November 11, 2003
The massive and growing humanitarian crisis in Darfur Province (northwestern Sudan) is not typically seen in the context of peace negotiations between Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime and the SPLM/A, representing southern Sudan and the country’s marginalized areas. And to be sure, it is important to note that the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) in Darfur is not directly related to the forces struggling against Khartoum in the south and other marginalized areas. What both conflicts have in common, however, is the refusal to accept any longer the Islamic fascism that has ruled Sudan for the last fourteen years.
At the same time, it is critically important to understand all that lies implicit in Khartoum’s present response to the human catastrophe in Darfur. We will then come much closer to seeing the nature of remaining obstacles in the Machakos/IGAD peace process, and the challenges that will follow immediately upon any peace agreement. This is especially true if we consider very recent and ominous militia movements in Upper Nile province, as well as inflammatory statements by NIF President Omer Beshir on the key outstanding issue in negotiations, the status of the three contested areas of Abyei, the Nuba Mountains, and Southern Blue Nile.
With all this in mind it may not be so difficult to understand why local observers in Khartoum are reporting that the mosques in the city are generating a greatly heightened rhetoric directed against a peace agreement. Though such an agreement seems increasingly likely to be reached in Kenya, Khartoum still seems to be preparing for a possible strategic collapsing of the peace talks—or perhaps a full-scale reneging on any actual signed agreement. There is in any event a good deal in recent days that bears close scrutiny and is cause for deep concern.
Strikingly, the US charge d’affaires in Khartoum—presently the ranking US diplomat in Sudan—was prevented from traveling to Darfur two days ago. Deutsche Presse Agentur (dpa) reports that the American Embassy in Sudan published a statement Sunday (November 9, 2003),
“expressing regret that the U.S. charge d’affaires in Sudan, Gerard Galluci, and other representatives of the Embassy and US AID [Agency for International Development] were prohibited from traveling to Nyala town in the South Darfur region of western Sudan. The statement said that Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC), a government establishment regulating the work of local and international relief organizations cancelled the trip despite the Ministry of Foreign Affairs granting permission to travel.” (Deutsche Presse Agentur, November 9, 2003)
This comes even as a number of reports from the UN are directly critical of the Khartoum regime for obstructing humanitarian access to Darfur. Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports:
“Sudan’s government is hampering an adequate response to an escalating humanitarian crisis in the war-ravaged Darfur region by reneging on a pledge to process aid workers’ travel permits speedily, the UN accused on Monday. ‘Some aid operations haven’t been able to start. Aid workers who are ready to go (to Darfur) are getting stuck,’ because their permit applications have not been turned around within a promised 24-hour period, Ben Parker, the Nairobi-based spokesperson for the UN’s Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Sudan, Mukesh Kapila said.” (Agence France-Presse, November 10, 2003)
A further statement yesterday from the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan notes:
“New regulations [from Khartoum] on travel permits that entered into force on 1 October 2003 have not been followed consistently. As a result, travel procedures remain slow and cumbersome and, in some cases, permission to visit affected areas is withheld.” Statement from UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan (issued Nairobi/Khartoum, November 10, 2003)
The statement continues by giving a sense of the vast dimensions of Darfur’s crisis:
“The number of displaced people continues to increase thanks to the escalation of armed conflict in the region since February 2003. The estimated 500,000 to 600,000 newly displaced people live in North, South and West Darfur. 70,000 people have sought refuge in Chad, and one million others have been affected by the war.” Statement from UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan (issued Nairobi/Khartoum, November 10, 2003)
The situation of many of these people is dire in the extreme: that the National Islamic Front regime should be manipulating humanitarian access for military advantage suggests all too clearly the manner of thinking of those who are presently negotiating with the SPLM/A in Kenya. And of course when the UN statement continues by giving a comparative sense of the disaster—
“The United Nations in Sudan warns that the situation in the Greater Darfur Region of western Sudan may emerge as the worst humanitarian crisis in the Sudan since 1998”—
the reference is ominous in the extreme. For 1998 was the year of the terrible famine in Bahr el-Ghazal Province, when Khartoum’s denial and manipulation of humanitarian access was the major factor in the death by starvation of perhaps 100,000 human beings. The unspeakable barbarism of denying and manipulating humanitarian aid for destructive purposes also tells far too much about the people representing the Khartoum regime in the Machakos/IGAD talks.
