February 17, 2004
Peace talks resumed today between Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A)—more than three weeks after the regime cynically contrived to force a suspension of the talks. Left on the table at the time was a completed, but unsigned, agreement on two of the three disputed areas (Southern Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains; the status of the third area, Abyei, remains far from resolution). We may know very quickly whether the regime is intent on making progress or—as the preponderance of evidence now suggests—is simply using the Naivasha peace talks for expedient purposes. For if there is no signature immediately forthcoming, on an agreement that was fully negotiated (indeed re-negotiated to comply with specific NIF demands), then it will be clear that the regime is simply buying time for military advantage.
Indeed, all the outstanding issues—not only the remaining contested area of Abyei but the details of a final power-sharing agreement (including the status of the national capital)—could easily be resolved with real political will to do so on Khartoum’s part. In the more than one and a half years since the signing of the Machakos Protocol (July 2002), all the issues have been fully discussed, the two parties understand full well each other’s views, and it is time for hard political decisions, not the dilatory rehearsal of negotiating positions. Chief IGAD mediator Lazaro Sumbeiywo said as much today: “I would have wished [the parties] could move faster than they have. The problem is they are not making decisions” (Reuters, February 17, 2004).
Tragically, the only real political decision Khartoum has made is to pursue war in Darfur, attempting to crush the military insurgency that has emerged out of years of marginalization, neglect, and abuse at the hands of the regime. In the process Khartoum continues to exacerbate what has become the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis. Moreover, Khartoum’s characteristic habits of bad faith and prevarication are again conspicuously on display in Darfur. For last week’s promise of humanitarian access by NIF President Omer Beshir, and today’s statement by the NIF humanitarian affairs minister that the humanitarian aid response is now “satisfactory,” are empty and false. Access has been granted only to areas that Khartoum wishes the international community to see and serve, even as huge numbers of civilians are deliberately denied all humanitarian aid.
For example, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Mdecins Sans Frontires (MSF) has today declared that humanitarian access in Darfur remains “extremely limited,” and that the organization’s field teams have recently observed “catastrophic mortality rates among the internally displaced populations [of Darfur]” (UN Integrated Regional Information Services, February 17, 2004).
In responding to the NIF regime’s promise of humanitarian access to Darfur (made expediently the day before the arrival of a senior US delegation in Khartoum), Refugees International has been even more emphatic (again from the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks):
“‘There is absolutely no access to any place, no humanitarian access,’ said the advocacy group Refugees International, quoting an agency trying to bring supplies to Darfur. ‘Things are not changing at all. If they are changing, they are changing for the worse.'” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, February 16, 2004; see fuller account of Darfur crisis below)
Resolute intransigence and cruelty, so destructively in evidence in Darfur, must be seen as the most deeply defining features of the NIF regime, and thus the greatest obstacles to securing a true and just peace in Naivasha.
The Naivasha peace talks have now missed several deadlines for the completion of an agreement; indeed, they have extended even beyond the time-frame for an agreement that Khartoum itself has announced. A clear, reasonable, and absolutely firm deadline must be set for completion of a final agreement in this present round of talks. The alternative is to allow all leverage from the US Sudan Peace Act to be dissipated. For if the present round of talks (scheduled to go to March 16, 2004) ends without a final agreement, the resumption of a subsequent round of talks would not occur until April 2004, the month in which President Bush must determine (per the terms of the Sudan Peace Act) whether the parties are negotiating in good faith. Beyond this lies the political chaos of the American electoral season, and an all too likely loss of policy focus on Sudan.
But as important as it is to set a deadline in order to forestall the possibility of Khartoum’s endlessly delaying a completed agreement, it is equally important that this deadline not be allowed to become a final incentive for the regime to remain intransigent. Lead IGAD mediator General Lazaro Sumbeiywo and the “troika” countries (Norway, the UK, and the US) must be prepared to arbitrate issues on which no further negotiated progress can be made. For of course Khartoum can always arbitrarily select an issue or point of dispute and refuse any compromise, this as a way of collapsing the talks.
At the same time, the mechanisms for implementation of the agreement must be clear, and a number of smaller outstanding issues should be fully settled: there can be no room for differing interpretations of the terms of a final agreement. To that end, the negotiators should work to eliminate ambiguities and lacunae at several points in both the security arrangements agreement (September 2003) and the wealth-sharing agreement (January 2004). As a number of analysts have pointed out, there is great potential for trouble if a final document can be read differently by Khartoum and the SPLM.
