ME and Ophelia

Saturday, July 17, 2004

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Sheik Musa Hilal, Head of Sudan's Janjaweed bandits

On July 11, 2004, I published a post showing a photo of Musa Hilal, Sheikh of the Mahameed (Head of the Janjaweed), and a link to a report from the Sudan Tribune of a recent important and long meeting between Hilal and Gerard Gallucci, U.S. charge d'affaires in Khartoum.

No doubt people like Sudan's President Bashir and the head of Sudan's Janjaweed are a mine of information when it comes to useful stuff on counter-acting international terrorism and getting the gen on Osama Bin Laden and his ilk. Gallucci must have been intrigued. Imagine being a fly-on-the-wall at his "important and long" meeting with Hilal.

Yesterday, at, I found a second report on Hilal. The report, entitled "Sudan warlord denies charges of war crimes", was written by Sudarsan Raghavan of Knight Ridder Newspapers and dated July 15, 2004.

U.S. and U.N. officials say they have hard evidence, including photos that place Hilal at the scene of atrocities.

I am copying the report here in full incase the link (requiring free registration) gets broken:

KALA, Sudan - For a man the United States accuses of war crimes, Sheik Musa Hilal got a surprisingly rousing welcome when he visited the Sudanese hinterland in northern Darfur this week.

Tall and white-turbaned, Hilal stepped off a camouflage-green Sudanese military helicopter and pointed his cane to the heavens before wading through a colorful sea of dancing women and white-robed elders who shouted, "Allahu akbar" - "God is great."

It was only after the Arab Sudanese leader vanished into the throngs, flanked by armed soldiers in fatigues and government security agents, that Ibrahim, a short, middle-aged black African from the Fur tribe, felt free to speak his mind.

"We don't feel completely safe here," Ibrahim whispered, asking that his family name not be used.

The Bush administration says Hilal is a top leader of pro-government Arab militias called the Janjaweed, and has placed him at the head of a list of seven warlords who could be held accountable for crimes against humanity.

His alleged crime: orchestrating a brutal ethnic-cleansing campaign to wipe out thousands of black Africans in the western province of Darfur, atrocities that include murders, rapes and the burning of entire villages.

The conflict began 16 months ago when rebels took up arms seeking political and economic empowerment. The government responded with Arab militias rather than using its troops. But the militias - known as the Janjaweed - backed by military helicopter gunships, targeted civilians from black African tribes linked to the rebels, namely the Zaghawa, Fur and Masalit. At least 10,000 have been killed and more than a million driven from their villages, creating one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

"We see indicators of genocide, and there is evidence that points in that direction," Pierre-Richard Prosper, the U.S. ambassador for war crimes, said two weeks ago in Washington.

The Sudanese government continues to support Hilal, despite its promise to the international community that it would disarm the Arab militias. Sudanese government officials and Hilal's supporters say he's a respected tribal chief who fosters ethnic harmony in Darfur. Hilal describes the Janjaweed as common outlaws and denies he leads them. Nor has he committed war crimes, he said.

"The United States has been misled," said Hilal, soft-spoken and regal with a faint goatee and graying hair. "I'm not a criminal. ... I didn't pick up a torch and burn a village."

U.S. and U.N. officials say they have hard evidence, including photos that place Hilal at the scene of atrocities. He's alleged, for example, to have organized an attack on the northern Darfur village of Kutum last August. Hilal said he was nowhere near Kutum, and blamed a rebel insurrection for the attack.

"He's a criminal superstar," said a U.N. official with knowledge of Hilal's past, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

U.S. officials say Hilal commanded a joint Sudanese military and Janjaweed unit that killed black African civilians, razed their villages and stole their livestock.

"He was the funnel for government weapons and money to the other Arab tribes," said a U.S. official, who also asked not to be identified.

Northern Darfur has experienced some of the worst atrocities at the hands of the militia. In the town of Tawila, dozens were executed while scores of girls and women were gang-raped, according to survivors and human rights groups.

"The Janjaweed came, and they started shooting and burning, and they took away all of our property," a 20-year-old woman named Zaharah said during a visit by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to the Zam Zam refugee camp in northern Darfur two weeks ago. Hundreds of survivors from Tawila have sought refuge there. "They took men and slit their throats with swords. The women they took as concubines. All of us have seen them."