That a cease-fire agreement for Darfur has not resulted in a halting of attacks by Khartoum-backed Arab militias gives a clear warning about one of the central threats to any peace agreement between the SPLM/A and the National Islamic Front. Notably, a number of highly reliable regional sources are reporting on new militia activities by Khartoum-backed militias in the oil regions of Upper Nile. Humanitarian organizations have apparently been evacuated from Central Upper Nile because of the threat of militia activities—activities that may be related to efforts to secure more of the oil regions prior to the resumption of peace talks.
Khartoum may now have adopted a policy of using its militia forces before more of them return to the SPLM/A, as was the case last week with the return of Lam Akol and the SPLM-“United.” A number of other militia commanders are widely reported to be in active negotiations with the SPLM/A leadership about abandoning Khartoum as a possible peace agreement approaches; sensing the military implications of such losses, Khartoum may be intent on using those militias that remain dependent upon them for food, military supplies, and logistics. Given the number of dangerous flash points in Upper Nile Province, this is a highly risky policy, and one that clearly threatens the overall peace process.
In light of such evident willingness to threaten the peace process, it is no surprise that NIF President Omer Beshir recently declared to the paramilitary “Popular Defense Forces” that his regime would “never surrender the three areas [Abyei, Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile] at the center of a territorial dispute” (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, November 7, 2003). Speaking in El Obeid (Kordofan Province) Beshir was explicit about the Ngok Dinka enclave of Abyei, which was promised (but never granted) a self-determination referendum in the 1972 Addis Ababa peace accord:
“‘Abyei has never been part of Bahr al-Ghazal and will therefore remain part of Kordofan.'” (Agence France-Presse, November 9, 2003)
Beshir went on to declare of the notoriously brutal PDF that, “the Popular Defence Forces are the sole pillars and cornerstone of the government of national salvation revolution” (Deutsche Presse Agentur, November 7, 2003). For “government of national salvation revolution” we may quite accurately read “the Islamist project of the National Islamic Front” regime that Beshir heads. Such inflammatory talk may, of course, be mainly for domestic consumption; but it hardly makes more credible Beshir’s declaration in a television interview that peace talks could resume prior to the December 1, 2003 date presently scheduled (Associated Press, Cairo, November 10, 2003).
In the same interview with the pan-Arab television network Al-Arabiya, Beshir also revealed an unwillingness to accept a peacekeeping force to bolster any Sudan peace agreement:
“Concerning the joint armed forces, el-Bashir said he would accept foreign observers but that a peacekeeping force is not necessary now that the warring parties have signed cease-fire agreements and are working toward a peace deal.” (Associated Press, November 10, 2003)
This is, of course, yet another instance of spectacular disingenuousness on Beshir’s part. His notion that because there might be a signed peace deal there is no need for a robust international peacekeeping force simply ignores the fact that Khartoum has been, for over a year, relentlessly and significantly in violation of the same “cease-fire agreements” that Beshir refers to (i.e., the “cessation of hostilities agreement, October 15, 2003 and the February 4, 2003 “addendum” to the October 15 agreement). More consequentially, Beshir ignores the fact that Khartoum has violated or reneged on every single agreement it has ever made with any Sudanese party. A peace agreement is meaningful only if there are credible and fully adequate international guarantees—and guarantors.
The same refusal to accept the essential role of the international community is evident in Khartoum’s rejection of observers in the Darfur peace talks, or in Darfur itself. Khartoum’s Al-Ayam newspaper recently reported NIF Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail as saying that “the sending of international monitors to Darfur is ruled out because this will be an internationalisation of the problem,” and further that “there shall be no such [international monitoring] arrangement and Darfur is not like the South so that people can talk about monitoring” (UN Daily Press Review for Sudan, October 30, 2003). This arrogant denial of a role for the international community comes even as it becomes daily more evident that Khartoum is unable to bring peace or to provide anything like adequate access or protections for humanitarian relief to Darfur. The need for a larger international role in the Darfur crisis could not be clearer.
How can Khartoum’s callous attitudes and actions be the basis for an effective transition to peace in southern Sudan, should an agreement be reached? Just today the UN’s Integrated Regions Information Networks (IRIN) has published an extensive analysis of the problems associated with a post-war Sudan, concentrating on the immense challenges in southern Sudan that will be occasioned by returning refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Behavior by Khartoum such as we see in Darfur will ensure that these people will be part of a massive human catastrophe.
