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17 March 2004

Diplomacy Essential to Keeping Sudan Peace Process on Track

Scholars outline effects of Darfur violence for U.S. Congress

By Jim Fisher-Thompson
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- With Sudan in the closing stages of a peace process that has gone on for years, more diplomacy, not less, is needed now to convince both the Khartoum government and rebels to turn away from violence and begin rebuilding a nation devastated by 20 years of civil war, says Stephen Morrison, Africa program director for the Center for International and Strategic Studies (CSIS).

Whether or not "a peace agreement is around the corner," much is at stake in Sudan, Morrison told a March 11 hearing of the House Africa Subcommittee that is looking into violence in the Darfur region and its threat to the peace process. Smith College Professor Eric Reeves also joined him on the panel.

Declaring, "We need to keep our eye on the prize -- the successful conclusion of a Sudanese peace accord," Morrison told the lawmakers: "We need to remind ourselves that the Sudanese parties are indeed very close to a final framework agreement ...[and] U.S. leadership has been, from the very beginning of the Sudan peace process, essential to achieving the results seen thus far, and remains essential to closing a deal."

Both sides have already signed three major agreements and are currently in Naivasha, Kenya, negotiating a power-sharing accord, which the U.S. government is helping to facilitate at a cost of $4 million.

Morrison said: "A failed peace effort that re-ignites Sudan's devastating war between the North and South will ... encourage a radicalization in north and south and damage U.S. interests. Only peace can create an environment in which it becomes possible to tackle Sudan's other formidable governance problems -- and they are many and severe.

"Will a negotiated settlement between the SPLM/SPLA and the Government of Sudan resolve all Sudan's ills? No, but it is an absolutely critical first step and we cannot afford to become distracted, nor squander the important progress made so far in realizing this first step," the Africa expert asserted.

The former adviser to the State Department recently managed the Africa Policy Advisory Panel, a review of U.S. policy commissioned by Congress, which was completed in January and presented to Secretary of State Colin Powell in February.

House Africa Subcommittee Chairman Ed Royce, a California Republican, and Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Charles Snyder agreed at the same hearing that the recent flare-up of violence in Darfur imperiled progress on negotiations. Holding the Khartoum government responsible for the attacks, Royce said, "Darfur is an ominous cloud over the peace process." However, he added, "perpetual negotiations are not in the cards."

Snyder said, "In Darfur people are dying in large numbers, so we do not have the leisure for a long negotiation process."

Approximately 2 million people have been killed in the conflict in Sudan, with a further four million driven from their homes because of fighting between the mainly Muslim central government and non-Muslim southerners.

Reeves, who has written extensively on Sudan, told the Africa Subcommittee he believed "this is Sudan's moment of historical truth."

Negotiations are threatened, Reeves said, primarily because of the Khartoum regime's intransigence. "It is presently conducting a vast military campaign directed primarily against civilians among the African tribal groups of the [Darfur] region ... and feels that it is making progress.

"Believing that the international community will not respond with appropriate force or urgency to the catastrophe in Darfur so long as an agreement in Naivasha can be made to seem ‘imminent,' Khartoum now hopes to resolve the crisis in Darfur militarily prior to any final agreement," Reeves told the lawmakers.

The answer, he said, was certainly not a policy of "moral equivalence" that puts the Khartoum government and rebels on an equal footing, "for it is the south that has endured catastrophic human destruction and suffering over the past 20 years of war."

Referring to the government's actions in Darfur, Reeves said, "The current phrase of choice among diplomats and U.N. officials is ‘ethnic cleansing,' but given the nature and scale of human destruction, and the clear racism animating attacks systematically directed against civilians from the African tribal groups, the appropriate term is genocide."

The scholar called for a more activist diplomacy that would make it in Khartoum's interest to stop fighting and proceed with the peace process. "To this end," he said, "current U.S. sanctions against the Government of Sudan should be lifted gradually, and should be tied to clearly articulated benchmarks -- in the implementing of a peace agreement, in expediting military redeployments, in disarming allied militia, and in upholding provisions for revenue- and power-sharing."

But even with peace, Reeves warned, "Khartoum's ongoing, cynically cruel willingness to lie about so much human suffering and destruction should remind us how difficult it will be to make anything meaningful of the regime's signature on an agreement in Naivasha. If a comprehensive agreement is indeed ‘around the corner,' we must fully accept that this marks only a beginning in the real job of building a just and sustainable peace."

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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