As the crisis and killing continues in Sudan, we go to Darfur to speak with Suleiman Jamous, a coordinator with the Sudanese Liberation Army and we are joined in our firehouse studio by Mark Brecke, documentary photographer and filmmaker who recently returned from a month-long trip to Sudan. [includes rush transcript]
The African Union has temporarily suspended all monitoring flights in the Darfur region of western Sudan, after one of its helicopters came under fire.
The helicopter was carrying a team of AU observers who were trying to verify compliance with a ceasefire on Sunday. After urgent talks with international envoys, Sudan said it would suspend operations in Darfur. The AU had threatened to refer Sudan and the rebels to the U.N. Security Council if the two sides failed to meet the deadline.
Some 70,000 people have been killed and about 2 million displaced since fighting in Darfur began in February 2003. The government and Arab militiamen have tried to suppress the rebellion but are accused of targeting civilians in a campaign of murder, rape and arson. The United States accuses the militiamen of genocide.
- Mark Brecke, a documentary photographer and filmmaker who has worked in conflict zones around the world. Late last week, he returned to the U.S. from the Sudan where he spent almost a month in Darfur.
- Suleiman Jamous, Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator for the Sudanese Liberation Army. He joins us on the line from Darfur.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by Mark Brecke, a documentary photographer and filmmaker, who has worked in conflict zones around the world. Late last week, he rushed to the U.S. from Sudan, where he had spent almost a month in Darfur. We welcome you to Democracy Now!
MARK BRECKE: Thank you for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: What did you see?
MARK BRECKE: I think what’s most struck me is the amount of burned out villages and other peoples who are displaced within Darfur. I toured with a Sudanese Liberation Army, and we would go through some towns that were completely burned out, others were partially inhabited, and there are many thousands of people are scattered throughout Darfur, living in trees. I was surprised to see the bombs that the government would drop on the small towns, and some had not exploded, and some were still stuck in the ground. You can see the writing on the fins of the bombs. The government has denied this, and the evidence is all around. I saw open gravesites with 13 men who were brought up to the rocks, and shot. Three bodies were — they tried to hide and S.L.A. came in to retake this particular town, and ten bodies exposed. They weren’t able to hide them in time. I saw hospitals which I visited as recently as two days before I returned. There were farmers who were shot by the Janjaweed in the leg and arm.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain who the Janjaweed are?
MARK BRECKE: Janjaweed are basically nomadic or of Arab descent. They live in parts of Darfur. They number around 300. The Darfur people themselves, the Sudanese, the black Sudanese started to demand rights. That was almost two or three years ago. From this, the Khartoum government pretty much promised the Janjaweed, if you pushed the Sudanese people off their land, they promised they could take whatever they wanted in the land. They are basically hired by the government. When the uprising started, the government was like, how dare you demand your rights, you demand equality and you demand resources. So, the Janjaweed pretty much have done the dirty work for the Khartoum government. This has been going on, well, for a while, but since 2001.
AMY GOODMAN: The S.L.A., who you are they?
MARK BRECKE: The Sudanese Liberation Army, some call them rebels, but they’re much more than rebels. They’re a real people’s movement. Extremely organized and very educated. I was with a unit for almost three weeks. I was with some of the top commanders. The commanders come from different varieties of occupations. One was a veterinarian. One was a college professor, one used to work for the government. The younger members of the S.L.A. have left university early to join the movement in Darfur. This is their land. This is where they have come from for generations. This is what they’re fighting for. Just equality and not autonomy.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Suleiman Jamous, with the Sudanese Liberation Army. He is speaking to us from Darfur. Welcome to Democracy Now!.
SULEIMAN JAMOUS: Thank you. Thank you for all, and I appreciate your attention and call. We are ready to reply to your questions.
AMY GOODMAN: What is the situation right now in Darfur?
SULEIMAN JAMOUS: The situation now in Darfur is the government is not respecting our agreement of cease-fire, and is violating everywhere, especially in the south Darfur to the east of Niala, and we are speaking to the media that they are respecting the cease-fire agreement, but on the ground, they’re preparing themselves, I think, for a bigger war. And I think we may be led to a war which is bigger than the previous one. Our government is using all weapons, gunships and tanks and big artillery against the civilians. And they’re avoiding our towns where the S.L.A. groups are counting, and they’re burning villages and farms which are ready to cultivate, and scaring all of the citizens who are now fleeing to the areas which are controlled by the S.L.A. This started on the 6th of December, until today, they are doing the same.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us why the S.L.A. has decided to take up arms against the Khartoum government?
SULEIMAN JAMOUS: Well, we don’t know the reason, but we found that the government is trying to work with our area, and by killing or scaring or raping our women and girls everywhere, and they were trying to take us out of the area. This kind of — they made us some kind of genocide. So we decided to defend ourselves against the government with the Janjaweed, and when we defeated the Janjaweed, government itself came to the field of fighting, and they fought us. So, we started as a defending group to defend our areas against the Janjaweed that were backed by the government. Further on, the government itself participated in the fight with the Janjaweed, and we did not find any way, unless we fight until the government goes out of power. This is, of course, what started the war at first.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re speaking with the humanitarian coordinator of the Sudanese Liberation Army in Darfur. His name is Suleiman Jamous. What are you demanding of the United Nations, and of the United States?
SULEIMAN JAMOUS: What I am calling for is —–those who are here in the field can see more than those who are away, waiting to learn from the media. I think my friend, Mark Brecke was here and he saw at least so many areas, the mass graves and mass killing and some raids, I think, and he saw the recent field of war and how the government is burning our villages and looting our animals to compel to us leave the area, or — like that. So, what I’m asking the world to do is make come kind of pressure to the government at least to give us our rights and leave us alone to live. And if they are not going to help us with any kind weapons of defending to defend ourselves, so they have to a least help us overthrow this government, and make some kind of a democracy in Sudan with equal rights for all the Sudanese people, and to not leave us to genocide, and to be smashed from the air.
AMY GOODMAN: The latest news is the African Union helicopter just came under fire, so they are suspending all flights to Darfur. What does this mean for you?
SULEIMAN JAMOUS: I didn’t get the question. Please repeat the question.
AMY GOODMAN: The African union was monitoring the situation, and one of their helicopters came under fire over Darfur. Do you know who shot at them?
SULEIMAN JAMOUS: This was the Janjaweed who were trying to prevent the African union from seeing their crimes. They shot the helicopter and shot one of the people themselves. About two weeks ago. It was east of Niala in south Darfur. And the African Union itself, the mandate is not killing but to help and assist. I think they can’t do anything in front of this government, and the repression of the government is — these days they are collecting fighters from everywhere to fight against the people who are not afraid about their numbers or their weapons. They are using this helicopters and this scares the citizens. The citizens are very scared from this, and they are fleeing in numbers towards the different parts of the S.L.A. controlled area, and they need to be assisted at least to live.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us. Suleiman Jamous is the spokesperson for the Sudanese liberation army speaking to us from Darfur. Mark Brecke in the studio, documentary photographer and film maker, you have ten seconds for a final comment.
MARK BRECKE: Final comment is people must understand that Darfur and Sudan is a complex situation in the south, but what people need to focus on from this complex situation with different rebel groups is that millions of people continue to suffer on a daily basis.
AMY GOODMAN: Mark Brecke, thank you for being with us, has just returned from the Darfur region where he spent a month documenting the situation.