“Khartoum Is Now Directly Violating the February 4 ‘Cease-fire’ Agreement: Militia and Regular Forces Continue Attacks Near Tam and Leer”
A number of extremely reliable sources in southern Sudan and elsewhere in the region are reporting on a continuing series of attacks by Khartoum’s forces along the oil road axes south and west of Bentiu in oil-rich Western Upper Nile Province. Such attacks include both Khartoum’s regular forces as well as its allied militia forces, especially those of Peter Gadet. These attacks are clear and consequential violations of the “cease-fire” that the Khartoum regime nominally re-committed to on February 4, 2003. Though the attacks have occurred steadily since February 4, no one involved in the Machakos peace process—including the US State Department—has had the honesty to say as much. This will encourage only thing: further military activity by Khartoum, escalating until there is some meaningful outcry. Perhaps at that point Khartoum will again commit to some agreement—perhaps, grotesquely, to a third “cease-fire” signing. What we may be quite sure of is that with such weak and ineffectual responses from the international community, Khartoum sees no need to adhere meaningfully to any agreement. This in turn insures further death, destruction, and displacement of the sort that continues to be chronicled in Western Upper Nile. It also insures that the people of South Sudan will have no reason to believe that the international community has any real commitment to the agreements negotiated through the Machakos process. Here, expedient silence over Khartoum’s explicit, ongoing violations of the “cease-fire” agreement will result not in a “conducive negotiating atmosphere,” but in an entirely appropriate cynicism about what undergirds the entire Machakos process.
Eric Reeves [March 4, 2003]
Northampton, MA 01063
Yet again, the international community seems to be perversely misunderstanding the essential truth about negotiating with Khartoum: either there are clear consequences for the failure to honor an agreement, or that agreement, and others, will quickly mean nothing. Having massively violated the October 15, 2002 cease-fire agreement with its January 2003 offensive, Khartoum was permitted to sign on to a new agreement on February 4, 2003–which it is now clearly and serially violating with attacks on civilians and Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) positions, especially in Upper Nile Province. The attacks have been most concentrated in the Leer and Tam areas, south and west of Bentiu. These are the same areas where Khartoum’s strategic January offensive was concentrated. Many of the same militia forces that were involved in attacks before February 4, 2003 continue to be utilized by Khartoum in present military actions. Indeed, this was true of the heavy attack of February 6 in the Mayenjur area west of Bentiu—two days after the signing of the new cease-fire. (The October 15, 2002 and February 4, 2003 agreements both require the cessation of “hostilities in all areas of the Sudan” and a military stand down of forces, “including allied forces and affiliated militia.”)
Continued military actions, and military patrols along the oil road south from Bentiu to Leer (and headed for Adok), have made it impossible for many thousands of displaced civilians to return. This is so despite the joint Communiqu—also signed on February 4, 2003—that committed Khartoum “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 Western Upper Nile, 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.” Yet again, Khartoum is clearly, consequentially, and unambiguously violating a signed agreement—and paying no price.
The military attacks in Upper Nile are funded, instigated, and directed by Khartoum, even as the regime continues to supply extensive weaponry to the proxy militias that have done so much of Khartoum’s fighting. Especially active is Peter Gadet, who has again changed sides in this war and now fights for Khartoum. Gadet has been extremely aggressive in forcibly recruiting Nuer and Dinka men and boys into his militia (on his return to Khartoum’s side in the war he was able to bring with him no soldiers). Gadet is also deliberately fueling conflict between these two major tribal groups by means of the differential make-up of the forces he has deployed. In this he is serving Khartoum’s key military ambition in southern Sudan, which is to turn southerner against southerner. Whoever is killed in such fighting, Khartoum’s purposes are served.
[There are also extremely reliable reports from the Juba area that Khartoum-allied militias have been engaged in large-scale forcible recruitment in Western Equatoria.]
Khartoum predictably denies any responsibility for the militias it is arming and directing. But this is of course pure mendacity. The recently issued reports by the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT, based in Rumbek, South Sudan) make abundantly clear that Khartoum’s regular military forces have been coordinating and acting in concert with the various militia groups. This is also the conclusion of a recent and authoritative report by the International Crisis Group (“Sudan’s Oilfields Burn Again: Brinkmanship Endangers the Peace Process”; Brussels, February 10, 2003). Heavy artillery and helicopter gunship attacks, chiefly directed against civilians, are reported by the CPMT to have been used in the January offensive—when again Khartoum claimed that only militia groups were involved in internecine fighting. But the militias have neither helicopter gunships nor heavy artillery. It is thus particularly noteworthy that an especially reliable regional source reports today that there was—just yesterday (March 3)—artillery fire out of Mankien, a town controlled by Khartoum’s forces and from which many militia raids are launched.