Here the absence, for example, of a realistic treatment of the issue of land ownership in the wealth-sharing agreement is quite troubling. Moreover, there are several problems or lacunae in the treatment of oil contracts, northern oil revenues, and oil revenue distribution. So also with water resources; this is especially worrisome with the prospect of serious regional disputes over water and the growing demand for a re-negotiated international agreement on the Nile waters. Important as these issues are, however, and as desirable as their resolution may be, nothing can be allowed to prolong the talks beyond a clearly established deadline.
Of course the key question, as it has been all along, is whether Khartoum truly wants peace—whether it intends to make a peace agreement succeed, or simply have such an agreement serve as the expedient conclusion to talks that the regime never intended to see produce a true peace, one that is both just and sustainable. Opportunities, large and small, will abound for the regime to renege, should a final agreement actually be signed. One distinctly likely strategy will be for Khartoum to sign an agreement, and then begin immediately chipping away at its integrity with a series of small reneging actions that have large cumulative effects, especially in compromising the agreement on security arrangements.
Khartoum may, for example, unreasonably delay troop redeployments from the southern garrison towns to northern Sudan. If the regime takes full advantage of the two and a half-year time-frame contemplated for this redeployment, and declares it won’t begin to redeploy until the approach of the two and a half-year mark, this will undermine the effectiveness of the contemplated Joint Integrated Units that are supposed to replace them. Indeed, funding of accelerated redeployment and demobilization of Khartoum’s troops presently in southern Sudan should be one of the highest priorities for the international community if it truly wishes to stay engaged with the arduous process of making peace in Sudan a reality.
Khartoum may also redeploy its forces in southern Sudan not to the north but to the contested areas of Southern Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains, with clear and threatening strategic implications. This would run deeply counter to the spirit of the Agreement on Security Arrangements, but there is evidence that Khartoum is contemplating just such a move, depending on the outcome of conflict in Darfur.
Another possibility for Khartoum to renege consequentially on security arrangements might take the form of refusing to disarm its various militia allies in southern Sudan. The agreement of September 2003 stipulates only that:
“The parties agree to address the status of other armed groups in the country with the view of achieving comprehensive peace and stability in the country and to realize full inclusiveness in the transition process.” (Section 7, “Agreement on Security Arrangements During the Interim Period,” Naivasha, Kenya, September 25, 2003)
In order to forestall such potent threats to a nascent peace, the international community must commit much more fully and urgently to the task of readying a peace support operation under UN auspices. This alone will give true meaning to the hard-won Agreement on Security Arrangements. Significantly, Khartoum has already tested international resolve on this particular issue: State Foreign Minister Najeeb al-Khair Abdel Wahah declared, in response to Colin Powell’s assertion that 8,000 to 10,000 international peace monitors would be needed in Sudan, that the regime “disagreed with US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s assessment” and “‘prefers that the responsibility for keeping the peace shall be confined to the Sudanese'” (Agence France-Presse, February 8, 2004).
Disturbingly, this has gone unrebuked by those countries most deeply involved in the Machakos/IGAD peace talks. This in turn has not gone unnoticed by Khartoum. Moreover, Sa’id Khatib, an official spokesman for the regime, very recently lied shamelessly in declaring that:
“there had been no consultations at any level of the peace process on the need for peacekeepers. ‘This is the first time the peacekeepers issue is arising. It has never come up in the peace process itself that there is any need for peacekeepers in Sudan after the final agreement,’ he said. [ ] ‘This issue [of peacekeepers] did not arise from the IGAD process, from the UN, or from the US observers in the peace process itself.'” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, February 10, 2004).
Of course Khartoum is well aware that belated but significant UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) planning for a UN peace support operation has been underway since November of 2003. Indeed, Khartoum was consulted on various aspects of the peace support operation, as were the SPLM and other regional actors. These consultations included not only Khartoum’s political figures, but military and security authorities as well. The claim by Sa’id Khatib that there “there had been no consultations at any level of the peace process on the need for peacekeepers” is simply and conspicuously a lie. But again, it continues to be a lie unrebuked, and Khartoum has noted this carefully.
