“Is the US State Department Really Committed to the Machakos Process?”
How seriously is the US State Department committed to the Machakos peace process and the agreements it produces? The question has considerable urgency as Khartoum is on the verge of very large renewed offensive actions in the Eastern front (near Kassala)—this despite the fact that on October 15, 2002 the regime signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) committing it to “cease hostilities in all areas of the Sudan and ensuring a military stand down for their forces.” The MOU was signed by Idris Mohammed Abdel Gadir on behalf of Khartoum, by Nhial Deng for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army, and by Lazaro Sumbeiywo, Special Envoy for the “IGAD Sudan Peace Process and on behalf of IGAD Envoys.” The truce MOU was flagrantly violated by Khartoum on October 17, the day it was to take effect, and minutes after the deadline for cessation of hostilities. General Sumbeiywo said at the time: “I have confirmed through independent means that the government [of Sudan] did indeed break the truce. I am terribly frustrated by this action. Any further fighting which could lead to the loss of a town could jeopardize the talks. It is pointless to sign a contract and then you fail to commit to it” (Reuters, Oct 17, 2002). Why has General Sumbeiywo received no meaningful support from the US State Department in the form of a similar condemnation of Khartoum’s clear violation of the truce agreement?
Eric Reeves [October 24, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
The language of the truce agreement could not have been clearer: it commits the parties to “cease hostilities in all areas of the Sudan.” The offensive against the positions of the SPLA and National Democratic Alliance (NDA) near Kassala in the East could not have been a more unambiguous violation of this commitment. Since this agreement was negotiated by General Sumbeiywo under the auspices of IGAD and the Machakos peace process, the United States should have forcefully and publicly supported Sumbeiywo’s strong language about the violation. A full week after the violation the State Department has said nothing.
This is clear evidence that the Africa Bureau under Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Walter Kansteiner has no effective understanding of the dynamics of the peace process. For Khartoum will inevitably conclude from US silence—and indeed that of the other European members of the IGAD Partners Forum—that Sumbeiywo is on his own in enforcing agreements secured at Machakos (Kenya). This is a disastrously destructive negotiating signal to be sending to the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum. They will inevitably conclude that there is no real depth to the US commitment to the peace process. This in turn will lead to further violations of negotiated agreements, and sustain Khartoum in its belief that it can continue to renege upon and violate other agreements to which it is now nominally committed.
Since the truce MOU also calls for “unimpeded humanitarian access” throughout southern Sudan for Operation Lifeline Sudan, failure by the US to support Sumbeiywo may have dire consequences for this part of the agreement as well. Ominously, Khartoum called off a meeting with representatives of Operation Lifeline Sudan and the SPLA/M that was to have taken place on October 22; this would have been the meeting establishing the actual terms for implementing “unimpeded humanitarian access” (page 4, paragraph 5 of the October 15 “Memorandum of Understanding”).
Khartoum’s failure to appear at this critical meeting has all the hallmarks of past reneging and violation of agreements. Moreover, such behavior puts Khartoum in clear violation of the terms of the Sudan Peace Act, signed into law by President Bush on October 21, 2002. The Sudan Peace act stipulates that the President shall impose a series of specific sanctions if he determines that Khartoum “has unreasonably interfered with humanitarian efforts” Section 6 [b]). At present, 61 relief sites remain interdicted by Khartoum, and this threatens many hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians
In the case of yet another important agreement to which Khartoum is nominally committed—the monitoring of military attacks on civilians—there is growing evidence that this, too, is the occasion for reneging and back-tracking by the National Islamic Front. Reliable regional sources are now indicating that the deployment of a force to monitor attacks on civilians is being stalled by Khartoum. This is so despite the fact that such an agreement was reached last March, indeed was trumpeted as yet another accomplishment of the Danforth mission. Both the SPLA/M and Khartoum formally agreed to the monitoring mission. In fact, though it has been over seven months since this important agreement was reached, it has not been implemented—not a single investigation has taken place.
Again, Assistant Secretary Kansteiner would seem to be responsible. He signaled in his early July testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Africa subcommittee) that an end-of-August deployment was fully practicable. Two months beyond this specified date, the deployment has still not occurred. There are only two explanations: either the State Department has been callously incompetent in implementing this enormously important measure—or Khartoum is indeed preventing such implementation and the State Department will not admit as much publicly. Either way, the failure is clear, and the signal to Khartoum dangerously consequential: the US will not do what it takes to hold the regime to important agreements or see to their fulfillment.
How will all this play out in Machakos? What conclusions will the National Islamic Front negotiating team draw from US inaction and silence? The answers are all too apparent.
