“Khartoum’s Massive Military Build-up Violates October Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, Imperils Machakos Talks”
Numerous highly reliable regional sources are now confirming that Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime is violating the explicit terms of the October 15, 2002 Memorandum of Understanding concerning the cessation of offensive military actions throughout Sudan. A steady flow of barges down the White Nile has brought an enormous augmentation of military equipment and manpower to Juba, the military center of Khartoum’s presence in Southern Sudan. Such redeployment of offensive military capabilities is clearly prohibited under the terms of the October 15 agreement, and must be condemned forcefully by the international community as the gravest of threats to the Machakos peace process. This ongoing augmentation of forces clearly threatens Kapoeta in Eastern Equatoria, and quite conceivably Yei in Western Equatoria. Similarly authoritative accounts indicate additional very large offensive deployments to Wau in Bahr el-Ghazal and to the Kassala region of northeastern Sudan. There is every reason to believe that if Khartoum is not confronted with this obvious and egregious violation of the cease-fire agreement, the regime will draw the obvious conclusion: agreements reached and signed at Machakos may also be violated with impunity. Or, Khartoum’s junta may spurn the Machakos process entirely and simply conclude that the last three months have given sufficient opportunity to resume the war on militarily more favorable terms.
Eric Reeves [January 9, 2003]
Immediate concern in Southern Sudan has focused in recent days on the extremely ominous outbreak of fighting near Tam, Leer, and Nhialdiu in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile. Conscripted and hastily trained recruits from Juba and Khartoum (often selected on the basis of racial identity) were thrown into battle in several serious outbreaks of violence; they were accompanied by more regularly trained and Khartoum-equipped militias. Efforts are underway now to confirm the number of persons newly displaced by this renewed fighting, but all preliminary estimates run to the thousands. Khartoum may have begun to reveal its commitment to military victory rather than diplomatic resolution with these additional cease-fire violations. It is certainly no accident that the fighting has occurred in oil-rich Western Upper Nile, and in particular along the oil road south of Bentiu (near Leer) and in the major extension avenue of oil development in Concession Block 4 (south of Kaikang). Consolidation of military control of this part of Western Upper Nile is of the highest strategic significance for Khartoum.
But the clearest indication of Khartoum’s military, as opposed to diplomatic, ambitions is the deployment of many scores of barges down the Nile to Juba, where very substantial forces have been put in place, with no end of military build-up in sight. Newly deployed equipment includes many T-55 tanks, artillery, and other offensive equipment. Numerous accounts, some including photographic evidence, from various sources working in Southern Sudan and from the SPLM/A, cohere to make for an unambiguous picture of the scale and offensive potential of this growing force.
It is in this light that we should see Khartoum’s very recent contemptuous treatment of the resumption date for the Machakos talks; for the military build-up at Juba and other locations may signal a larger contempt for the whole Machakos process (see Agence France-Presse report, January 8, 2003). Certainly the depth of Khartoum’s commitment to the Machakos process has been an open question since the regime’s (apparently) historically significant agreement to the right of the people of South Sudan to hold a self-determination referendum (Machakos Protocol, July 20, 2002).
Some have held that “engagement” at Machakos has always been an expedient measure by Khartoum, and that the agreement on the right of self-determination would inevitably be abandoned or undermined at a future date; others have believed that though exceedingly difficult issues would have to be negotiated, with painful compromises on both sides, the singular nature of the opportunity at Machakos would allow a just peace to emerge.
But the build-up in the Juba area, with clear offensive military implications, obliges a recalibration of the odds of diplomatic success. For the open and consequential violation of the October 15 agreement, meeting to date with no significant international response, surely influences Khartoum’s assessment of what Machakos represents. Every day that passes without a clear and forceful response to the ongoing and egregious violation of the October 15 agreement is another signal to Khartoum that this agreement, like the countless past agreements it has abrogated or ignored, has no real significance, entails no real commitment, and can be violated without consequence. There could be no more dangerous signal to be sending to Machakos.
It is possible that Khartoum feels that it is simply strengthening its position at the negotiating table by means of military threat. But this is as diplomatically unfair to the people of the South as the re-emergence of fighting would be disastrous for the towns most clearly threatened by the offensive build-up (including not only Kapoeta and Yei, but most consequentially Rumbek, by way of attack from Wau). A just peace cannot be built on military threats growing out of a violation of this most significant cease-fire agreement. For it must be remembered that the SPLM/A commitment to the cease-fire accord of October 15 represented an historic departure from a previous insistence that a meaningful cease-fire could come only after a comprehensive peace agreement had been negotiated. With the massive offensive military build-up at Juba, during a “cease-fire,” we are now seeing all too clearly why the SPLM/A adopted this sense of negotiating priority.
Time for re-shaping Khartoum’s sense of its obligations at Machakos is rapidly expiring. Despite the abundance of optimism about the process that comes from various quarters in the international community, the mood in South Sudan is grim. Though there is deep, indeed passionate hope for peace, there are also many expressions of grave and increasingly justified skepticism. The one point of agreement in all quarters, within and outside of Sudan, is that the Machakos process represents the best hope for peace in almost 20 years of war. If that opportunity is squandered for lack of international will to confront Khartoum over its serious and ongoing violation of the cease-fire agreement, if the Machakos process collapses because of the intransigence of a militarily emboldened Khartoum regime, the ensuing fighting will be the most destructive of the war. The blood of the Southern Sudanese—primarily innocent civilians—will be on the hands of those who stood idly by at this most critical juncture in the search for a just and lasting peace.