Sudan Ambassador - November 2007

The situation in Darfur is a tribal conflict, not genocide, the ambassador to the U.N. from Sudan said Tuesday in Perella Auditorium.

Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad spoke about the conflict in Darfur, a region in Sudan. A question-and-answer session followed.

Mohamad began by giving the audience a brief overview of Sudan, emphasizing his nation's size - the largest in Africa - its history, and its diversity.

The ambassador said Americans are ignorant about the size of Sudan, which is about the size of Texas or France.

Before his explanation of the Darfur situation, he talked about an 1885 treaty that established many of the modern African state boundaries.

He said these arbitrary borders are part of the reason for strife between different tribal groups.

Mohamad said the main cause of the tribal conflict in Darfur is climate change, which has caused drought and desertification in the area.

He referenced U.N. environmental committee findings to explain the situation.

He said some Darfurians are nomadic herdsman. The nomads in the north have experienced severe droughts in recent years and have migrated south. As they began to move south, their herds encroached upon the fields of the farmers in Southern Darfur.

He said these conflicts escalated because of lack of resources to sustain the swollen population of Southern Darfur.

He then said the conflict is a tribal conflict and not genocide.

He said a U.N. committee examined the region to determine if genocide was occurring and concluded it was not.

"It was when he brought up the U.N. committee finding no evidence of genocide that I really started to take him seriously," Brenna Bowman, '10, said.

Hans Wuerth, a former professor at Moravian University and a member of Amnesty International, said he disagreed with the ambassador.

"There is always going to be tribal conflict, but we have a well-proven case of genocide," Wuerth said. "He [Ambassador Mohamad] says that between nine and ten thousand have died - this is an outrage."

Mohamad said the conflict is not genocide because there are so many factions.

He said the Janjaweed militia is not exterminating ethnic groups and is not getting their weapons and ammunition from the government of Sudan.

Mohamad said the Janjaweed is not affiliated with the Sudanese government.

"Janjaweed is a militia," Mohamad said. "There is no government militia."

Wuerth disagreed with the Sudanese ambassador on the Janjaweed's affiliation with the government.

"He says that the Janjaweed represents different tribal elements, but the fact is that the Janjaweed are responsible for destroying three thousand tribes," Wuerth said. "I wished he was more candid, but that is his position with the Sudanese government. I was hoping he would admit the many wrongdoings. There is a different story-the victims are not being recognized."

Mohamad said the Janjaweed is getting weapons smuggled in from neighboring countries.

He said the U.S. named the conflict as genocide because the government does not have good relations with Sudan.

He said the U.S.' perception of Sudan as a heretical Islamic nation was misguided. Mohamad said the U.S. smeared Sudan because the government is close to the governments President George Bush named the "axis of evil."

Mohamad said the media is also to blame for the widespread perception that the conflict is genocide.

He estimated the death toll at ten to twelve thousand, as compared to independent estimates that place the casualty count as high as 200,000. He said the ferocity of the war, which gives it the appearance of genocide, is a natural aspect of war.

"War is not something to celebrate," Mohamad said. "It is something of misery and destruction. It's the nature of the conflict."

Mohamad invited U.S. companies to take part in the oil extraction process and repeatedly called the U.S. a great nation.

He finished by outlining a four-tiered program the Sudanese government is pursuing to end the conflict. The four tiers are: Political, peacekeeping, humanitarian and rehabilitation.

Mohamad said the Sudanese government hopes to improve relations with the U.S. and continue cooperation in the war on terrorism, which he said will only help build confidence between the two countries.

"I think everyone here is going to go home tonight and take a long hard look at everything they can find about Darfur," Greg Such, '11, said, "because I don't think anyone's very sure anymore."

By Leon Osterhaug and Matt Schwartz - 11/16/2007