“Machakos at the Precipice: Khartoum Moves Sudan Towards War”
The ardent hopes for a successful Sudan peace process at Machakos (Kenya) now seem on the verge of being dashed, as Khartoum sounds more bellicose notes in public pronouncements and implicitly threatens to expand its already massive campaign of civilian destruction in Western Upper Nile. A collapse of the Machakos process will certainly see a resumption of war, with fighting more intense than any in the past 20 years of catastrophic human destruction. Khartoum now appears to be preparing the groundwork for such a collapse, which may occur in the very near future. Agence France-Presse reports today that the peace talks (presently at Karen, just outside Nairobi) “would have collapsed [yesterday] but for the presence of US observers, a mediator said” (AFP, January 29, 2003). But the US itself has come in for harsh criticism from Khartoum for daring to speak, even with excessive diplomatic caution, about the regime’s clear violations of the October 15 cease-fire agreement. And as reports continue to pour in from various sources in Western Upper Nile, the full nature of the Khartoum’s offensive strategy becomes ever clearer. Final clarification of the recent fighting around Leer also suggests that Khartoum is interested not in peace, but in securing oil exploration and production that will yield the revenues necessary for a final military victory.
Eric Reeves [January 29, 2003]
Northampton, MA 01063
In response to Monday’s US State Department noting of Khartoum’s various violations of the October 15, 2002 cessation of hostilities agreement, the regime has lashed out in characteristically, which is to say viciously, preposterous fashion. Agence-France Presse reports today that Khartoum has warned Washington that it is “jeopardising its role as a neutral arbiter in the Sudanese peace process after it expressed concern over reported ceasefire violations by government troops. ‘US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher should not have made this statement which could impair the US neutrality,’ Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail told reporters” (AFP, Jan 29, 2003). This is the peculiarly ironic context in which an IGAD mediator declared to Agence France-Presse that the Machakos talks (now being held at Karen outside Nairobi) “would have collapsed but for the presence of US observers” (AFP, Jan 29, 2003). If the US is somehow holding the process together, and yet is at the same time being set up by senior members of the National Islamic Front as “jeopardizing” its role as arbiter in the process, the process would seem to be susceptible of disintegration at any moment.
And such disintegration has been expected by many as variously ominous signs have appeared during the two-month hiatus between the end of the second round of Machakos talks and the scheduled beginning of the third round. These include: the lack of progress at the end of round two, which prompted a premature suspension; the lack of meaningful progress in any discussion of key issues during the interim; Khartoum’s various failures to appear for the start of talks, and its refusal to accept the mediators’ decision to place key geographical issues on the agenda; and most significantly, Khartoum’s clearly evident and highly consequential violations of the October 15 cease-fire agreement. The inexcusable belatedness of the State Department’s response to these violations does much to explain why it is only now clearly evident that the Machakos process is in a full-blown crisis.
For because Khartoum has paid no price for either its diplomatic intransigence over the last months, or for its massive offensive military build-up, it has been more than willing to string along the Machakos process. Military benefits have accrued only to Khartoum as the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army has observed with extraordinary discipline the cease-fire agreement, even as Khartoum’s offensive assets have been redeployed in very substantial fashion to Juba, Wau (Bahr el-Ghazal), Adok (Western Upper Nile), the Kassala region (northeast Sudan), and elsewhere. This redeployment has been carried out by means of Antonov transports and huge convoys of river barges down the Nile. Aerial surveillance photography is simply unambiguous in revealing these developments.
Indeed, the National Islamic Front’s foreign minister, Mustafa Ismail, has virtually acknowledged these redeployments, even if in characteristically disingenuous fashion. Agence France-Presse reports that Ismail yesterday declared:
“‘We anticipate the rebel movement is preparing international and local opinion for major operations,’ the foreign minister charged, adding that the government was aware of rebel concentrations in both east and south Sudan. ‘It is natural that the government prepares itself for the worst but we will not initiate an offensive,’ he said” (Agence France-Presse, January 29, 2003).
There is, of course, no evidence whatsoever of an SPLA offensive, and Ismail predictably offered none. Bald and mendacious assertion is the preferred means of public communication by Khartoum. But in the further declaration–“It is natural that the government prepares itself for the worst”–we can see an effort to explain away what are clearly offensive redeployments that constitute flagrant violations of the October 15 agreement.
