“A Continuing Compromising of the Sudan Peace Process:
The US State Department and the February 4, 2003 ‘Cease-fire’ Agreement”
There is a remorseless, inescapable logic to the peace process for Sudan, now set to enter its fourth round in March at Machakos (Kenya): either the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum believes that it will be firmly held to commitments made, or it will promiscuously sign any and all agreements with absolutely no intention of upholding them. Thus there could be no more dangerous or destructive signal to be sending than that past agreements, signed under the auspices of IGAD, will not be vigorously enforced. And yet this is precisely the signal that is being sent by the US State Department and those who have carelessly touted the February 4, 2003 cease-fire “Addendum.” This agreement daily appears to be more a diplomatic cover for Khartoum’s strategic January military offensive in the oil regions than a serious extension of the October 15, 2002 agreement that was so massively violated by that offensive. In particular, the Verification and Monitoring Team (VMT) contemplated in the February 4 agreements has not become a meaningful reality. Thus the critical mandates spelled out for the VMT will continue to languish unfulfilled. There has been no military roll-back by Khartoum; there has been no surrender of locations taken by Khartoum and its militia allies between October 17, 2002 and February 4, 2003 (e.g., Akobo); there has been no halt in consequential offensive military redeployments on the part of Khartoum; there has been no halt to military attacks in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile by Khartoum’s Peter Gadet; and there are very reliable sources reporting that construction on the Bentiu-Leer-Adok oil road continues under cover of night, despite a specific prohibition of such construction. So just what price has Khartoum paid for its January violation of the October 15 cease-fire agreement? What price is it paying for failing to adhere to the terms of the February 4 agreements? None.
Eric Reeves [February 27, 2003]
Northampton, MA 01063
Given Khartoum’s abysmal failure to adhere in good faith to any agreement it has ever signed, under any circumstances, there should have been extremely serious diplomatic skepticism about the documents signed by Khartoum (and the SPLM/A) on February 4, 2003. These included the “Addendum to the Memorandum of Understanding on Cessation of Hostilities Between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army” (hereafter “the Addendum”) and the “Joint Communiqu Between the Government of the Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army Regarding Strengthening the MOU on the Cessation of Hostilities” (hereafter “the Communiqu”). But what does all this elaborate “diplomatese” mean? And how does it relate to the realities that obtain on the ground in South Sudan?
We first must understand the context for this signing of new agreements: they were made necessary by Khartoum’s massive violation of an earlier cease-fire agreement with its January military offensive in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile (this offensive, by Khartoum’s regular and militia forces, has been extremely well chronicled in several reports from the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team [CPMT]). On October 15, 2002 the Khartoum regime agreed to and formally signed a “Memorandum of Understanding Between the Government of the Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army on Resumption of Negotiations on Peace in Sudan.”
This agreement committed Khartoum and the SPLA to “retain current military positions,” to “refrain from any offensive military actions by all forces,” and to “cease supplying all areas with weapons and ammunition.” The larger ambition was to “maintain a period of tranquility during the negotiations by ceasing hostilities in all areas of the Sudan and ensuring a military stand down for their own forces, including allied forces and affiliated militia.” This latter phrase needs particular emphasis: “including allied forces and affiliated militia.” For much of Khartoum’s fighting in the oil regions during the January offensive was done by means of proxy militias, most notoriously that of Paulino Matip (who is also a major general in Khartoum’s regular army), but by others as well.
Because the fighting in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile was so intense this past January, especially along the axes of the oil roads leading south and west from Bentiu, it was clear that the cease-fire of October 15 was hopelessly compromised. Indeed, even before the January offensive began, massive military redeployments by Khartoum had already violated a key provision of the cease-fire. The evidence for these redeployments is various and indisputable, and has been cited by numerous sources, including the CPMT. The most significant concentrations of redeployed men and materiel have been at Juba (west of the Nile), Wau (which threatens Rumbek), Bentiu, Mayom, and Adok in the oil regions, and the eastern front in Kassala Province.
So what was the response of the international community to these egregious violations of another formally signed agreement by the Khartoum regime? It was to offer, without penalty, the opportunity to sign yet another “cease-fire” agreement. To be sure, there was language in the “Addendum” speaking of the “need to strengthen the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Cessation of Hostilities signed between the Parties on 15th October 2002.” Further, the “Addendum” stipulated that work would be halted on the Bentiu-Leer-Adok oil road, and that a “Verification and Monitoring Team” would be created. But here we need to attend very closely to what has actually happened in the more than three weeks since this new cease-fire agreement was signed. To do so is to see that Khartoum has paid no price at all for its violation of the October 15 cease-fire agreement—which it continues to violate—and that there is no prospect that it will pay a price for violating the February 4 agreements. Indeed, the violations have already begun.
There are highly credible reports from extremely well-placed sources in the region indicating that Peter Gadet has led a number of militia attacks on behalf of Khartoum in the Tam area west of Bentiu over the last two weeks (this is where some of the heaviest fighting occurred, along with the most savage civilian displacement and destruction, during Khartoum’s January offensive).
There are also highly credible reports from the ground south of Bentiu, near Leer, that Khartoum continues under the cover of darkness to build the elevated, all-weather oil road that is designed to reach Adok on the Nile (Adok is also the site of an extremely heavy military build-up by Khartoum, again in violation of the October 15 cease-fire agreement). Construction in the Leer area would also be a violation of the specific stipulation in the February 4 agreement that such construction be halted. Moreover, some of the construction equipment from the Leer area has been redeployed to the Mankien area, where is can be used to extend the heavily militarized oil road running south from Mayom to Mankien.
From February 9, 2003 through February 25, 2003 Khartoum denied humanitarian flight access to the critically important Buffalo aircraft of the UN’s Operation Lifeline Sudan. This was a clear and highly consequential violation of both the October 15 agreement (which specified “unimpeded humanitarian access to all areas” and all people of Sudan) and the February 4 agreement, which nominally incorporates all features of the October 15 agreement (it is, in fact, “an addendum,” not a wholly new agreement).
The February 4 “Communiqu” also speaks of the obligation “to take all necessary steps to effect the immediate voluntary return of the civilian population of Western Upper Nile to their home areas and villages. These measures shall also apply to all those displaced internally within WUN, as well as those displaced to Bahr El-Ghazal, and all other civilians who were displaced since the effective date of the [October 15] MOU.” But of course Khartoum’s campaign of destruction has driven so many terrified civilians so far from their homes—homes that in thousands of cases have now been destroyed—that the opportunity to return is largely meaningless.
As the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team reports make clear, Khartoum’s policy of civilian clearances from the oil regions has been brutally effective. Excerpts from the team’s recent reports on the January offensive could not be more unambiguous: “The Government of Sudan military has been providing security for construction by pushing their regular units forward along the new [oil] road axis [south of Bentiu, toward Adok on the Nile]. They are now approaching the town of Leer. Villages along both flanks of the new [oil] road have been cleared of the civil populace approaching Leer” (CPMT Report to IGAD, February 2, 2003).
The Civilian Protection Monitoring Team also found that “military attacks against villages and non-combatant civilians have been conducted by [Government of Sudan-] allied militia, supported directly by [Government of Sudan] military forces.” Further, the CPMT declares that Khartoum’s “direct support to attacks included artillery, and helicopter gunships in Lingera and villages north of Tam.” And in speaking of the January 21, 2003 attack on Leel, the CPMT report declares that: “CPMT was on-scene within two hours of notification, and verified that this attack was directed against the civilian population in the village. [Rocket-propelled grenades] and heavy machine gun fire was used in this attack.” Interviews with captured Government of Sudan militia involved in the attack “clearly indicated that the purpose of the mission was to burn the village to drive out the inhabitants.”
The same pattern of permanent civilian clearances can be traced back over the last half dozen years in various parts of the oil regions (both in Western Upper Nile and southern Kordofan provinces).
What has been most touted in the new agreement is the creation of “a Verification and Monitoring Team (VMT), which may include, in
addition to the two parties, personnel and aircraft from an expanded
Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT), IGAD” and others. This VMT is to have “free access to travel in and around areas where a complaint had been filed by any of the parties. The team shall notify the MOU Committee of the results of all such missions.” But how meaningful is this? How much does Khartoum have to fear that its ongoing military redeployments will be detected by a VMT? How effective is a VMT likely to be in securing a roll-back of Khartoum’s military redeployments? Or to supervise the return of towns like Akobo that were taken by Khartoum-allied militias between the October 15 agreement and the February 4 agreement?
What should be obvious from these questions is that without a very significant commitment of additional resources and personnel, the Verification and Monitoring Team will be nothing more than a diplomatic fig-leaf for the scandalous fact that Khartoum has brazenly violated a cease-fire (that of October 15), and as its only penalty has been obliged to sign another (that of February 4). At present, the Verification and Monitoring Team (VMT) consists of nothing more than a name and a vague diplomatic gesture. All that has actually occurred on the ground is that elements of the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (already overburdened by its very significant mandate) have been renamed as part of the VMT; this is clear from several recent dispatches from the “VMT.” If this is the only consequence that Khartoum suffers for its serial and ongoing violations of signed cease-fire agreements, then the vacuity of Machakos is all too obvious.
Here we might also recall, as part of the historical record, that despite an agreement to halt attacks on civilians secured from Khartoum in March of 2002, the Africa Bureau and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Kansteiner were unwilling to commit the energies and resources that would see a timely deployment of what would become the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team. Kansteiner and the State Department did not pressure Khartoum sufficiently on deployment, nor was there a serious commitment to move the process expeditiously. It was not until November of 2002 that the team was actually deployed to Rumbek in South Sudan, where it could begin its initially halting efforts. Given this past performance, how likely is it that Kansteiner will move quickly to deploy truly consequential additional resources for a Verification and Monitoring Team?
None of this is news to General Sumbeiywo, the lead IGAD negotiator at Machakos, despite the brave face he put on the February 4 signings. But in addition to dithering on the CPMT and the VMT, Kansteiner has put Sumbeiywo on a short leash, and Sumbeiywo no longer enjoys the powerful backing of former President Moi of Kenya. He is in no position to speak the blunt truths about Machakos. This is so even as Kansteiner himself has yet to discern the most obvious lesson to be gleaned from Khartoum’s refusal to honor signed agreements: either there is a robust means of enforcement or the regime is simply encouraged in its belief that it can negotiate indefinitely, disingenuously, and never pay a real price.
The failure to see this most basic logic governing the Machakos process is Kansteiner’s greatest weakness—and it is proving fatal. It is difficult to see what can rescue the process at this late date from such lack of insight and moral resolve.