“Machakos Peace Process Staggers Under Pressing Deadlines,
Growing Burden of Policy Expediency”
The peace talks underway at Nairobi/Machakos (Kenya) seem deeply imperiled on several counts, despite the optimism emanating from some quarters. Most consequentially, the present negotiations over the contested “three areas” (Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile, and Abyei) are badly deadlocked on issues of substance, with the National Islamic Front showing no signs of compromising. Troublingly, there are signs that the US and others may be edging toward supporting Khartoum on the issue, and this would create a very serious dilemma for the SPLM/A leadership. For if the SPLM negotiating team yields to pressure to abandon the three areas, this would create deep—perhaps fatal—rifts within the broader ranks of those who have been allied in resisting Khartoum’s tyranny: the regime is the clear winner in this situation. Alternatively, if the SPLM/A resists pressures to abandon these intensely distressed areas to Khartoum’s brutal rule, this may very well earn them criticism for “obstructing” progress on the peace process: Khartoum wins again. This diplomatic crisis arises as the US continues to come up short in renegotiating a renewal of the mandate for the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team, at least one that gives real meaning to the various signed agreements of February 4, 2003. The cease-fire of October 15, 2002 also needs renewal, even as it more urgently needs enforcing: Khartoum continues to violate with impunity the major provisions of this cease-fire agreement. For example, desperately needed humanitarian access to Southern Blue Nile has been delayed by Khartoum for over a month, and comes now only with a dangerous precedent that allows the regime to determine point of entry for UN humanitarian aircraft. On another front, the provisions of the Sudan Peace Act are being addressed largely perfunctorily by the State Department as it approaches the Act’s April 21 reporting deadline, and a “passing” grade to Khartoum seems assured, despite months of intransigence and the many instances of the regime’s impeding humanitarian access. This will give Khartoum six additional months of breathing room before the next required Presidential finding. Having gained so much—despite ongoing and consequential violation of various agreements—the regime is increasingly likely to play out the diplomatic string in Machakos, waiting for the next dry season to begin the military offensive for which it continues to deploy forces.
Eric Reeves [March 14, 2003]
Northampton, MA 01063
Honest assessments of the state of diplomatic play around the Machakos peace process continue to be hard to come by. The mediators have understandably put a clamp on public pronouncements by the parties on day-to-day progress and discussions. But there is much that is nonetheless evident—indeed, too often self-evident.
It is widely known that the contentious issue of the “three areas” (the Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile, and Abyei) has been a major sticking point as negotiations have resumed in Nairobi/Machakos. Despite the compelling claims of all these areas to the same right of self-determination that was recognized for South Sudan in the Machakos Protocol, despite the professed wish of the people of these areas to be represented at the peace talks by the SPLM/A, and despite the terrible suffering and cruel marginalizing they have endured under Khartoum’s brutal rule, Khartoum has remained intransigent in negotiating their status. Dismayingly, this seems to be the issue on which Khartoum finds most support, at least implicitly, from the US and the international community. If this translates into pressure on the SPLM/A to abandon the three areas, the result would be a major diplomatic victory for Khartoum, and a debilitating defeat for the unity of the SPLM/A and its efforts to represent all the marginalized peoples of southern Sudan and adjacent areas in northern Sudan.
Indeed, if the mediators exert unreasonable pressure on the SPLM/A to abandon the people of the three areas, there could well be a splintering of the opposition to Khartoum’s tyranny—a division within the ranks of those who have agreed to be represented by the SPLM/A in the Machakos process. This in turn runs the risk of making negotiations much more difficult, as the mediators would then confront not a unified opposition movement but various and in some ways competing constituencies.
For just these reasons, Khartoum may decide to persist with the contested areas issue as a way of stalling progress on other difficult issues—or the regime may recur to the issue at a later stage, with the implicit threat of collapsing the talks at any point in which real concessions are required of them.
It is incumbent upon the mediators and the international community to resist a narrow geographical construal of the issue of the three areas, falling back simplistically on the boundaries of 1956. As the leadership in the Nuba Mountains area has insisted, for example, the critical issue is not geography per se that confronts those at Machakos; rather, the essential issue is the political and cultural realities of the people who are geographically located within the Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile, and Abyei. Machakos cannot be a success if it simply ignores the fact that these people have been politically and militarily allied with the SPLM/A and have determined that they will be represented by the Movement at Machakos.