The direct effect of these redeployments is to threaten Yei (from Juba), Rumbek (from Wau), and the oil regions of Western Upper Nile (from Adok and other places such as Bentiu and Mayom, whose military assets have also been substantially augmented). The entire international community could certainly have seen these developments if it had only chosen to look, but it has so far refused. The US State Department’s Africa Bureau, and Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Walter Kansteiner, have also refused until very recently to see or say the obvious: that these redeployments, as well as the extremely intense and destructive fighting in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile, violate the very cease-fire that the US pressured the SPLM/A to sign (for reasons now all too fully evident, the SPLM/A had always previously insisted that any cease-fire conclude a comprehensive peace agreement). This unconscionable belatedness is all too apt a sign of the inability of Kansteiner and the Africa Bureau to come to terms with the realities defining the National Islamic Front regime. The consequences for the people of South Sudan are likely to be catastrophic.
Even now, as details and reports from Western Upper Nile continue to emerge and offer greater and greater clarity, the suffering and destruction endured by innocent civilians over the last month is shocking in its intensity and scope. There are dozens of accounts from highly credible sources on the ground in southern Sudan that reveal the use of regular and militia military forces by Khartoum in attacks on civilians and humanitarian relief sites, as well as the continuing deployment of deadly helicopter gunships to accomplish the same savage tasks from the air. Many have been killed or wounded; many thousands have been displaced, and a great number of these have been displaced more than once. Food and water security, as well as medical treatment, are becoming ever more tenuous; humanitarian relief is being withdrawn in various places and may be terminated in large areas of Western Upper Nile altogether if present fighting continues to escalate.
The situation at Leer, which has finally become fully clear, gives a particularly instructive sense of the brutal ambitions animating Khartoum’s present military activities throughout oil-rich Western Upper Nile. Leer has a distinctly elongated form, running east/west; it has two airstrips, also running sequentially east/west. Khartoum’s garrison (called Payak) has for some time controlled the western end of the more westerly airport, while most of the town proper is built around the eastern end of the more easterly airstrip. Since last year most of Khartoum’s garrison has confined itself to its very westerly position.
Several days ago (January 26/27) this changed in ominous fashion. Khartoum moved into the remainder of Leer town with the aid of reinforcements from Mirmir. This is particularly significant since Khartoum has now completed the road from their significant garrison at Mirmir to the north side of Leer. There is thus a much greater likelihood that the all-weather road presently reaching to Rier from Bentiu can be extended to Leer, and from Leer 15 miles southeast to Adok, where Khartoum has deployed extensive military assets, tripling the size of the military base since the October ceases-fire went into effect.
Villages such as Thornyor, which have the misfortune of being in the path of this new road, will be destroyed. The many internally displaced persons who have fled to Thornyor will be forced to flee again, as will the modest humanitarian presence. Indeed, Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders-Holland has already evacuated five of its personnel from Thornyor (southeast of Leer and directly on the course of the new road) and Dablual (lying just southwest of Leer).
In the increasingly likely event that the Machakos process disintegrates, we can expect that fighting in the Leer area, as well as in the various locations west of Bentiu that have also seen heavy fighting, will be the first to explode into full-scale civilian destruction and clearances. This is what occurred in areas to the north of Leer during the construction of the all-weather road essential for oil development in Block 5a (the road now reaches to Rier and serves OMV of Austria and Lundin Petroleum of Sweden). Scorched-earth warfare is also what occurred earlier in the various oil concession areas north of Bentiu that are part of the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (China National Petroleum Company, Petronas of Malaysia, and Talisman Energy of Canada, which is in the process of selling its stake to India’s ONGC).
Of course other European nations are involved in oil development in southern Sudan, including the UK (by means of critical pipeline equipment supplied by Rolls Royce and Weir Pumps), Italy’s Agip (which has signed an agreement with Petronas), and France (through the purchase and annual renewal of massive concession rights in the south). Other nations are implicated by virtue of commercial deals with the regime, which are funded by or directly related to oil development. Siemens of Germany, for example, has begun building the world’s largest diesel-powered electrical generating plant outside Khartoum. The British/Italian firm Alenia Marconi has agreed to provide advanced radar equipment to Khartoum for deployment to Juba. Despite the ban on military sales to Khartoum (including dual-use equipment), this advanced radar system will provide highly intimidating radar coverage of most of South Sudan, and will certainly make it possible to guide MiG fighter aircraft to intimidate, or even destroy, humanitarian cargo planes traveling to Western Upper Nile or other regions where desperate populations can only be reached by air.
This vast network of oil development interests and commercial interests does far too much to explain why Khartoum’s outrages have met with silence from European nations. Little can be expected from countries like Malaysia and China—it thus falls to individual European nations, the EU, the United Nations, the IMF and World Bank, and other international bodies to recognize that this is not just another moment in Sudan’s twenty years of agony, but a true crisis. Southern Sudan stands at a precipice; and yet even as Khartoum appears on the verge of pushing these helpless people into an abyss of suffering and destruction, there is no meaningful response in evidence. Unless there is immediate and concerted action by the international community, history will record as a moment of utter moral failure.