More typical since February 4 are attacks like that in the Kiriel area (west of Mankien) on February 16: on that occasion a surprise attack by Khartoum-allied militia forces killed a number of SPLA soldiers and several civilians as well. There have already been two attacks involving militias and Khartoum’s regular forces in the first days of March—one near Tam and another near Leer (the village of Riery). The largest of the recent militia attacks occurred on February 22, 2003, and included many hundreds of troops. Multiple sources, including a Sudan researcher who has just returned to Nairobi from Western Upper Nile, have confirmed that on this date various villages near Tam (45 miles southwest of Bentiu) were attacked, with a great many civilian and military casualties.
We should note that the day before this attack in the Tam area, Reuters reported from Paris: “Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir was quoted on Friday [Feb 21] as saying an end was near to a 20-year civil war in his country, sounding more optimistic than usual ahead of fresh talks with rebels next month. ‘I truly feel that peace is near,’ Bashir told French daily Le Monde during a Franco-African summit in Paris” (Reuters, February 21, 2003). And no doubt Bashir means what he says: for the National Islamic regime he heads believes that peace can be “achieved through the barrel of a gun.” Indeed, those were precisely Bashir’s own words when he spoke more unguardedly on December 29, 2002 (he was on that occasion also quoted by Reuters).
The alternative that Bashir proposes is “dialogue,” by which he means nothing less than a capitulation by the people of southern Sudan before the unyielding and uncompromising positions of Bashir’s junta—their proposed terms for the future “agreements” that are to emerge from the Machakos process. If they don’t get their way, Bashir and other top officials in the National Islamic Front will resort to what they have repeatedly and explicitly called a “jihad” against the people of the south.
Fighting and violations of the most recent cease-fire agreement are not confined to Western Upper Nile. There have been numerous other reports of fighting instigated by Khartoum’s militias, including in Eastern Upper Nile. Extremely reliable sources report that Khartoum’s Nasir-based militias have attacked eastward toward the Ethiopian border, targeting Pagak and Maiwut. This is an area where there is very little humanitarian presence and almost no news reporting. We can expect that there will be a further increase in fighting, especially if international scrutiny of the fighting in Western Upper Nile were actually to have some effect. Moreover, what little humanitarian presence there is in Eastern Upper Nile will almost certainly be removed because of the increasing security risks. This is another feature of Khartoum’s war on civilians in the south: killing and displacing by means of direct and indirect denial of humanitarian aid.
Khartoum is watching carefully as these cease-fire violations meet with no significant or consequential response from the international community, or from the Machakos mediators who orchestrated the February 4 agreements. And as it watches, the regime is calibrating just how much further it can escalate the fighting without penalty. Judging by the course of the last month, the regime will be expanding the fighting in significant ways in the coming weeks, pushed by a desire to secure more fully the oil road axes south from and west of Bentiu that were of central strategic concern during the January offensive. The rainy season is also impending, and sometime within the next month to two months the roads that haven’t already been constructed as all-weather will begin to impede the movement of troops and heavy military equipment. For those southern Sudanese still suffering from the destruction of the January offensive, and the ongoing fighting of this past month, this is ominous in the extreme.
Does any of this matter? If so, to whom? Who in the US State Department is giving evidence of comprehending the clear threat that Khartoum’s ongoing military activities pose? Does the uncritical praising of the Machakos process constitute a meaningful policy when agreements negotiated under the auspices of Machakos are transparently and continuously violated? How can a meaningful agreement—one to which Khartoum will actually be held—emerge from a process that seems incapable of producing a meaningful agreement on the basics of a cease-fire? Why has nothing of substance emerged in the way of a Verification and Monitoring Team (stipulated in the February 4 agreements)? Is there some threshold that Khartoum must cross before its violations of the February 4 agreements warrant a truly effective response? Is this threshold measured in terms of more lives destroyed? additional civilians displaced? more women raped? greater numbers of villages burned or depopulated by Khartoum’s vicious predations? The people of South Sudan have a right to answers for all these questions; all too predictably, they receive answers to none.