serious crisis. Not only in the south. It will affect the whole Sudan.
Where are you going to get the money to make up the shortfall?
I don’t know. Maybe you might loan me some money? (Laughter)
I don’t have nearly enough, but are you hoping to borrow from the U.S. or other countries?
We are trying to work out a way to get money and run the administration.
Whether we are successful, we don’t know yet, but we must survive.