Another point of vulnerability in any peace agreement will be the potentially explosive tensions that will result from a massive number of returning displaced persons to southern Sudan. It is likely that in the first six months alone following a peace agreement more than 1 million people will be returning to a southern Sudan that has been ravaged by decades of war. Without adequate emergency transitional aid, far more than has been readied by the international community, local outbreaks of fighting may result from food insecurity, lack of access to resources, and lack of agricultural opportunities. As Sudan Focal Point has recently stressed (January 2004 Briefing), humanitarian organizations have not yet begun to plan for this impending crisis in a serious way; nor have international funds been released for the many projects (water bore-hole drilling, household kits, seeds and tools, cattle re-stocking and vaccination) that will require immediate initiation on the signing of any peace agreement.
The prospect of a war-ravaged southern Sudan in turmoil, unable to cope with a flood of returning displaced persons and increasing violence, may be precisely what Khartoum wishes for in order to find a pretext for abrogating the terms of the agreement on security arrangements. It will be the deepest moral scandal if Khartoum is allowed to use such a pretext because of international slowness in providing transitional assistance. And to the extent that funds for such emergency aid are being kept back out of a misguided sense of providing future “incentives,” such thinking is callous beyond description, given the urgency of readily predictable human need. If there is no immediate effort to commit substantial resources for construction/re-construction, as well as short-term emergency food and medical needs, a human disaster of huge proportions may be the first significant effect of a peace agreement.
Though the international response to Darfur has risen in profile, there is far too much evidence that this response is still dramatically inadequate, both at the level of humanitarian action and in terms of diplomatic pressure on Khartoum. It is certainly clear that at present the regime feels no real pressure to enter into peace negotiations, under meaningful international auspices, with the insurgency groups (the Sudan Liberation Army [SLA] and the Justice and Equality Movement [JEM]). Until such peace negotiations begin, the war will clearly continue and indeed gives strong evidence of accelerating, both in human destruction and direct military conflict. Amnesty International declared in a press release issued today that despite the claim by NIF President Omer Beshir (the Darfur insurgency has been “crushed” [BBC, February 9, 2004]), fighting remains intense:
“Amnesty International continues to receive details of horrifying attacks against civilians in villages by government warplanes, soldiers and government-aligned militia.” (Press Release [London], February 17, 2004)
Khartoum’s intransigence on humanitarian access, access promised a week ago by Beshir in a letter to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), is equally clear. The NIF regime refused on February 11, 2004 to attend talks on humanitarian issues, including access, to have taken place under the distinguished auspices of the Henry Dunant Center for Humanitarian Dialogue (Geneva). This was despite the announced willingness of both insurgency groups to do so. Moreover, despite Beshir’s expediently timed letter to OCHA—it was delivered the day before the arrival of a high-level US delegation, one that Khartoum knew would certainly raise the issue—access remains woefully inadequate, and humanitarian groups indicate privately that travel permits are still being denied in ways that are clearly, directly governed by the regime’s military actions and ambitions.
There are a series of UN and wire reports from today and yesterday worth examining collectively in attempting to ascertain whether there has been any meaningful improvement in access—and whether this improvement is likely to continue, or slowly wither away, or become fully manipulated by Khartoum for military purposes.
As noted above, Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has today spoken of “extremely limited” humanitarian access, even as it has recently observed “catastrophic mortality rates” among the internally displaced populations of Darfur. MSF also found severe child malnutrition, a sure harbinger of even greater catastrophe ahead. Refugees International declared more strenuously, that “there is absolutely no access to any place, no humanitarian access. Things are not changing at all. If they are changing, they are changing for the worse.”
Significantly, Mukesh Kapila, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, today told the BBC that primarily because “aid convoys were still being attacked by [Khartoum’s Arab] militias,” “it was still too dangerous for aid to be taken into Darfur by road, despite the Government opening humanitarian corridors last week for access” (BBC, February 17, 2004). This is further evidence that the claim by Beshir to have “crushed” the insurgency groups in Darfur is but another conspicuous lie, one meant primarily to obscure the urgent need for peace talks. Other reports from the region reaching this writer, as well as statements by spokesmen for the SLA and JEM, make clear that there has been no significant diminishment in the violence.
