London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Majak D'Agoot, South Sudan's deputy defense
minister, has asserted that his country will never cede his home town of
Hajlij. In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, the South Sudan's deputy
defense minister said that his country would insist on having the town in
the negotiations with the Sudanese Government because it historically
belongs to the south and was annexed to the north during the rule of former
President Jaafar Numayri in 1978 following the discovery of oil in it. He
added that his forces' withdrawal from it was in response to appeals from
the international community and his country's friends, in particular the
D'Agoot admitted that the South Sudan people and Popular Army expressed
their anger at the state's decision to withdraw the forces from Hajlij
considering the step the aborting of seven victories they had achieved
against the Sudanese forces inside and outside the town but he said his
government achieved military and diplomatic victories.
Following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How did you reach the decision to withdraw your forces
from Hajlij and was it a complete withdrawal?
[D'Agoot] We reached the decision to withdraw the Popular Army after a full
assessment of the military and security situation. Our forces carried out
the missions they were given competently and they remained in the Banthou
(Hajlil) area for more than 10 days. South Sudan's National Security Council
recommended on the night of 19 April the withdrawal of the Popular Army
forces from the area after a full assessment of the situation. Our decision
was also in response to the international appeals from the UN, its Secretary
General Ban Ki-moon, and the heads of several countries, in particular our
friends. They are convinced of our right to the Hajlij territory or Banthou
historically. We will not cede it. It was annexed to the north during the
rule of former Sudanese President Jaafar Numayri in 1978 following the
discovery of oil in it. The decision was implemented in three stages, the
last of which was on Saturday.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Were there clashes between you and the Sudanese forces
during the withdrawal?
[D'Agoot] There were no direct clashes but the Sudanese Air Force continued
its bombardment of our forces during the withdrawal. They also bombarded
positions in Al-Wihdah Province. This bombardment continued until the early
hours of Saturday morning. But we completed the withdrawal in an organized
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why was the decision to seize Hajlij taken?
[D'Agoot] Because of the Sudanese Air Force's constant bombardment of
Al-Wihdah Province and the land forces' advance inside South Sudan's
borders. All this was carried out from a military base in Hajlij. We entered
the area for the first time at the end of March and expelled the forces of
the National Congress [the ruling party in Khartoum] and then withdrew after
mediators and friends asked us to do this. The armed forces then carried out
another attack after its [Khartoum's] delegation evaded signing in (the
Ethiopian capital) Addis Ababa an agreement to stop hostilities. Our
response was to pursue the Sudanese army inside Hajlij and seize total
control of it after inflicting a heavy defeat on these forces.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Khartoum said its forces defeated your army in Hajlij?
[D'Agoot] This is absolutely not true. The last battle we fought was on the
evening of 19 April and Khartoum's army was defeated. We fought all in all
seven battles and won them all. The Sudanese army which did not win a single
battle with us was chased. They are deceiving their people with these lies.
Correspondents of satellite channels, among them "Al-Jazeera", saw our
forces' retreat and reached with them Al-Wihdah Province. There was no
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How did your people and army soldiers receive the
[D'Agoot] There were soldiers who expressed their discontent because they
have achieved brilliant victories and they believe the withdrawal decision
aborted their victories. But they will understand that the decision was
right. The South people are also angry with the decision because they were
demanding to punish (Sudanese President) Al-Bashir's forces for their
insults to our people and their political leadership. The incitement by
Khartoum also increased our people's anger, especially the expulsion of
southern students from the Police College in Khartoum. But these are the
assessments of the political leadership elected by the people and it
represents them when taking such decisions.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you explain the Sudanese forces' seizure of a
vehicle belonging to you carrying your soldiers?
[D'Agoot] This vehicle whose story was aired by satellite channels belongs
to the services regiment and was carrying food supplies to the soldiers. It
lost its way from our position. It was carrying 12 soldiers and two officers
and they entered the enemy's positions by mistake and a clash ensued with
them. Three of our soldiers were killed, one officer was captured, and the
rest, seven, returned. This is the only vehicle in which they achieved a
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the lessons learned from this?
