July 16, 2003
While international attention is understandably focused on the increasingly endangered Sudan peace process, a variety of current and pressing threats to the people of Sudan have unfortunately been eclipsed. There has been a highly significant increase in severely repressive measures in Khartoum and Darfur; these are reported almost daily by Amnesty International, Sudanese Organized Against Torture, World Organization Against Torture, Sudanese Human Rights Group (Cairo), and Norwegian International Media Support (IMS), which noted in a recent report that “most people living in the north, including the capital Khartoum, had little or no access to independent information on the ‘terrifying humanitarian costs’ of the ongoing civil war in the south of the country” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 14, 2003). This latter report comes in the context of the Khartoum regime’s closing down the independent Khartoum Monitor (which had just resumed publishing after a two-month suspension).
Military activities in Eastern Upper Nile, clearly related to oil development, have also continued without any reporting from the US State Department, other countries involved in the peace process, or the US-led Civilian Protection Monitoring Team. Khartoum of course draws the obvious inference from such silence.
One particular and completely unreported development in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile threatens to accelerate further the already immense civilian displacement from areas near the oil road running south from Bentiu to Leer (and destined for Adok on the Nile). In the process of building the oil road, Khartoum’s military and the oil construction teams have moved a tremendous amount of earth. This has been consistently and deliberately deposited in such a way as to block streams, rivers, and culverts, with an inevitable effect: the indigenous population on one side of the blockages is subject to severe flooding and the population on the other side suffers from a lack of water (Since rains have been sparse this rainy season, the latter problem is a good deal more severe at present.) Both have highly destructive consequences for agriculture and cattle grazing. Moreover, fish are unable to move through the blockages, leaving the people on the downstream side without this key food resource.
It is not as if the consequences of interfering with the natural movement of water in southern Sudan are unknown. They were on spectacular display in the early 1980s during Khartoum’s effort to build the Jonglei Canal through the Sudd, the great swampy region of Upper Nile. The purpose was to straighten the course of the White Nile and thus decrease the very significant water evaporation that occurs as the river meanders through the Sudd—and thus to increase water supplies for northern Sudan and Egypt. Of course no consideration was given to the immense environmental impact of the Jonglei Canal, and its inevitable devastation of the Sudd ecology that is critical to the indigenous populations. Unsurprisingly, one of the first military actions of note during the current civil war was the destruction in 1984 of the key equipment to have been used in building the canal.
But on a smaller scale, equivalently destructive consequences from damming waterways can be observed along the oil road from Bentiu to Leer. This oil road has been heavily militarized along its almost entirely completed length (to Leer), with garrisons every five kilometers. Most of these garrisons were built after the October 15, 2002 agreement on a cessation of hostilities, and thus constitute clear violations of that agreement. The February 4, 2003 “Addendum” to the October 15 agreement stipulated specifically that military gains made/locations taken after the October 15 agreement were to be reversed; this requirement, which would entail dismantling most garrisons along the oil road, has been completely ignored by Khartoum . Road construction was also to have ceased “until the final, comprehensive Peace Agreement is signed”; this requirement has also been ignored.
The effects of obstructing rivers and streams—and only occasionally leaving hopelessly inadequate culverts (to protect the road itself)—have been especially severe in the area of the Mirmir garrison, built in December 2002, clearly after the October 15 agreement came into force. The two streams in the area have both been blocked and the displacement of the indigenous population has been made inevitable. Livestock either cannot be watered, or are at risk from flooding during the present rainy season. Agricultural cultivation is similarly imperiled. But Mirmir is not the only area where the problem is acute. Two areas further north have also been severely affected; and the effects from bridge construction on the oil road as it approaches Leer threaten to create just as significant a problem. Indeed, the problem exists to a greater or lesser degree for much of the length of the oil road.
The displacement of hundreds, if not thousands of additional families will result from this obscenely callous diverting and blocking of the water that is essential for the people of the area. One highly informed source estimates that 50,000 civilians were displaced by oil-road construction and militarization in 2002. The north-south oil road now itself poses an essentially impassable obstacle for people and cattle attempting to move east and west, and is thus a further instrument of civilian displacement. The earth moved into streams, rivers, and culverts from the construction process exacerbates yet further the destructive consequences for civilians.
