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Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir
Born in the small village of Hosh Bonnaga in 1944, al-Bashir joined the Sudanese Army at a young age and studied at a military academy in Cairo. He quickly rose through the ranks and became a paratrooper. Later, al-Bashir served with the Egyptian Army when it went to war with Israel in 1973. When he returned to the Sudan, al-Bashir was put in charge of military operations against the Sudan People's Liberation Army in the southern half of the country. Becoming a general by the 1980s, al-Bashir took charge of a military coup in 1989 that overthrew democratically elected President Sadeq al-Mahdi. Al-Bashir immediately banned all political parties, cracked down on the press, and dissolved Parliament upon assuming control of the nation. He then became Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation (a newly established body with legislative and executive powers over the country), and assumed the posts of chief of state, prime minister, chief of the armed forces, and minister of defense.
Al-Bashir subsequently allied himself with Hassan al-Turabi, leader of the National Islamic Front, and began a program to make northern Sudan a fundamentalist Islamic state. To this end, al-Bashir imposed Sharia and a harsh new Criminal Act over northern Sudan in 1991, which were enforced by Muslim judges and a newly created Public Order Police . On October 16, 1993, al-Bashir became even more powerful when he was appointed president of the country, after which time the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation was dissolved. The executive and legislative powers of the council were subsequently given to al-Bashir, who virtually ruled the nation as a dictator from that point on. He was later “elected” president (with a five year term) in a showcase national election in 1996. In 1998, al-Bashir and the Presidential Committee put into effect a new constitution. In 1999, al-Bashir and the Parliament made a law which allowed limited political “associations” in opposition to al-Bashir and his supporters to be formed, although these groups have failed to gain any significant access to governmental power.
In 1999, al-Bashir consolidated his hold over the country when he removed the biggest threat to his power, al-Turabi, then serving as Speaker of the National Assembly (formed in 1996). Al-Turabi had wanted to give the National Assembly power to remove the president (al-Bashir) from office if it deemed necessary and bring back the post of prime minister, both ideas which appalled al-Bashir. In December of 1999, Al-Bashir declared a state of national emergency, suspended the constitution, disbanded the National Assembly, and stripped al-Turabi of his governmental and party posts (al-Turabi was later arrested and put into custody in 2001). Al-Bashir subsequently purged his cabinet of al-Turabi loyalists in 2000 and replaced them with his own followers. In the same year, new presidential and parliamentary elections were held. Most Sudanese did not vote, and almost all political groups in opposition to al-Bashir boycotted the elections, claiming that they would not be held fairly and that al-Bashir would simply fix the results in his favor if he lost. Most people in the south were not able to participate either, as a result of being controlled by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Ultimately, al-Bashir won the election by an overwhelming margin and the Parliament became stacked with members of his National Congress Party. Al-Bashir continues to rule Sudan with an iron fist, his power great as a result of the national emergency laws he established in 1999 still being in place. Al-Bashir’s second term as president is only supposed to last five years, after which time the law presently forbids him to run again.
Al-Bashir on the International Scale
Al-Bashir is a controversial figure in the international arena. He has long been accused of harboring and aiding terrorists and Islamic extremists. Osama bin Laden lived and operated in Sudan for five years until he was removed and banned from the country in May 1996. The government of Sudan claims that Al-Bashir had offered the United States the arrest and extradition of Bin Laden and detailed intelligence data earlier that year and that the Clinton administration was not receptive to the idea, though United States officials deny that any such offer was ever made. In 1998, the U.S. bombed a factory in Sudan that was allegedly producing chemical weapons for bin Laden, but many doubt if the factory truly was making such devices at the time of the attack. Sudan was subsequently one of the seven nations put on the U.S. State Department’s list of countries that sponsor international terrorism, but al-Bashir has fiercely denied that Sudan aids or has any connections with terrorist groups. Al-Bashir subsequently spoke out against the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and pressured Saddam Hussein to let weapons inspectors back into Iraq in 2002. Despite al-Bashir’s efforts, Sudan still remains carefully monitored in regards to terrorist activity within its borders. As recently as April 2004, President George W. Bush has called for al-Bashir to step up his efforts in combating terrorism.
Sudan is perhaps best known internationally for the civil war that raged between the northern and southern halves of the country for over 19 years. Throughout his rule, al-Bashir escalated the conflict by launching military attacks against the region. The troops launching these attacks were accused of a multitude of human rights violations, including torture, rape, and the murder of women and children. The civil war also resulted in millions of southerners being displaced, starved, and deprived of education and health care. Because of these actions, various international sanctions were placed on the Sudan. Nevertheless, al-Bashir continued waging war against the south, buying arms and funding military operations with money gained from the sales of the country’s vast amount of oil. International pressure intensified in 2001, however, and leaders from the United Nations called for al-Bashir to make efforts to end the conflict and allow humanitarian and international workers to deliver relief to the southern regions of Sudan. Al-Bashir finally caved under the pressure, and peace talks between the northern and southern leaders of the country began in earnest in 2002. Much progress was made throughout 2003, and in early 2004 al-Bashir finally agreed to grant autonomy to the south for six years, split the country’s oil revenues with the southern provinces, and allow the southerners to vote in a referendum of independence at the end of the six year period. Some say al-Bashir is reluctant to completely fulfill all of these promises. Al-Bashir has also made statements discouraging southerners to support independence.
As the conflict in the south of Sudan began to die down, a new one started in the western province of Darfur in early 2003. When rebels in the region arose in opposition to the government, al-Bashir gave governmental support and money to Islamic militias, the Janjaweed, combating the rebels (which al-Bashir officially denies) instead of sending the military to intervene. These militias have been accused of ethnic cleansing, and many thousands of people in Darfur have died and been displaced so far as a result of the violence in the region. The United States Government determined in September 2004 "that genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the Government of Sudan and the Jingaweit bear responsibility and that genocide may still be occurring". Al-Bashir declared that the government had quashed the rebellion in February 2004, but rebels still operate within the region and the death toll continues to rise. President George W. Bush and Kofi Annan have recently called for al-Bashir to better cooperate with humanitarian and international organizations by making it easier for them to enter Darfur, but al-Bashir has been for the most part reluctant to allow large numbers of outsiders into the region. Bush has gone so far as to say that international troops would be sent into Darfur to intervene in the conflict if al-Bashir did not let humanitarian aid enter the region. The conflict continues despite a recent ceasefire agreement, and al-Bashir has to date made few real steps to effectively end the crisis. On June 29, 2004, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell met with al-Bashir in Sudan and urged him to make peace with the rebels, end the crisis, and lift restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian aid to Darfur. Kofi Annan met with al-Bashir three days later and demanded he disarm the Janjaweed.
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