The visit Monday to this speck of a village in northern Darfur showed the obstacles the Bush administration faces in trying resolve the crisis in Darfur.

On Darfur's parched plains, Hilal and other Arab tribal leaders rule through fear and benevolence, and their word is law.

The United Nations Security Council is mulling over a U.S. proposal to impose travel and financial sanctions and an arms embargo on Hilal and other alleged Janjaweed leaders, and possibly Sudanese officials who back them. But where wealth is valued in livestock and arms are abundant, these measures may not work.

"I have no assets in international banks, so that won't affect me," Hilal said. "But the travel ban would be a humiliation. I'm a tribal leader. My reputation is above everything."

Hilal admitted that he answered the government's call to arms, and called his people to defend themselves and their country from a rebel insurrection.

"I do not need any government support," he said. "My support comes from my people."

But on Monday, senior Sudanese military commanders greeted the handsome, 43-year-old tribal leader with reverence in the northern Darfur capital of El Fasher.

Hilal signed a pink form to check out an MI-17 Russian-made helicopter, piloted by military officers, to transport his entourage on the 40-minute flight to Kala.

"He's a tribal leader being chauffeured around in a government helicopter," the U.S. official said. "How many tribal leaders get to do this?"

On Monday, Hilal brought journalists to Kala on an obviously staged mission to clear his name.

Under a large tree, he presided over a gathering of tribal leaders - Arab and black African - ordered to come in from surrounding villages. One after another, old men with leathered faces stood up to make Hilal's case.

They denounced the rebels for taking up arms. They pledged their obedience to the government - and to Hilal.

"We live in harmony, like the way the sea has fish with many colors," said Adam Ibrahim Mansoor, a leader of the Gimel tribe.

Ahmed, a young Fur man who also didn't want his family name used, watched and shook his head.

"Sheik Musa brought these people here together for his own interest," he said later in halting English. "The Fur people feel trapped."

His voice lowered: "There are Janjaweed here. They were told not to carry guns."

"Everyone knows Sheik Musa is the leader of the Janjaweed," Ibrahim said. "If they find out that I had spoken with a foreigner, they'll come and arrest me and I'll disappear."

He walked away swiftly.
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Here is a copy of another report, in full, via Passion of the Present's post: "Meet a militia leader". The report, dated July 16, 2004, is written by Jeevan Vasagar in Khartoum and was published in The Guardian:

Militia chief scorns slaughter charge
Janjaweed leader hits back at accusation of ethnic cleansing in western Sudan

Janjaweed is not a name, it is a curse. To the militia's victims the Arabic word has come to mean devil on horseback, but the chief "devil" accused of bringing devastation to Sudan sits not on horseback but in a plush armchair in his family residence in Khartoum.

Dressed in a crisp white robe and prayer cap, Musa Hilal patted his nephew's head and offered sweet pastries.

"The rebels stayed near civilians and war has its consequences, bullets fly," Mr Hilal, 43, said in his first interview with a British newspaper.

He is alleged to be the most senior field commander of the Janjaweed, the Arab militia whose campaign of murder and rape has driven more than a million black African villagers from their homes in the western region of Darfur.

Witnesses have identified him as the coordinator of attacks in which civilians have been massacred and raped in front of their families, and their villages burned.

Little is known about the horse- and camel-borne militias responsible for what the UN has described as the "world's worst humanitarian crisis". Until now, their leadership has remained secretive.

Mr Hilal, who heads the US state department's list of suspected war criminals in Darfur, is a tall, athletic man with a neatly trimmed moustache and a piercing stare. He is the chieftain of a camel-herding Arab clan in north Darfur with three wives and 13 children.

Despite intense international pressure on Sudan to rein in the Janjaweed, he told the Guardian his fighters would not disarm until the rebellion in Darfur was over.

"As far as we as a tribe are concerned, whenever we feel the situation is completely secure and the ceasefire is being respected, we will hand in our weapons.

"Whenever the government is undertaking to gather arms from all the factions and the tribes, we will hand ours in. The reality is that this is a country where everyone has weapons."

Mr Hilal, who spoke in classical Arabic, scorned the epithet Janjaweed.

"The people who were armed from among our people, through habit they were on camelback and horseback," he said.

"The rebels spread the word Janjaweed as if it were an organisation. As a political group there is no specific concept called Janjaweed ... It means nothing, but has been used to mean everything."

