Sudan controls slaves, exile says Former rights official tells House panel of government role

Monitors, sanctions sought

Up to 10,000 reported held as tactic in war against rebel tribes

June 25, 1996|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The exiled head of Sudan's Human Rights Organization yesterday estimated that as many as 10,000 slaves are being held "under government control" in Sudan and demanded that the ruling National Islamic Front allow international human rights monitors into the country to investigate their plight.

Maghoub el-Tigani accused the Khartoum regime of encouraging slavery as a tactic in its civil war with rebel tribes of southern and western Sudan. He called for tighter sanctions to topple the Sudanese government.

At a briefing of the bipartisan congressional Human Rights Caucus, El Tigani charged that slavery is "an institution encouraged by the state because it is part of its power struggle for dominance of society."

Even in democratic periods, he acknowledged, slavery existed as part of tribal culture between the Sudanese Arabs of the north and the tribes of the south. But, he added, it was not "escalating as it is today.

"It is ingrained in the doctrines of the regime that anyone who does not subscribe to the [government] is not even Muslim," he said. "It characterizes others as non-Muslim and an enemy of the regime, a lower form of life."

The military government was not interested in peace or democracy, he said, but was "destroying everything in the country," burning villages, killing rebels, enslaving women and children, and "running the country with violence, brutality and with war."

Opening the briefing, Rep. Edward R. Royce, a California Republican, cited as the latest evidence of slavery in Sudan the three-part Sun series "Witness to Slavery," published last week.

The series documented how two Sun reporters traveled illegally to southern Sudan and bought the freedom of two young slaves for the equivalent of $1,000 in Sudanese currency. The boys, ages 12 and 10, had been enslaved by Muslim masters for the past 6 years. The purchase of the half-brothers from an Arab slave trader provided irrefutable proof that slavery is still practiced in Sudan.

The series also included allegations of direct government complicity in slavery, mainly through the unpaid Arab militia forces who regarded whatever booty they can seize, including men, women and children, as their reward for fighting for the government against the rebels in the south.

Sanctions expected

After the briefing, Royce predicted that the House would quickly pass legislation to increase the pressure on Khartoum through escalating economic sanctions.

"It will be met with a very receptive response from members of the House," he said. "I think we will see action taken by these congressmen."

Rep. Donald M. Payne, a New Jersey Democrat who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, is preparing to introduce legislation next week calling for economic and arms embargoes against Sudan, and the stationing of United Nations and U.S. human rights monitors in the country.

Rights group was 'terrorized'

El Tigani, who lives in exile in Cairo, Egypt, said his group -- which monitors and advocates human rights in Sudan -- was "terrorized" by the regime in Khartoum and forced to flee. Its members were treated "as blasphemers and heretics," he said.

He added that the 13-year civil war had destabilized the country, ruined the economy and "brought about all atrocities," including slavery.

"As long as there is war in the country, there is going to be noth- ing like human rights," he said.

He accused the Sudanese government of using food as a weapon by denying international aid to the rebels. The major aid organizations will not make deliveries without government clearance, and Khartoum has declared the civil war zones "no go" areas, depriving the rebels of food and medicine.

"The only way we can assure humanitarian support in Sudan comes with democracy," he said. "We should not fool ourselves about that. We have to get rid of the government."

Tighter sanctions, he said, would "shatter" the regime.

Asked why the already impoverished people of Sudan should suffer the impact of international sanctions, he replied: "The people of Sudan say, 'What are we losing with these sanctions?' [The government] has already taken everything from us."

El Tigani credited the Clinton administration with "consistently putting pressure" on the Khartoum regime, and said U.S. support of sanctions was "highly valuable."

Pub Date: 6/25/96

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