Date: Monday, 25 September 2023
Sudan Armed Forces leader tells Al Jazeera truce talks with Rapid Support Forces chief are impossible and wants the group named a ‘terrorist’ organisation.
The war between his army and its rival Rapid Support Forces (RSF) broke out in mid-April over plans to integrate the paramilitary group, four years after former longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir was deposed in a popular uprising.
Ceasefire talks to end the conflict have failed to hold, with both sides accusing the other of violations. But al-Burhan said the United States and Saudi Arabia-brokered negotiations in Jeddah could still succeed.
Speaking to Al Jazeera in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, the military leader voiced his desire for a peaceful resolution to end fighting that has killed thousands and displaced millions of civilians.
Al Jazeera: During your speech to the UN General Assembly, you called on a number of occasions for the Rapid Support Forces to be declared a terrorist entity. How important is this to resolve the situation in your country?
Abdel Fattah al-Burhan: Of course, what the Rapid Support Forces has done to the Sudanese people again and again qualifies them as terrorists and they should be punished. What those gangs committed is, in fact, a crime against humanity. And I believe that classifying them as a terrorist organisation will limit their power and will limit sympathy for them.
Al Jazeera: You’ve also warned this fighting could spread over borders and it is not just a localised war. The danger of this is a massive humanitarian disaster throughout the whole region, not just in Sudan. Is it not?
Al-Burhan: This conflict will spill into [neighbouring] countries and will not be confined to Sudan. The majority of [RSF] fighters come from neighbouring countries. Yes, most certainly. This may spill into other countries and may threaten security and safety in the region and in the world.
Al Jazeera: RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo put out a message saying he is ready for a ceasefire and he wants to negotiate. Do you believe negotiation is still possible?
Al-Burhan: It’s not possible, to be honest. He’s the one who has continued to fight in el-Geneina, other cities, and near the headquarters of our military. That is why in Jeddah when we reached some understanding, he did not commit himself to those understandings.
Al Jazeera: The UN special representative to Sudan who resigned recently, Volker Perthes, has said the blame for the conflict is on both sides. He accused your forces of using aircraft to bomb civilians. He accused the RSF of sexual assaults on civilians. Do you think it is that simple, that blame is on both sides?
Al-Burhan: Well military forces have a constitutional responsibility to protect the country, to protect citizens, and to protect the country from falling apart. That is why it has the right to use power against those who attempt to destroy the state. And when our army engages in military operations, they confine themselves to moral ethics, especially in urban places.
Al Jazeera: Do you have control all the way down? Is that a message that has gone on to your forces – to protect civilians in conflict?
Al-Burhan: The Sudanese military is fully committed to international law and soldiers who violate such laws are duly punished.
Al Jazeera: Who do you think can most help resolve the situation? International bodies? Countries such as the United States or Saudi Arabia? African diplomats?
Al-Burhan: We believe the Jeddah talks presented tangible results and if the other side committed themselves to what we agreed upon, we would have been in a different position now. There is a call to expand the Jeddah forum. We do not oppose that, and South Africa may be a part of that forum.
Al Jazeera: You’ve committed yourself to forming a transitional government as a step towards forging a full democracy, a civilian democracy, with this conflict ongoing. Is it possible to set a timeline for such a move?
Al-Burhan: Yes, we do believe as soon as we come to a ceasefire we will start a comprehensive political process towards restoring peace and preparing for elections after a short transitional period.
Al Jazeera: How much of a problem in getting to this democracy is bringing together elements of the Rapid Support Forces into the Sudanese army, because this is going to be an essential process in guaranteeing the national unity model formula?
Al-Burhan: We never refused to integrate them into the military. Not the rebels but any one of them who wants to join the national army will be welcomed.
Al Jazeera: The people of Sudan came together to overthrow Omar al-Bashir. What message do you have for them now?
Al-Burhan: Our Sudanese people had a great revolution in 2019. They have dreams, they have aspirations. They want to enjoy freedom, peace and security. The military will not hinder their aspirations. The Sudanese youth have dreams about a civilian state. The military will not stand in their way. The Sudanese people deserve to have their revolution restored and enjoy peace, security and prosperity.
Al Jazeera: So you believe the dreams of young people are still possible?
Al-Burhan: I hope so.
This interview was edited for length and clarity