Sudanese armed forces ride a military vehicle at the border town of Heglig, Sudan, on April 24, 2012.

Sudanese armed forces ride a military vehicle at the border town of Heglig, Sudan, on April 24, 2012. Abd Raouf/AP

A Conversation With an Accused War Criminal With Arms To Sell

Sudan’s defense minister is proud of weapons made by the state-owned Military Industry Corporation and the country’s work to secure its expansive borders in northern Africa.

ABU DHABI – At an outdoor pavilion with a medieval castle theme, green camouflage painted trucks built by Sudan’s state-owned Military Industry Corporation are lined up as if they were parked in front of a new car dealership.

One is massive, with a howitzer cannon attached to the back. The other is a small pickup truck with a machine gun mount in the cargo bed like the ones used by militants in rough corners of the world. The black tires on the two vehicles and several others glistened from a fresh coat of Armor All.

Inside the International Defence Exposition and Conference, or IDEX, at a different pavilion that also looked like a stone castle, Sudan’s arms manufacturing firm showed off dozens of smaller weapons, including machine guns and mortar launchers. Men were proud to share information about the equipment. Much of the gear was not as high tech as equipment being shown off by Lockheed Martin and Oshkosh, but it represents a sense of pride for the north African state that has now become a mainstay at the event.

“We developed our own military industry, which has worked very good,” said Sudan’s Defense Minister Abdel-Rahim Mohammad Hussein, on Sunday in a meeting with three reporters the day before IDEX exposition began.

At IDEX, Sudan has steadily ramped up its participation, according to show organizers and Sudanese officials. Hussein has regularly attended IDEX since becoming defense minister in 2006 and this year more than 90 Sudanese defense items will be on display, he said. Sudan even brought a small boat to the naval portion of IDEX, called NAVDEX.

Sudanese military leaders touted the African nation’s work to secure its borders to a diverse, multinational group of generals and admirals prior to the exhibit openings. It was one of those rare occurrences that happen at IDEX, which brings together military leaders from all corners of the world, even ones that don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye.

While Hussein did not address the audience at the conference, afterward in his hotel suite he told reporters about border security partnerships his country’s military has forged with neighboring countries, including Libya.

Western military officials have warned that porous borders across much of Northern Africa poses a significant security risk as militants connected to terrorist networks could move freely.

Carrying a thin, wooden walking stick and wearing a white thawb and what appeared to be leopard skin slippers, the soft-spoken leader of Sudan’s military – who is accused by the International Criminal Court of war crimes in Darfur – walked through the complicated borders that surround his country.

“A lot of people, they come across our country to go to Libya, especially from Ethiopia, Eritrea … and other countries,” said Hussein.

The conversation was much along the lines of a presentation given during the conference by Maj. Gen. Engineer Hassan Salih Omer Mohammad Dein, the director of Sudan’s Higher Military Academy, just a few hours earlier at IDEX. At the conference, the Sudanese delegation distributed a 16-page glossy pamphlet about how the defense ministry is creating joint forces with their neighbor to secure borders.

Sudan and Libya created a joint force along the border soon after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, capturing more than 2,000 illegal crossers since its 2012 standup, Hussein said. Despite the unstable government in Libya right now, he said there is still support for the joint border force.

“The tribes of people who are living in … the nearest city to our borders, they support this force and they see that they are benefiting from the presence of this force,” he said. In recent days, Islamic State militants have claimed responsibility for attacks in Libya.

Along Sudan’s border with Chad, tribes have members on each side of the border.

“[Y]ou will find the chief of the tribe [is] in Sudan and most of his population is in Chad, Hussein said. “You see, it is a very complicated border.”

Hussein also talked about migrants moving across the Mediterranean Sea into Southern Europe, a concern of NATO generals who fear terrorist groups could enter Europe undetected.

“This is also of important interest for many European countries,” he said. “They want to prevent the immigration from the sources.”

Hussein was part of a Sudanese delegation scheduled to visit United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain.