“A New ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ on Cessation of Hostilities
in Sudan: Why Was This Necessary?”
Much is being made of a new agreement, signed yesterday by the Khartoum regime and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), to halt offensive hostilities while peace talks proceed at Machakos (Kenya). But this forces an obvious question: why was such a new agreement necessary? Why was the agreement signed last October not sufficient? For the October 15, 2002 “Memorandum of Understanding” covered all the essential issues, including the redeployment of offensive forces, the use of proxy militias, and the actual cessation of offensive military actions. The answer is unfortunately equally obvious: a new agreement was necessary because Khartoum had massively abrogated the terms of the old agreement, by instigating broad new fighting in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile; in supporting their proxy militias with helicopter gunships, heavy artillery, and regular troops; and through the redeployment of vast offensive military assets throughout South Sudan. In truth, the real question is one that has so far not been raised with sufficient urgency in discussions of yesterday’s (Feb 4) agreement: why should we expect that Khartoum will be any more likely to heed its commitments in the present agreement? Given the regime’s past history of reneging, bad faith, duplicity, and mendacity, there is no good answer.
Eric Reeves [February 5, 2003]
Northampton, MA 01063
To be sure, there is not complete redundancy in the language of the two Memoranda of Understanding; the new agreement, for example, specifies the creation of a “Verification and Monitoring Team (VMT),” which is theoretically empowered to investigate alleged violations of the October 15 MOU and its February 4 successor. But of course no such “Verification and Monitoring Team” exists, nor is one of meaningful size—with adequate logistical support—likely to exist in the near- or medium-term. We only have to recall how painfully long it took to deploy the relatively small Civilian Protection Monitoring Team to Rumbek to see that a team capable of monitoring the military situation throughout South Sudan will simply not come into existence without a fundamental shift in the level of concern by the international community. There is no evidence in Machakos, Nairobi, or anywhere else of such a shift.
It may nonetheless be asked why Khartoum would have agreed to sign such a new document, one that creates at least the theoretical possibility that their clear and flagrant violations of the previous agreement will be investigated and cited publicly. The most obvious answer is that the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT) is scheduled to issue its second report, perhaps as early as tomorrow (Feb 6). Unlike the first and unfortunate account of Khartoum’s deadly attack on a civilian cattle camp near Mundri, this report will be a devastating indictment of Khartoum’s violations of the March 2002 agreement concerning attacks on civilians, as well as of the cease-fire agreement of October 15. The scale of civilian destruction south and west of Bentiu, in the heart of the oil regions of Western Upper Nile, will be established with the full authority of personnel who have been on the ground since fighting exploded on December 31, 2002. Their account of Khartoum’s atrocities—the scale, the number of incidents, the clear ambition to destroy or displace all Nuer civilians from the regions along the oil roads–will be simply indisputable.
Thus Khartoum is calculating that some of the sting might be drawn from this indictment if they sign yet another agreement, with more attendant words of congratulation from the international community, from the Machakos mediators, and perhaps even the US. Since there is evidently no real price to be paid for past egregious violations of the October 15 agreement, what cost can there be to signing a new agreement? especially if its monitoring provisions appear distinctly impracticable and without identifiable resources?
The only discernible effect will likely be on Khartoum’s effort to expand its all-weather oil road from Bentiu to Adok (clearing the final stretch of this strategically important road has been one of the clearest goals of fighting over the last five weeks). The new agreement does specifically stipulate that Khartoum is “to suspend work on the Bentiu-Adok Road until the final, comprehensive Peace Agreement is signed.” This provision can and must be monitored extremely closely. If it is violated, it will be an unmistakable sign that the new agreement is utterly without meaning.
But as to the return of territory captured in fighting since October 17 (effective date of the previous agreement), or the return of civilians displaced by Khartoum’s brutal methods, there can be at most very partial success. Civilians who have been displaced by ferocious helicopter gunship attacks, seen family members killed, had their cattle and foodstocks destroyed, will not casually accept Khartoum’s word on a new agreement. And who can blame them? How can they be expected to assume that the international community will guarantee them anything, when this “community” has so conspicuously ignored their plight over the past weeks, and still refuses to condemn Khartoum’s cease-fire violations in meaningful fashion?
Nor will there be a roll-back of the highly significant offensive military redeployments in which Khartoum has engaged on a continuous basis since October 17, 2002. Barges will continue to move down the Nile, to Adok and Juba. Antonov transport planes will continue to fly into Bentiu and Wau with new military resources, including an ever-growing number of Nuers who have been conscripted forcibly from the streets of Khartoum, Juba, Malakal, and other places where there are large concentrations of displaced Nuer men.
Many of these issues will be forcefully addressed in a new and important report on Sudan from the distinguished International Crisis Group. The report will highlight the critical need for the international community to condemn Khartoum’s violations of the October 15 agreement, and to work energetically to dissuade Khartoum from its evident belief that it can prevail militarily in the conflict without significant diplomatic and economic costs. The report will also offer detailed evidence of Khartoum’s overwhelming responsibility for fighting in the oil regions, citing a great many regional sources as well as presenting an authoritative analysis of the role of Nuer militias in Khartoum’s past and present military doctrine. This latter feature of the war in southern Sudan is often either overlooked or underestimated, but its centrality is appropriately highlighted by the ICG report. ICG offers a compelling account of the particular challenges facing the SPLM/A, both in representing a united south and in resisting Khartoum’s heretofore powerfully successful strategy of using Nuer militias. This strategy consists of enlisting (with inducements of arms, munitions, and food) various of the two dozen southern militia that make up the South Sudan Defense Forces (SSDF) to fight one another, to clear civilians from the oil regions, and to serve as a buffer between Khartoum’s own regular forces and those of the SPLA.
The February 4 “Memorandum of Understanding” may have value despite all the challenges posed in dealing with Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime. And it is certainly the moral obligation of all who are working to bring peace to Sudan to remain as “optimistic” about the Machakos process, and agreements secured under its auspices, as is intellectually respectable. But all such respectability is lost when Khartoum violates seriatim all past agreements, and there are no consequences. The international community has succeeded in creating within the minds of those who rule in Khartoum the belief that a patient intransigence can overcome all obstacles. Until agreements are not simply signed but made to hold; until the mechanisms of enforcement are specified, provided adequate resources, and effectively led; until the international community shows it is truly serious about confronting Khartoum, then nothing will change.
The agreement of February 4, 2003 may be a new beginning; but it is much more likely a tragic reprise of countless past agreements.