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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Tuesday 18 January 2005

SUDAN: Fragile peace despite southern agreement


[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


NAIROBI, 18 Jan 2005 (IRIN) - The recent signing of a comprehensive peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) has raised hopes that war in the south could end soon, but prospects for lasting peace across the country remain fragile, analysts said.

"The peace agreement is an important step," according to Peter Takirambudde, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Africa division. "But lasting peace in Sudan will require genuine security for civilians and justice for the atrocities committed both in Darfur and southern Sudan."

John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group (ICG) noted that "the [Sudanese] government's objective is to maintain power".

"Supporters of the peace deal need to understand that it pursues contradictory approaches with different opposition elements in different regions to confuse outsiders and defuse criticism," he told IRIN.

"It is concluding peace with the SPLM/A while attacking in Darfur and leaving the armed groups from eastern Sudan out of the Cairo talks," Prendergast added.

The peace agreement was signed in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on 9 January after lengthy talks. It promises to end the 21-year civil war that has claimed more than one and a half million lives, and virtually destroyed southern Sudan.

Beyond addressing the southern conflict, the agreement is also being presented as a blue print for addressing conflicts in other strife-torn areas across Sudan.

It is premised on a vision of promoting stability, rehabilitation, and development in all regions of Sudan through power sharing and the equitable distribution of the country's wealth.

Observers, however, say many potential stumbling blocks remain.

"A major cause of the conflicts which have shattered the lives of so many Sudanese has been injustice and marginalisation," Kolawole Olaniyan, Amnesty International's Africa Programme director, said in a statement. "Unless these basic human rights concerns are seriously addressed it will be difficult to have a lasting peace."

Upper Nile vulnerable

Prendergast said he expected that the oil-rich Upper Nile would be the most vulnerable area during the implementation period of the peace accord in the south.

During the past year, shifting allegiances among southern Sudanese militias have led to direct clashes over territorial control between the Sudanese army and government-backed Nuer and Shilluk militias on the one hand, and the SPLM/A on the other hand in the Shilluk Kingdom in Upper Nile.

This has led to widespread looting and the displacement of tens of thousands of people.

"The jockeying for control and commercial contracts in the oil-fields, and the ruling party's desire to retain the militias for future use, will ensure that the Upper Nile region will not be stabilized any time soon," Prendergast told IRIN on 12 January.
Until November 2004, there was heavy deployment of government-allied militia and supply of weapons, distributed to areas within the Upper Nile region, according to sources.

"It makes no sense for parties preparing for peace to mobilise such a military arsenal," a humanitarian source in the region observed.

Another problem is that the security arrangements agreed upon under the comprehensive peace agreement remain unclear regarding the status of the militia, which are grouped under the umbrella of the South Sudan Defence Forces (SSDF).

Observers say it was not likely that the government could completely absorb them into its regular army. Neither would the militia be willing to go up north during the transitional period.

"They are southerners and most likely will remain in the south, but their retained allegiance to government clearly presents a problem for SPLM/A authority in the south," the humanitarian source added.

During his annual speech on New Year's day, marking the country's independence from British rule, President Omar el-Bashir indicated that he was willing to enter into wealth and power-sharing negotiations with Darfur rebels just as he did with the SPLM/A in the south.

"We call upon all the sons of Sudan, inside and outside, to embrace peace, to listen to the voice of wisdom and to give priority to dialogue by making it the only path to solving our problems," the president said.

However, the special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sudan, Jan Pronk, warned the Security Council on 11 January that Darfur might move into a period of intense violence unless swift action was taken and new approaches were considered.

"December saw a build-up of arms, attacks on positions, including air attacks, raids on small towns and villages, increased banditry, and more looting," he said.

Pronk warned that government forces might be tempted to think the conclusion of the southern peace agreement would provide a brief window of immunity from international criticism for their actions in Darfur.

According to Prendergast, certain elements in the Sudanese security apparatus who masterminded the Darfur campaign may not want a peaceful settlement in the region and may continue to pursue a strategy of divide and conquer.

The rebel movements, in turn, could perceive the north-south agreement as a further indication of their marginalisation and choose to intensify their military activities in an effort to be taken seriously as a party in political talks.

The armed elements in eastern Sudan, for example, lost their main military partner, the SPLM/A, as a result of the peace agreement and the government succeeded in marginalising the eastern Sudanese political groups by keeping them out of the Cairo-talks with the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Rebels in western Sudan have accused the government of redeploying soldiers, no longer needed following the peace deal with the south, to the civil war in Darfur. Justice and Equality Movement rebel leader Colonel Omar Adam told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme on 10 January that "the government is preparing for war".

"It is hard to imagine that the peace dividend promised by the Nairobi agreement will be reaped without an end to the suffering in Darfur," Pronk told the Council. "International aid will not flow, and more importantly, in Sudan itself the achievement will turn out to be vulnerable. As long as there is war in some part of the country, resources will be spent on weapons, not welfare."

Justice Still an Issue

Human rights groups hope the agreement will usher in a new era for the protection of the rights of the Sudanese people as well as reforms to address injustice, discrimination and gross human rights violations in the country.

However, the peace agreement lacks any provision for a truth commission, prosecutions, or other forms of accountability for past abuses in the southern conflict.

Prendergast agreed that more focus on justice and reconciliation was required, but said that the inclusion of proper accountability mechanisms in the agreement "would have taken another two years of negotiations," noting that, "there is not a lot of stomach for it right now because everybody wants to get the implementation underway".

The key difference between Darfur and the south, he noted, was the international commission of inquiry, authorised by the Council, which will issue its findings later this month.

The commission is conducting a three-month investigation into serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law that have been committed in Darfur and is tasked with identifying perpetrators of crimes with a view to ensuring accountability.

Fragile Gains

According to Pronk, the gains from the current peace agreement "are as yet too fragile to be taken for granted. It will take more than mere signatures for peace to prevail".

Citing some of the main callenges that lie ahead, Pronk stressed the need for south-south dialogue with the other movements that did not participate in the Naivasha peace-talks, to make sure they would adhere to the peace agreement and a swift resolution to the conflicts in Darfur, eastern Sudan and the north.

Other important tasks Pronk identified were the return and resettlement of the six million internally displaced persons and refugees, demobilisation of former fighters, clearance of mines and the implementation of sustainable development programmes that would tackle a major root cause of conflict - poverty and underdevelopment.

Much also depends on the commitment of international organisations and leaders to supporting the implementation of the accords, their ongoing leadership and coordination of assistance, as well as the adequate provision of resources for a strong peacekeeping mission.

Prendergast observed that the recently signed agreement has a better chance for success than previous peace accords, as its internal and external guarantees are more substantial.

"The SPLA will maintain its own forces throughout the interim period, while a peace observer force of the UN will oversee the implementation," he said.

However, the challenges ahead are enormous, and the peace in this country, torn by ravaging wars since its independence, remains fragile.

[ENDS]



This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004



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