It is unreasonable and irresponsible for the US State Department to be taking a “hands off” approach at this critical moment, leaving General Sumbeiywo to his own diplomatic devices in securing meaningful agreement from Khartoum. Nor is it sufficient for the State Department to cluck reassuringly that it is talking with Khartoum via “back channels.” The violation of the truce agreement is clear and present and Sumbeiywo has spoken out decisively and publicly in criticizing Khartoum; he should be supported by the US in an equally decisively and public fashion.
Instead, there is strong evidence to suggest that the State Department is actually supporting Khartoum’s earlier claim that their offensive military actions in the East are “justified” because of the presence of Eritrean troops (subsequently Khartoum moved away from this claim to the more transparent lie that the MOU did not cover any area of northern Sudan, a claim made emphatically by President Omer Beshir; see Agence-France Presse report, Oct 19). But Eritrean troops are not in Sudan, as authoritative reports from the ground in the Hamesh Koreb area have established. To be sure, Eritrea has provided logistical support for the SPLA and NDA, but Eritrean military personnel were given direct orders not to enter Sudan.
In any event, without compelling evidence that Eritrean soldiers are indeed participating in fighting on Sudanese territory in the East, the State Department should not be in the position of supporting the claims of a regime known for its constant prevarication, disingenuousness, and duplicity. To do so in present circumstances countenances a military offensive that is deeply threatening to the prospects for peace. And certainly the State Department must declare that the MOU, in speaking of a “cessation of hostilities in all areas of Sudan,” does in fact mean “all areas,” including the East. If General Beshir has the audacity to declare of the truce MOU that, “Any attempt to extend the IGAD mandate to cover other areas [of Sudan] is rejected” (Agence France-Presse, Oct 19), then there must be a decisive response from the State Department to this transparent medacity and flagrant violation of the clear terms of the MOU.
The Kansteiner policy, or non-policy, with respect to Khartoum’s violation of agreements supposedly secured now clearly runs the risk of destroying the credibility of the IGAD process at Machakos—and thus the chances for successful negotiation of a just peace. On what appears to be the eve of a major new military offensive by Khartoum in the East—an even more massive violation of the October 15 truce MOU—Kansteiner and the US appear impotent, or simply unwilling, to stop it. This is so even as it was Kansteiner’s earlier response in late September to the potential military crisis in the East that has worked to insure it has actually been precipitated.
For context, it should be remembered that the launching of an Eastern offensive by the SPLA and NDA in early October came only as Khartoum’s effort to re-capture the southern town of Torit (Eastern Equatoria) was being countenanced by the US. Kansteiner made no secret of his belief that Torit should be allowed to fall back to Khartoum to provide a “face-saving means” for the regime to rejoin the Machakos process. It must also be remembered that when Torit did fall back to Khartoum on October 8, this was more than two weeks after the SPLA/M had offered a truce agreement that fully anticipated the terms of the agreement signed by all parties on October 15.
With the US signaling that it would not pressure Khartoum in a serious way to resume peace talks before it had re-captured Torit, despite the offer of a truce, the SPLA and NDA decided that with the fall of the town imminent, they would not remain quiescent (see analysis from this source, September 25, 2002, arguing that Kansteiner’s policy vis–vis Torit insured that the Eastern front would be opened, creating precisely the present crisis; available upon request).
The Kansteiner policy toward Khartoum has now brought the Sudan peace process to the present perilous juncture:
*Khartoum is in flagrant violation of the truce Memorandum of Understanding signed by all parties on October 15, including chief mediator Lazaro Sumbeiywo—whose voice is alone in condemning the violation;
*Seeing that it has faced no serious pressure, or even criticism, over its violation of the MOU, Khartoum has mounted and is within hours of launching a major new offensive in the East, which may set off an expanded cycle of fighting that might in turn end the Machakos process;
*Because Sumbeiywo’s criticism of Khartoum’s violation of the MOU has not been echoed by the US or its allies, Khartoum appears to be calculating that it needn’t be held to the other section of the MOU providing for “unimpeded humanitarian relief.” This would have potentially devastating effects for many hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in southern Sudan, as Khartoum continues to deny aid to an unprecedented 61 sites in the south;
*US fecklessness in securing actual deployment of a force to monitor military attacks on civilians in the south daily makes it more likely that such deployment will never take place.
This is a policy in shambles, without clear vision or understanding of the historic opportunity represented by the Machakos process. It is time that the Bush administration understood the acute lack of effective leadership in the Africa Bureau at the State Department and replace Assistant Secretary Kansteiner with someone knowledgeable of the crisis in Sudan and willing to move energetically and effectively to support the IGAD peace process, agreements negotiated under its auspices, and the leadership of General Sumbeiywo in particular.