Reports of these highly consequential water blockages have been known to the US-led Civilian Protection Monitoring Team for many weeks, and yet there has been no full investigation or report on this clear threat to civilian life and livelihood. Nor is it a case of these realities being reported by a single source: multiple and exceedingly reliable accounts have come from different sources who have been on the ground near the oil road and who have seen the effects of the water blockages. While the CPMT has seen fit to investigate the reported looting of poles from tukuls in the areas (June 12, 2003), it has done nothing about this vastly greater issue.
What accounts for this inaction by the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team? What accounts for the recent disastrously inadequate reports on reported civilian atrocities in Eastern Upper Nile by the CPMT? It becomes increasingly difficult to avoid the conclusion that CPMT has in effect been told by the US State Department to “stand down” during the present phase of the peace talks, a development that of course stands as a significant victory for Khartoum.
Here we should recall that the regime succeeded in delaying the full deployment of CPMT for well over half a year from the time the agreement creating the Team’s mandate was negotiated (March 2002); Khartoum then grounded CPMT from March 7 to April 11, 2003, clearly because of the success of CPMT (under previous leadership) in its January and February reporting on Khartoum’s military offensives in Western Upper Nile during this period; and now a feckless US State Department, which acquiesced in this previous delay and the March/April interference, has evidently given orders that nothing that might affect the peace talks should be reported in a timely fashion. This is indeed yet another victory for the regime.
For those skeptical about such a conclusion, it is worth noting the reported comments of US Special Envoy for Sudan, John Danforth, on arriving today in Cairo for his last trip to the region in his present diplomatic capacity. Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) reports today that Danforth, “assured the Egyptian side that the document presented by the IGAD was only a draft and was subject to further negotiations” (dpa, July 16, 2003). The point about “further negotiations” is of course true; but the characterization of the document tabled in what was to have been the climactic session of the Machakos process—“only a draft”—is deeply troubling. Moreover, if the goal of the comment was to “reassure” the Egyptians, we may reasonably wonder what US diplomatic priorities are. For Danforth’s comment (“it’s only a draft”) should also be seen in the ominous context of Khartoum’s request that, “Arab League chief Amr Mussa urge mediators from the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to withdraw its draft peace accord” (Agence France-Presse, July 14, 2003).
In short, Danforth’s words suggest that Khartoum’s bombast and threats have begun to have an effect on US thinking about how much to support the draft document presented by chief mediator Lazaro Sumbeiywo. This draft, it must be stressed, is a best consolidating effort to reach a just agreement that takes into consideration the interests of both parties. It is not a vague beginning point, but the culmination of a year’s worth of diplomacy, consultation, and a recent canvassing of Sudanese opinion—north and south—by General Sumbeiywo.
Even so, National Islamic Front chief strongman Omer Beshir “told Kenyan-based mediators they can ‘go to hell’ if they insist on pushing a draft peace settlement rejected by his negotiators” (Agence France-Presse, July 14, 2003), and further that “the mediators [must] ‘come up with a reasonable alternative, otherwise they have to dissolve the [draft peace accord] document in water and drink it'” (Agence France-Presse, July 14, 2003).
As recently suggested by this writer, such language may either be an extraordinary act of diplomatic brinksmanship—or the best evidence we have that Khartoum is simply not interested in making the only kind of peace that matters (and will endure)—a just peace. Thus the role of special envoy Danforth at the present moment must not be sow seeds of doubt about fundamental US commitment to the document Sumbeiywo has presented. His emphasis should be on what has gone into the crafting of this compromise document, not the degree to which it can be revised.
For as has been previously stressed, any capitulation to Khartoum’s strategy of diplomatic brinksmanship (if this is what is on display) will fatally compromise the whole Machakos process in the eyes of the SPLM/A. Though not happy with all in the draft document, the SPLM/A is clearly pleased to have secured what it views as the basis for a just peace. Southern constituencies will not settle for less than what has been secured in the draft peace accord on the key issues of security arrangements, the three contested areas, the status of the national capital, and power- and wealth-sharing.
What Danforth and the State Department must understand is that the people of southern Sudan are watching the Machakos talks very carefully, even as they are watching with dismay the utter contempt for them that is evidenced in such actions as the blocking of critical waterways in Western Upper Nile.
Those who think that a just peace can be made without taking a sober view of the realities and attitudes presently governing in Khartoum would seem ill-equipped to help at this critical moment
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