“Khartoum Again Begins Actively Denying Humanitarian Access to South Sudan”
Just days after Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime began the process of reneging on its agreement to allow “unimpeded humanitarian access” to all of Sudan (see report from this source, February 6, 2003), that process has suddenly moved into a critical and active phase. For Khartoum has precipitously denied the UN’s Operation Lifeline Sudan all use of its “Buffalo” aircraft, effective as of February 9, 2003. The “Buffalo” aircraft are the workhorse planes for Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) in delivering vitally important non-food items. Moreover, denying the use of “Buffalos” will have a series of ripple effects on OLS operations and aircraft deployments, especially in supporting the large numbers of newly displaced persons in Western Upper Nile—victims of Khartoum’s massive January military offensive in the oil regions. Particularly hard-hit will be: OLS delivery of essential vegetable cooking oil; the movement of vehicles used in the assessment missions necessary for the security of various OLS operations; the delivery of water bore-hole drilling equipment (which will now have to be postponed indefinitely, even as there are increasing reports of critical shortages of potable water); and on the logistics for airplane fuel for travel by OLS flights in South Sudan (this latter will diminish the number and capacity of humanitarian flights). Khartoum’s decision to deny OLS all use of its “Buffalos” is clearly an egregious violation of the October 2002 agreement on “unimpeded humanitarian access,” and once again challenges the international community: will this brutal regime be held accountable for failing to honor signed agreements? If not, the purpose of the Machakos peace process is difficult to discern.
Eric Reeves [February 12, 2003]
Northampton, MA 01063
Extremely reliable sources from within the United Nations’ Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) are reporting that Khartoum has now very consequentially reneged on its commitment to “unimpeded humanitarian access,” negotiated in October 2002. The October 15, 2002 agreement on the cessation of offensive hostilities stipulated that Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (“the parties”) agree to the following principle: “The parties shall allow unimpeded humanitarian access to all areas and for people in need, in accordance with the Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) Agreement.” This language was given implementation in an October 26, 2002 follow-up agreement that specified particular terms for this “unimpeded humanitarian access.”
But two weeks ago (January 30, 2003) Khartoum began the all too predictable process of reneging on yet another signed agreement. On that date the regime declared that OLS would no longer simply be required to give “notification” of humanitarian flights, but would have to make “requests” for such flights: “As of March 2003, monthly flight request should be submitted instead of monthly flight notification” (communication from Khartoum’s National Islamic Front to UN OLS, January 30, 2003). There is all the difference in the world, especially the world of humanitarian aid delivery in southern Sudan, between “notification” and “request”: for “requests” can be denied by Khartoum, as they have countless times been in the past.
Evidently some have been willing to overlook this change in language, mistakenly feeling it is of no particular significance. But there can be no looking away from the implications of Khartoum’s total flight denial—as of February 9, 2003—for all OLS “Buffalo” aircraft. This is the workhorse for OLS in delivering non-food items, including survival kits for internally displaced persons. The timing of such denial could not be worse for the many thousands of civilians recently displaced by Khartoum’s January offensive in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile, south and west of Bentiu.
But the ripple effects are just as serious. For example, the delivery of essential cooking oil to southern Sudan will be seriously affected. With the denial of flight access to all OLS “Buffalos,” there is only the one OLS “DC 3” for use in delivering cooking oil, and this plane cannot land on all runways in southern Sudan, leaving many populations without this critical staple. (The much larger “Hercules” aircraft, which carry the large food loads into southern Sudan for the UN World Food Program, cannot land on the typically short and unpaved runways of the region.)
And there is another highly significant consequence to the denial of access to “Buffalos.” The various humanitarian organizations that operate in South Sudan under the OLS umbrella are utterly dependent upon OLS Security in assessing the level of risk at particular locations, and the nature of various threats to humanitarian operations. Such assessments are often carried out by means of four-wheel drive land-cruisers, which are able to move from one regional location to another. But the “Buffalos” are the only aircraft that can airlift these land-cruisers over large distances and land on all airstrips in southern Sudan, and so the assessment missions that require such transport will now simply not occur. This will force OLS Security to be more conservative in its risk assessments, and the inevitable consequence over any period of time will be significant diminishment in humanitarian access.
Some of the “Micro Project” humanitarian food that cannot be airdropped by the large “Hercules” aircraft (again, the primary means for large cargo deliveries) will now not be delivered at all, since this has depended on the “Buffalos.” With only one “DC 3,” institutional feeding, as well as “Food for Work” programs in South Sudan, will be seriously delayed, as they must now compete with the delivery of vegetable oil and the pre-positioning of jet A1 fuel that had previously been the task of the “Buffalos.”
Khartoum’s denying OLS use of the “Buffalos” will obviously and consequentially impede the work of the UN and other humanitarian organizations operating under the OLS umbrella. This is a clear, egregious, undeniable violation of the October 2002 agreement Khartoum signed: “the parties shall allow unimpeded humanitarian access to all areas” of Sudan and to all “people in need.”
If the National Islamic Front regime cannot be held to such agreements on humanitarian access—and if its reward for violating the October 2002 military ceasefire agreement is simply the opportunity to sign yet another ceasefire agreement—then the point of securing agreements at the Machakos peace talks is indeed very difficult to discern. The logic of the situation could not be clearer, if the international community had any real willingness to look. Either Khartoum is robustly confronted over its serial violation of agreements, negotiated under the auspices of IGAD and Machakos, or any agreement that emerges from the Machakos negotiations will be worthless.