He said that, at the prompting of the government, he raised a militia from his clan to fight the rebellion which broke out in Darfur last year. "The government was putting forward a programme of arming for all the people. I called our sons and told them to become armed.

"Our sons acquiesced and joined the Border Intelligence [a paramilitary force]. Some went into the Popular Defence Force [another militia]."

Mr Hilal said he was a political leader and not a fighter: "As a sheikh, I would never become a soldier, but I will not deny I called my tribe to arms."

The Guardian has established from witnesses in the town of Tawilah in north Darfur, which was attacked in February, that Mr Hilal has commanded Janjaweed forces in the field.

Saddiq Ismail, 45, a retired teacher in the town, said Mr Hilal had arrived by helicopter, accompanied on the ground by five Landcruisers and gunmen on horses and camels. "Musa Hilal was dressed in military uniform. He was directing his men. He is the leader and gave all the orders," Mr Ismail said. UN officials who arrived a few days later established that at least 67 civilians had been executed. Sixteen girls had been abducted and a number of women had been publicly raped.

But Mr Hilal said his clan had suffered from "acts of banditry", from a neighbouring African tribe, the Zaghawa, who stole their camels and murdered young men. He said the rebellion in Darfur was "narrow and tribal and ethnic".

"The Zaghawa started to go to the Fur and other African tribes to join together against the other Arab tribes and incited hatred against the Arab tribes," he said. "They formed a collective of the tribes of the blacks, the Zurgha, against the Arabs."

Human rights groups and the UN confirm there was tit-for-tat violence in the run-up to the outbreak of the rebellion and the two rebel movements drew mainly on Darfur's African groups.

But the rebels have primarily targeted the military and police, while the government and their Janjaweed allies have tried to drive out an ethnic group. Mr Hilal denied ethnic cleansing: "These claims of ethnic cleansing are not true. No one can wipe out an ethnicity."

But the Guardian has spoken to a deserter from a training camp run by Mr Hilal, who said the Janjaweed commander whipped up racial hatred among his fighters. When the recruits first arrived in the camp, at Mistriyah in north Darfur, Mr Hilal made a speech in which he told them that all Africans were their enemies.

"Musa Hilal said: 'Zurgha [blacks] always support the rebels. We should defeat the rebels,'" said the deserter, Mustafa Yusuf, 18. Mr Yusuf also witnessed Mr Hilal leading troops into battle. "Musa Hilal led the troops. He was in the Landcruisers, and there were people on horses," he said.

His account, which has also been given to UN officials, confirmed the Janjaweed received government backing.

In addition to Mr Hilal, he identified an army officer, Abdel Wahid, as a leader in the camp. Mr Wahid is believed to have helped the Janjaweed obtain weapons. Most of the men in the camp rode on horses and camels, but there were also eight Landcruisers mounted with machine guns; evidence the Janjaweed had substantial government support.

Refugee witnesses have also told human rights groups that the Janjaweed attacks were backed up by bombing from helicopter gunships.

Colin Powell, the US secretary of state, who has called for the Janjaweed to be disbanded, has also put pressure on the Sudanese government to arrest Mr Hilal and six other tribal chieftains suspected of war crimes. But there is scepticism that the regime will act against its agents.

Frank Smith, Sudan campaigner for Amnesty International, said: "The government _ have put nothing in place. They are conducting no official investigation and there are no moves to arrest any of the Janjaweed leaders."

Sudanese officials opened talks yesterday with the rebels in Ethiopia, but in Darfur the war goes on. The Janjaweed surround and terrorise the refugee camps, where more than a million refugees are in tent cities where they face hunger and epidemics. Meanwhile, the rebel movements have survived and hold on to territory despite the devastation of their communities.

In Khartoum Mr Hilal showed no fear of being arrested. There were no bodyguards and no security checks at the gates of the walled compound.

When the interview concluded, he was relaxed enough to joke about the Janjaweed with the Guardian's photographer.

Ushering her out of the path of a reversing car, he said: "If you don't get out of the way, the Americans will say the Janjaweed killed you."

The names of some interviewees have been changed.
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Further reading:
July 18, 2004: Links to more reports on Hilal, and commentary from the Passion.
July 18: ( by Emily Wax "In Sudan, 'a Big Sheik' Roams Free - Militia Leader Describes Campaign Against Africans as Self-Defence" [via Patrick Hall at The Horn of Africa blog]

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 7/17/2004
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