Deeply ominous new reports from the ground in southern Sudan, as well as aerial intelligence, make clear that Khartoum continues to be in highly consequential violation of two recent and important agreements negotiated under the auspices of the Machakos peace process. For despite agreeing to halt work on the heavily militarized road south of Bentiu (leading to Leer, and ultimately Adok on the Nile River), roadwork on a key spur to this corridor of oil development continues aggressively. The spur leading to the Rienk oil field (N 08 50, E 30 05) is the site of intense activity, activity that is displacing more civilians and preventing others from returning. This is a violation of the two February 4, 2003 agreements that Khartoum signed under the auspices of the Machakos peace process. Moreover, there has been no rollback of Khartoum’s ten new military garrisons on the Bentiu-Adok road, despite the clear stipulation in the February 4 agreements that this be done. Finally, reports from humanitarian organizations on the ground indicate a continued movement of barges down the Nile River south of Bor, almost certainly carrying military equipment in violation of the October 15, 2002 cease-fire agreement (previous aerial photography has definitively established that barges were carrying military equipment; as a result Khartoum is now covering barge contents more carefully). This must be analyzed in conjunction with a very large increase in Antonov cargo flights into the already greatly augmented military garrison town of Wau, also reported by highly authoritative sources on the ground in southern Sudan. These are not violations in the past tense; they are occurring right now. Khartoum is failing to observe the key terms of the October 15, 2002 “Memorandum of Understanding Between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army on Resumption of Negotiations on Peace in Sudan” (the MOU), as well as the February 4, 2003 “Addendum” to the October 15 “Memorandum of Understanding” (the Addendum). This continues Khartoum’s pattern of serial violation of all agreements signed over the last fourteen months.
Eric Reeves [May 12, 2003]
Northampton, MA 01063
The October 15, 2002 MOU and the February 4, 2003 “Addendum” and “Joint Communiqu” are daily becoming less meaningful, even as they reveal Khartoum’s continuing contempt for all commitments made since the March 2002 agreement that created the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team—grounded by Khartoum’s military command from March 7, 2003 to April 11, 2003, despite the agreement’s provision for “unhindered flight access.” The October 15, 2002 and February 4, 2003 agreements specifically stipulate that Khartoum and the SPLM/A will “cease supplying all areas with weapons and ammunition,” that they will “retain current military positions,” that they will “refrain from occupation of new areas,” that they will “refrain from any acts of violence or other abuse on the civilian population,” that Khartoum will “suspend work on the Bentiu-Adok Road until the final, comprehensive Peace Agreement is signed,” and that the parties will “take immediate steps to ensure that any location/s taken over by any party in violation to the [October 15] MOU since the MOU came into effect on 17th October 2002 are immediately restored to the party that had control over such location/s prior to the violation.”
Accompanying the Addendum was a “Joint Communiqu,” also of February 4, 2003, declaring that the parties will “take all necessary steps to effect the immediate voluntary return of the civilian population of Western Upper Nile to their homes areas and villages.” Though Khartoum is presently violating every one of these terms of agreement, it is nonetheless paying no price, nor is it receiving significant criticism. Even though talks have now resumed in Machakos, it remains impossible to see how any newly negotiated agreement will have meaning if past agreements continue to prove so inconsequential. None of these violation issues—not one—has been addressed by the US State Department in its recent report on Sudan (per the Sudan Peace Act), nor have the issues figured meaningfully in any of the public statements by the Machakos mediators, including chief negotiator General Lazaro Sumbeiywo.
The rainy season has now begun, with intense afternoon and evening rains in many areas. This no doubt accounts for the intensity of the construction activity at the Rienk oil site, some 15 kilometers west of the main Bentiu-Adok oil road, and well south of Bentiu. Dozens of heavy equipment vehicles are working on the oil site itself, as well as the road connecting Rienk to the main Bentiu-Adok oil road. The clear aim by Malaysia’s Petronas and Austria’s OMV is to bring the Rienk field on line as soon as possible, whatever the consequences for the indigenous population—or the peace process.
Similarly, the oil road system west of Bentiu is also seeing intense construction activity. The road from Mayom to Bentiu is especially active, and there are strong indications that the road presently leading from Mayom to Wankei (the new base for the notorious militia commander Peter Gadet) will be extended to Tam. It was in the Tam area that Khartoum launched its fiercest attacks in the January 2003 offensive. (This was the offensive that so massively violated the October 15, 2002 cease-fire MOU as to require the February 4, 2003 “Addendum,” the figleaf for Khartoum’s military actions). The relentless, strategically significant move south by militarized oil development efforts directly violates the October 15 MOU and the February 4 agreements, and makes it difficult to imagine that Khartoum has any real intention to negotiate a just peace.
Instead, the Machakos process appears, perversely, to have been fashioned by Khartoum into an exquisitely timed mechanism for military redeployments, for the extension of militarized oil construction, and for the consolidation of overall military strategic advantage, especially in the Juba area (threatening Yei), in the Bentiu area (epicenter of the oil region), and in Wau (which directly threatens the key town of Rumbek). Khartoum may now collapse the Machakos process at any time, on any pretext, and will have gained immense military advantage since the October 15, 2002 cease-fire agreement. The peace process is most advantageously collapsed in late summer, just before the advent of the next dry season, which favors Khartoum’s heavy conventional and armored forces.
If Khartoum has indeed chosen war over peace, the regime’s strategy will most likely be to continue its recalcitrance on any of several essential issues (security arrangements, status of the three contested areas, interim governance arrangements)—and either allow the mediators to declare “failure” at some point in deadlocked negotiations or simply declare the “failure” itself. It is all too easy to imagine the obscene disingenuousness with which such a declaration will be made—a claim that the southern opposition was not willing to “compromise,” or that the positions of the two parties were “too far apart to reconcile,” or indeed any other shameless excuse that seems diplomatically most advantageous.
What will be the response of the international community to such a flouting of this singular chance to make peace? Sadly, we can best gauge this by looking at the response to Khartoum’s past intransigence during the peace process, by reflecting on the lack of progress since the July 2002 Machakos Protocol—or by considering the expedient silence on the part of the US State Department and others in refusing to hold Khartoum responsible for the regime’s violations of previous agreements. Present violations in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile, and in redeploying military assets, are significant in themselves; but they are most ominous in what they reveal of Khartoum’s contempt for the Machakos process and those nominally committed to that process.
The chances for reversing this slide toward a catastrophic renewal of conflict are diminishing daily.