Ladies and Gentlemen, Good morning and welcome to the AMIS Headquarters in Khartoum. As you are aware I have not been in the habit of conducting what you might call “microphone diplomacy” by personally addressing the press unless in exceptional circumstances. As you are aware the procedure AMIS follows to establish violations of the ceasefire on the ground are methodolical and governed by rules of procedure of the Ceasefire Commission (CFC) and the Joint Commission (JC). Whenever we receive reports of ceasefire violations, an investigation team comprising representatives of the AU, GoS, JEM, SLA, and the US and EU representing the international community, investigate such reports. And after a thorough deliberation by the CFC, its findings are forwarded to the Joint Commission. The JC deliberates on the CFC findings and publishes its report. This is the established procedure.
You might well debate whether this is adequate, especially as the JC has no executive powers to penalize any offending party. You may also question the length of time it takes for an incidence to be conclusively disposed of, between when it occurs and when the JC publishes its findings. Indeed, I am of the view that the mechanism in place, while it could have worked if the parties to the conflict in Darfur were acting in good faith and if they were genuinely committed to their undertakings in the various agreements they have signed. However, in the light of our experience in the past fourteen months we must conclude that there is neither good faith nor commitment on the part of any of the parties. I also believe that there is a clear need to review the rules of procedure and of especially the JC. I am making this observation by way of introduction to explain why we have taken the unprecedented step of calling a press conference to address the series of violations of ceasefire that occurred in Darfur since the conclusion of the 5th round of the Abuja Peace talks.
The extent of collapse of the security situation in Darfur during this period is even more ironic and regrettable given the high hopes for an early resolution of the Darfur crisis generated by the adoption of the widely acclaimed Declaration of Principles (DOP) on the 5 July 2005. We all hoped the intervening period between then and the resumption of the 6th Round of Talks in Abuja on 15 September, all the parties would endeavour to consolidate these positive gains, to maintain calm on the ground to enable a successful start to the current round of negotiations in Abuja. Unfortunately, this was not to be.
You would recall that in the past one month we witnessed series of violations in Dafur, with widespread violence against villages, commercial and humanitarian convoys and even IDP camps. This rendered the work of the humanitarian agencies and NGOs in the area difficult, and in some cases, they were forced to suspend their activities. These violations were variously attributed to unidentified armed militia, the “Janjaweed” or even some Chadian rebels.
You would also recall that on 28 August 2005, elements of the SLA/M launched a massive attack on Turba near Al Malam. We now know that contrary to earlier information, there were no deaths, although a number of people were abducted together with their camels, the exact number of which is not yet verified. While we were in the middle of trying to mediate between the SLA/M and the Arab nomads over the Al Malam incident, the SLA proceeded to attack and occupy the GOS garrison town of Shearia, as well as some nearby locations on 19 September 2005. These incidences have had such negative impact on the ongoing talks in Abuja that the Chief Negotiator, Dr Salim Ahmed Salim, had to issue a strong statement urging restraint. It is against this background that we find it utterly incomprehensible that the GOS Forces which had hitherto not only shown restraint themselves, but used their considerable and known influence on the Arab/Armed militia to restrain them as well, suddenly decided to abandon such responsible behaviour and posture and resorted to the violent destructive and overwhelming use of force not only against the rebel forces, but also on innocent civilian villages and the IDP camps.
Since the Shaeria incidence, a number of coordinated offensive operations have been undertaken by the GOS and the Janjaweed Arab militia. On 18 September 2005, simultaneous attacks at Khartoum Djadeed, Sandego, Khasantongur, Tary, Martal and Djabain resulted in the death of 12 civilians, 5 seriously wounded, and the displacement of about 4,000 civilians. Heavy and small weapons mounted on vehicles were reportedly used by GOS, in close coordination with about 300 Janjaweed Arab militia. Most of the displaced people moved to Zamzam and Tawilla IDP camps.
As you are probably aware on 28 September 2005, just four days ago, some reportedly 400 Janjaweed Arab militia on camels and horse back went on the rampage in Arusharo, Acho and Gozmena villages in West Darfur. Our reports also indicate that the day previous, and indeed on the actual day of the attack, GOS helicopter gunships were observed overhead. This apparent coordinated land and air assault gives credence to the repeated claim by the rebel movements of collusion between the GOS forces and the Janjaweed/Arab militia. This incidence, which was confirmed not only by our investigators but also by workers of humanitarian agencies and NGOs in the area, took a heavy toll resulting in 32 people killed, 4 injured and 7 missing, and about 80 houses/shelter looted and set ablaze.