[D'Agoot] Firstly, we achieved two victories: Militarily, we proved that the
Sudanese army is a paper tiger and cannot stand against our forces in any
future battles if there is war between us. The resources we had built during
the past seven years showed real strength in our forces on which we will
build for the future, particularly as our forces engaged in small clashes
with the Sudanese forces during the transitional period, like what happened
somewhere in Upper Nile and Abyei. These showed us the weak and strong
points. Now after South Sudan had become a fully sovereign state, we were
able to develop the forces and this was clearly demonstrated in the battles
we fought with the Sudanese army in Al-Wihdah Province and Hajlij. We used
part of our military capability in the various military branches.
On the other hand, we were able to turn the table against Khartoum
politically. We were coming under diplomatic pressures at first, especially
from our friends and the UN, but we succeeded in containing this and managed
the diplomatic and political battle in a better way. You might be seeing now
how the world dealt with our correct decision with a new spirit and you are
going to see a new stand in the international community that will certainly
be in our favor. This is the coup we have carried out. We have therefore
achieved military, political, and diplomatic victories and the international
community will see that Khartoum is against peace and prefers war.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But Khartoum is saying it defeated you and forced you to
[D'Agoot] As I said, Khartoum is deceiving. This is the imagination of the
National Congress. The Sudanese army has become weak in the region.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the Sudanese army is superior to you with its air
force. How can you defeat it?
[D'Agoot] Possession is one thing and competence is something else. It is
true we do not have warplanes and that is not something difficult. We will
possess an effective air force. But look at the Sudanese army. Its Air Force
does not have capabilities and competence while we have developed our air
defenses and brought down Sudanese Air Force aircraft in these battles.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your response to Al-Bashir's promise to bring down
the government in Juba?
[D'Agoot] Al-Bashir was in a state of hysteria while dancing and his words
are pitiful because he is lying to his people. Let me be clear with you. If
Al-Bashir decides to fight a battle with us then that will be the biggest
mistake for him and his army. We are not worried by his attack on our
country. I think such a decision will spell the end for his regime and Sudan
will collapse completely because the economic blockade on it will increase,
its forces will be defeated, and its people will not follow it again in any
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Al-Bashir said your oil will not pass through his
country's territory even if you shared its revenues equally?
[D'Agoot] Al-Bashir and his state are the losers. He is talking as if our
country does not have neighbors other than his country. You know that South
Sudan has turned toward East Africa where it has better infrastructures than
Sudan. His talk suggests isolation and lack of vision. The south will not be
harmed by Khartoum's decisions about oil even though we were eager to export
it through the north, not out of love for the National Congress but because
of the historic relations with the Sudanese people. We know that our
relations with this people would become stronger if this government changed.
Sudan will lose a lot because of Al-Bashir government's policies. We are the
biggest market for the northern country which exports to us more than 100
commodities. Add to this the oil that reaches Port Sudan and the revenue it
provides. All this now goes to Uganda and Kenya and the expertise is coming
from there, even in education.
We are very interested in the relations with the country to the north
because it is a thermometer of relations with the Middle East and North
Africa. We do not want to sacrifice all this because we can go have contact
with Sudan without the need for interpreters. But if this is Khartoum's
decision, then it is its affair.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are international pressures to return to the
negotiating table. Are you ready for this?
[D'Agoot] We are not only ready but also committed to the negotiations. We
believe that the most important urgent issue which we want to resolve is the
demarcation of the borders and the return of the areas controlled by Sudan
in Abyei, Banthou (Hajlij) and others in Kafya Kanji, Hafrat al-Nahhas,
Al-Muqaynis, commercial Kaka, and Jawdah. As to the oil issue, I do not
believe it is a major one because it all depends on Khartoum. We will reach
agreement if it wants to benefit from our country's oil. But there are many
countries from the United States to China and Europe which want to benefit
from South Sudan's oil.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the scenarios if negotiations failed?
[D'Agoot] If we do not agree, we will then go to the International
Arbitration Commission to which the two parties resorted in the Abyei case.
The worst scenario is the border war if all these efforts failed and we do
not want this.
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Received on Wed Apr 25 2012 - 09:53:05 EDT