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Shofar FTP Archive File: places/sudan/slavery/slavery-denied-by-diplomat

Archive/File: places/sudan/slavery/press/slavery-denied-by-diplomat
Last-Modified: 1997/01/29
Source: The Baltimore Sun, June 18, 1996. (9A)

Tales of slavery contradicted by Sudan diplomat; Ambassador: "There
are no slaves.... There is a vicious portrayal about Sudan," Mahdi
Ibrahim Mohamed insists


Soon after our return from Sudan, we meet with Mahdi Ibrahim
Mohamed, Sudan's ambassador to the United States.

Over soft drinks in the lobby cafe of the Mayflower Hotel in
Washington, he flatly denies that the government in Khartoum
sponsors or condones slavery.

"Slavery is not a practice of the government of Sudan," he
asserts. "It is contrary to the value of the people of Sudan and
the declared policy of Sudan."

He acknowledges that the warring tribes often take captives
for ransom but disputes that this is slavery. He describes it more
as the abduction of hostages than enslavement.

"There are no slaves. There are ransoms. Any tribes in Sudan
can do that," he says. "In many cases conflicts arise between the
different tribes over rights to grazing areas or water resources.
Sometimes they fight each other fiercely. The triumphant one, or
maybe both, may take ransom from each other. They could be men or
women, young or old.

"Sometimes they may burn the houses of each other. The
traditional way of resolving it is to contact the chieftains of the
neighboring tribes and establish a mediation which will conclude in
agreement to exchange the people who have been taken by each party."

His account differs little from the testimony we have heard of
Muslim militia raids on African tribal villages except on one
crucial issue -- the complicity of the fundamentalist Islamic
government in Khartoum in the slave raids. All the witnesses we
interviewed, including former slaves, families that lost members to
slavery and two Arab militia officers, implicated the government in
sponsoring and supporting the slave raids.

Slavery is one of the major issues straining U.S.-Sudanese
relations. The other is Sudan's support for international terrorism.

In May the State Department expelled the Sudanese Embassy's
information attache in Washington in reprisal for Sudan's failure
to obey a U.S. Security Council demand for extradition to Ethiopia
of three Sudanese suspects in an assassination attempt on Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak. This year the United States, citing
"security concerns," closed its embassy in Khartoum and moved its
diplomats to Nairobi in neighboring Kenya.

The State Department's 1995 human rights report on Sudan says:
"All the reports and information received indicates the direct and
general involvement of the SPAF {army}, the PDF {militia} ... and
mujahidin groups backed by the government in the abduction and
deportation of civilians from the conflict zones to the north."

But the ambassador insists that the Khartoum government is not
directly involved. Sudan, he says, is a vast country. It has poor
communications and is suffering from the disruption of civil war
between Islamic government forces and rebels in the south. Under
these circumstances, the government has difficulty exercising
central control in some areas.

"Most generally these incidents occur in the rebel-controlled
areas," he says. This is accurate inasmuch as the raids mainly
occur in rebel territory, but most of those captured appear to be
taken to government-controlled areas.

To emphasize his point, the ambassador notes that the United
States, for all its sophisticated communications network and
intense media coverage, is still wracked by police violence and
sweatshop labor conditions, both of which are against federal

"It has been seen here in this country," he says. "Rodney King
... he was mistreated. That cruel practice doesn't show it is a
government practice or something that was condoned by the

"There is (in Sudan) a huge displacement, a huge number of
refugees, a no-man's land. You are dealing with a very complex
case. People who come from Europe and the United States, with very
limited knowledge about the background of Africa, the tribal
element and the displacement made by war, sometimes the business of
government control ... they interpret things in a manner which is
not factual, which is not close to reality in Africa.

"The media, at times, is very selective in what it chooses. It
perpetuates the image which it creates. It will create an image
about all Africa, or a country in Africa, in a manner which is very
difficult to {escape}. There is a vicious portrayal about Sudan.

"I know these practices {of slavery} are not there, but I will
not guarantee that someone in the very difficult places might
misbehave. That is to be expected."

He says the evidence we collected in Sudan could be "extremely
valuable to the government," adding: "First of all, I have to
appreciate your concern about what you characterize as the practice
of slavery, and your desire to look for reality, and your attempt
to bring it to the attention of someone who is in charge."

The ambassador acknowledges that the government equips and
arms -- but does not pay -- the Arab militia of the Popular Defense
Force. The militia forces, he says, are charged with protecting
their own villages against rebel attack and helping the army
"whenever it is in need." They are not authorized to take slaves,
he says.

Told that two militia officers confirmed that the regular army
and the Arab militia of the Popular Defense Force carry out the
slave raids, he replies: "If that is brought to the attention of
the government, whether it is an army officer or a soldier or a
militia member, then I am sure the government will take all the
necessary measures.

"If anything of that nature happens, I am sure it is totally
contrary to the policy of the government, beyond the mandate of the
army and beyond the mandate of the Popular Defense Force."

The government, he says, has established a commission, headed
by the justice minister, to investigate reports "of what you call

Asked why the government refuses to permit human rights
monitors to investigate the repeated charges of slavery, he
complains of an international conspiracy "to tarnish the total
image of the country."

He adds: "As soon as any such practice is established as
happening, I am sure the government will take all measures against

"The practice of slavery is something that amounts to an
abominable act to every single individual, every citizen, to every
responsible person. It is also contrary to the spirit of the soul
of every individual, to our religion, our traditions, to Muslims
and to the enemy."

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