On another front, Khartoum has also succeeded in impeding humanitarian access to Southern Blue Nile province for over a month. By means of various stalling techniques and outright prevarication, the regime has delayed the start of aid to desperately needy people who have heretofore been beyond the reach of the UN’s Operation Lifeline Sudan. Even with aid now arriving, however, it has come with a very large price in the form of the precedent set by the final terms of the access agreement. For the UN has been forced to allow Khartoum to dictate the terms of access for the UN’s Buffalo aircraft—the same aircraft to which the regime has recently denied access in highly consequential fashion in South Sudan. Over the years such precedents have ended up working to create extremely serious problems in humanitarian aid deliver. We may be witness to a reprise of this awful experience with the Southern Blue Nile experiment.
The deliberate delay in humanitarian access for Southern Blue Nile is of course only one of the ways in which Khartoum has violated its commitment in the October 15, 2002 cease-fire agreement to “unimpeded humanitarian access to all areas [of Sudan] and for people in need.” There have been many others. This should, in turn, have some bearing on the Presidential finding required by the Sudan Peace Act (due April 21, 2003). The Sudan Peace Act stipulates that the President must “determine and certify in writing to the appropriate congressional committees” an answer to a critical question: “Has [the Government of Sudan] unreasonably interfered with humanitarian efforts”? Clearly it has, and those who are concerned that such barbarism will resume on its previous massive scale must scrutinize very carefully the language that the President, through the State Department’s Africa Bureau, submits to Congress.
Congress for its part has clear oversight responsibilities, having passed the Sudan Peace Act virtually unanimously last October. The appropriate committees should ask tough questions not only about humanitarian access, and the State Department’s characterization of such access, but also about the peace process itself. There should be a thorough review of what has happened since last July and the signing of the Machakos Protocol. Which side has been responsible for holding up further progress in the Machakos process? Who has been willing to make concessions, and what specifically are they? Who has and who hasn’t made good faith efforts to stake out reasonable positions, in formal position papers, on the key issues outstanding? Where has there been real progress since the Machakos Protocol? and where has it been merely superficial? Here again, the language submitted to Congress by the State Department’s Africa Bureau deserves the closest scrutiny, since it seems a foregone conclusion that Khartoum will be given a “passing” grade, with the implication that the regime has “resumed good faith negotiations” (Section 6 [b] of the Sudan Peace Act).
Finally, Congress should also scrutinize very carefully the ways in which another key provision of the Sudan Peace Act is addressed:
“The Secretary of State shall collect information about incidents which may constitute crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes, and other violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict in Sudan, including slavery, rape, and aerial bombardment of civilian targets.”
How fully will the State Department’s Africa Bureau have fulfilled this mandate? How fully will the very recent brutal attacks on civilians in Western Upper Nile figure in the assessment that is again to go the appropriate congressional committees? There is a good deal of evidence that the Africa Bureau at the State Department has not taken this obligation seriously enough. It says all too much that Laurel Miller, the State Department’s Deputy for Transitional Justice, Office of War Crimes Issues, has just arrived in Kenya, but has not and will not be able to obtain a visa from Khartoum to travel to southern Sudan. It is just as significant that there is no evidence that the State Department has expedited investigation of the evidently massive atrocity at Liang, Eastern Upper Nile. This terrible event, which occurred in April of last year, is distinguished in no small measure by the very substantial evidence collected recently by a US/Canadian team traveling in the area. A full report on the Liang incident—in which thousands of civilians may have been slaughtered—should clearly be part of the State Department’s report; it is not at all clear that it will.
The State Department must also bear a good deal of responsibility for the fact that there is as yet no negotiated renewal of the October 15, 2002 cease-fire agreement, though the SPLM/A has indicated its willingness to renew. The agreement expires on March 31, 2003. Nor has the State Department done nearly enough yet to see to it that the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT) mandate is renewed and with the expanded resources necessary to take on the additional mandates created by the February 4, 2003 Addendum to the cease-fire agreement. As a consequence, Khartoum’s ongoing violations of the cease-fire—both with militia and regular force attacks in Western Upper Nile and in offensive military redeployments—go insufficiently uninvestigated. There certainly has been no roll-back of the numerous military garrisons very recently constructed along the oil road south of Bentiu, a clear requirement of the February 4 agreement (the CPMT offers a detailed account of this violation in its March 9, 2003 interim report).
These grim realities in aggregate suggest just how far from effective policy formulation and oversight the State Department’s Africa Bureau has drifted in recent months. This clearly heightens the danger that Khartoum—which never loses its focus on what might create tactical or strategic advantage in negotiations—will succeed in transforming the Machakos process into a means of continuing to avoid making the concessions necessary for a just peace. As the military advantages of the status quo continue to accrue to the regime, the future of the people of South Sudan, the Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile, and Abyei comes to look ever more ominous. The catastrophic renewal of fighting that seems to be a matter of Khartoum’s choosing may not occur this dry season; but this says nothing about the terribly threatening future that lies on the other side of this coming summer.