For this reason the UN has been forced to commit, at least in the near term, to very expensive airlifts of humanitarian aid. The Associated Press reports today that:
“UN agencies began urgently airlifting relief supplies into eastern Chad and western Sudan on Tuesday to help more than 600,000 Sudanese lacking food, water and medical supplies because of fighting, private aid agencies said. [ ] The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said a large cargo plane was beginning daily flights to deliver plastic sheeting and other equipment to build refugee camps for the Sudanese. [ ] The World Food Program has begun airlifting food to the refugees, a spokesman in Rome said. The first flight carried 13 tons of [food this past weekend]” (Associated Press, February 17, 2004)
But there is an ominous feature to these operations, whether by air or land, that has not yet been fully acknowledged: as Khartoum concentrates internally displaced persons into ever larger camps, near the major towns it controls, the regime is thereby serving its own military ambitions. For as the populations in these camps are concentrated in rapidly increasing numbers—both by military force and the availability of desperately needed food, medicine, and shelter— Khartoum calculates that these populations can no longer aid the insurgency movements with manpower, intelligence, or agricultural production. Moreover, reports reaching this writer directly from Darfur make clear that if civilians do not report to these camps—now appropriately labeled “concentration camps”—they will be subject to military attack, either by Antonov bombers or the Arab militia allies of Khartoum, the Janjaweed. Versions of this tactic have been in evidence in southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains for years in the form of so-called “peace camps.”
The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks reported yesterday briefly on this in citing reports from aid agencies:
“Some aid agencies have accused the government of deliberately directing food into urban areas, so that people are drawn out of the countryside to get food in the cities, where they are more easily managed by government troops, according to Refugees International.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, February 16, 2004)
This is certainly borne out by reports from el-Fasher, Nyala, Kutum, and Zalingei, both in private reports from humanitarian organizations as well as sources in these urban areas. There is a good deal of evidence in the public domain as well. Last week the UN’s Integrated Regional Information Networks reported that:
“The numbers of civilians displaced within Darfur have increased dramatically since December as militias working alongside the Sudanese army appear to have been given a carte blanche to rape and kill civilians and to loot and burn villages to the ground, say observers. The largest concentration of displaced is currently around Kutum, northern Darfur, where numbers have risen from 38,000 in November to 60,000.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, February 9, 2004)
But just today the UN World Food Program (WFP) has reported that the population in the Kutum camp has grown to 96,000 (WFP Press Release [Rome], February 17, 2004). MSF reports that in Murnei (75 kilometers southeast of al-Geneina) 10,000 newly displaced persons have arrived in the last few days alone (Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres Press Release [New York], February 17, 2004). This explosive growth is a measure both of how desperate the humanitarian situation is in Darfur as well as Khartoum’s increasingly relentless displacement and subsequent urban concentration of civilian populations.
In short, humanitarian access as it has now been granted by Khartoum will most clearly serve the regime’s campaign of scorched-earth warfare in the rural areas of Darfur. This cannot be an argument against providing all possible humanitarian aid under the circumstances that presently obtain: with more than 1,000 civilians dying weekly, with “catastrophic mortality rates” (MSF), with severe malnutrition growing more evident among children, and with steadily growing food insecurity, humanitarian aid must be delivered with all possible urgency.
But there must be no acquiescence in Khartoum’s transparent manipulation of humanitarian access, nor acceptance of its vicious mendacity in characterizing aid delivery. Just today, for example, Khartoum’s Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs Mohammed, Yusuf Abdallah, declared that “humanitarian operations ‘are going on satisfactorily, particularly after opening relief routes on Monday'” (EUBusiness Wire, February 17, 2004). This ghastly misrepresentation of the truth, as reported by every aid organization operating in Darfur or along the Chad-Darfur border, is all too clear an indication of how little commitment there is in Khartoum to truth or the alleviation of vast human suffering and destruction.
This is the larger context in which to view the resumption of peace talks in Naivasha. No reasonable hopes for peace can be uninformed by a clear and sober view of the brutal cruelty represented by the NIF regime, its long history of bad faith in respecting agreements, and its willingness to resort to lies and expediency at every opportunity given.
The international community, so painfully tentative in its responses to the catastrophe in Darfur, continues to give far too little evidence of understanding these most basic of realities of the National Islamic Front regime—both in Khartoum and in Naivasha.
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