The following day, a clearly premeditated and well rehearsed combined operation was carried out by the GOS military and police at approximately 11 am in the town of Tawilla and its IDP camp in North Darfur. The GOS forces used approximately 41 trucks and 7 land cruisers in the operation which resulted in a number of deaths, massive displacement of civilians and the destruction of several houses in the surrounding areas as well as some tents in the IDP camps. Indeed, the remains of discharged explosive devices were found in the IDP camp. During the attack, thousands from the township and the IDP camp and many humanitarian workers were forced to seek refuge near the AU camp for personal safety and security.
Finally, yesterday, 30 September 2005, we received reports that at about 1230 hours, machine gun and small gun fires were heard loudly in Shearia town and two helicopter gunships were reportedly seen dropping bombs in the direction of Ato village, some 5km south of Shearia. We are still investigating to establish the extent of any casualty and damage. Even as I speak now AMIS troops are closely monitoring the situation in Kabkabiya, Rokiro, Golo and Nertiti where increased activities of bands of militias dressed in green khaki indicate they are pressing to attack.
Clearly, these incidences, if they continue unchecked will further exacerbate the efforts of the AU in Abuja which are already facing difficulties over procedural questions of representations of the parties, specifically the SLA/M. The initial sour note introduced by the SLA’s attack in Shearia had been mitigated by the Movement’s compliance with the appeal by the AU Chief Negotiator for them to vacate Shearia and refrain from acts capable of derailing the peace talks. If the GOS forces claim that their latest acts of ceasefire violations are in retaliation for earlier acts of provocation by the SLA, this cannot be justified given the deliberately calculated and wanton destruction wrecked by the disproportionate use of force on innocent civilians and IDPs in their camps. Whatever the circumstances, we expect a greater sense of responsibility and a greater standard of behaviour on the part of the GOS troops and their allies, than they have exhibited in the last 4 days.
As you may well know, AMIS patrol teams have often encountered restrictions to their movement, particularly in SLA-controlled areas. The SLA commanders have often cited lack of prior notification, and more significantly the use by GOS forces of vehicles painted in AMIS colours which makes it extremely difficult for them to distinguish friend from foe. In these latest incidences, we indeed observed some GOS vehicles painted in white colour, giving credence to the claim by the SLA. We, therefore, view as unacceptable and in violation of all established norms and conventions the use of a neutral parties colours by belligerents as is done by the GOS forces. This practice of painting some of the vehicles in AMIS colours was witnessed during the attack on Tawila, and a couple of days earlier in Shangil Tobaya. We urge the GOS forces to stop forthwith this unethical practice in order to maintain the integrity and neutrality of the AMIS forces.
We now call upon the GOS forces, as indeed we had called upon the rebel movements before, to immediately cease any further acts of violations of the ceasefire on the ground.
I appeal to them to honour the sacredness of the holy month of Ramadan into which we are now entering and stop the bloodshed in Darfur, to stop any further suffering of the innocent population of Darfur, especially those living on handouts in the IDP camps, and allow them to observe the holy month in serenity, peace and dignity.
I also appeal to all Sudanese parties in Darfur to give the serious mediation efforts of the AU in Abuja, so strongly supported by the international community a chance to succeed.
I further appeal to all the humanitarian agencies and NGOs in the recent conflict-affected areas, especially in West Darfur and Tawila to resume their vital work of providing the much-needed life-saving assistance. I recognize and applaud them for the great humanitarian work they are doing under most trying and frustrating conditions. I want to assure them that the AMIS troops will do all they can to extend to them the necessary protection to ensure their ability to work unhindered.
May I finally say that the AU views these recent developments with such seriousness and concern that the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Prof Alpha Omar Konare, has authorized the convening of an emergency meeting of the Peace and Security Council on Monday 3 October 2005 in Addis Ababa to deliberate upon these developments and consider appropriate measures to avoid further deterioration of the security situation in Darfur.
My colleagues and I are now ready to field any questions you may have.
Khartoum, 1 October 2005