The three-part IRIN report (available at: http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=37774&SelectRegion=East_Africa&SelectCountry=SUDAN) treats not only the impact of a peace agreement on refugees and IDPs, but the likely upsurge in HIV/AIDS and the particular predicament of women returning to southern Sudan. It is blunt in its largest generalization:
“The only certainty is that if people do move quickly, they will experience tremendous hardship as they walk for days across a country the size of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda combined. With practically no roads, health care, sanitation facilities or infrastructure of any kind to welcome them, they will be vulnerable to hunger and outbreaks of disease both en route and when they arrive. Keeping their deaths to a minimum is one of the key challenges facing the international community.” (Special Report, UN IRIN, November 11, 2003)
Nothing will be cheap, given the immense numbers involved. Though the IRIN special report highlights the uncertainty about numbers of IDPs, and their intentions following a peace agreement, there is clear consensus that a huge number will move soon after a peace agreement, including many from the estimated 2 million people living in squalid camps and slums around Khartoum:
“A CARE/International Organisation for Migration survey conducted in Khartoum indicated that about two-thirds of the IDPs there wanted to go home as soon as a peace agreement was signed.” (IRIN, November 11, 2003)
These people simply must have assistance in moving home across this vast and difficult land. One effective strategy has been recommended by Stephen Houston, a senior IDP adviser in the office of the UN humanitarian coordinator in Khartoum:
“The possibility of establishing ‘way-stations’ along key roads and the Nile is being discussed to provide food and medical care for them, and as the only means of registering who is moving where, Houston told IRIN. But the current thinking is that agencies and NGOs should improve conditions in the IDPs’ home areas—such as schools and health care—for everyone in the community, instead of singling them out for special treatment or assistance.” (IRIN, November 11, 2003)
But this will require substantial resources, of a sort that have not yet begun to be marshaled by the US or its European allies and Canada. Indeed, peace itself is clearly at risk not only from the military threat posed by the remaining Khartoum-backed militias, but from the competition for what will be, at least initially, highly limited resources:
“Conflict with host communities which will see the refugees being assisted by the international community while they are not, coupled with increased competition for water, land, firewood, and food in certain areas, as well as the economic shocks of mass influxes of people into areas, are further potential sore points.” (IRIN, November 11, 2003)
This situation holds all the potential for renewed fighting; and if such fighting is not organized in the way the war of the last 20 years has been, the destructiveness of such potential conflicts should not be underestimated. Yet again, only substantial resources in the near term can avert what may quickly grow into a spreading human catastrophe.
Other problems loom very large as well; IRIN notes at one point that,
“Rates of HIV infection [in Sudan], currently estimated by UNAIDS at 2.6 percent country-wide, are expected to increase dramatically with the return of the refugees from neighbouring countries with much higher rates.” (IRIN, November 11, 2003)
The experience of too many other African countries makes the nature of this threat alarming in the extreme. Prophylactic, medical, and educational measures now will save lives, perhaps millions of lives, and resources in the longer term; but there must be a substantial commitment of funds in the near term if this terrible pandemic is not to extend into southern Sudan and other parts of the country.
The IRIN report also highlights in its third section the particular problems and vulnerabilities of women returning to southern Sudan. The issues are many, but one in particular looms especially large:
“What will happen when tens of thousands of widows descend into this environment to reclaim land and cattle may become one of the country’s future tragedies, [analysts] note. Many will have to choose between being ‘inherited’ by their husband’s clan—land is owned communally—or start a losing battle to regain their former wealth through the village courts.” (IRIN, November 11, 2003)
May we reasonably expect that a Khartoum regime that has behaved so brutally in its conduct of the war over 20 years will be adequately responsive to the human needs that IRIN outlines for a post-war Sudan? Does Darfur give us any hope that Khartoum has changed its attitudes toward humanitarian relief? toward the role of the international community in protecting all the people of Sudan? toward the obligations entailed in signed agreements?
The answers to all these questions are painfully obvious, and should put the international community on notice that the window of opportunity for making of any “peace agreement” a truly just and sustainable peace will be exceedingly small. Despite Khartoum’s reluctance to see peacekeepers deployed in the wake of an agreement, there must be immediate, urgent, detailed planning for a robust, fully staffed and fully equipped force, with an appropriate mandate (whether peacekeeping or, under Chapter VII authority per the UN Charter, peace-enforcing). There must also be a full and ready commitment of adequate resources for the various acute needs that IRIN has so authoritatively established in today’s special report. In the short term these will be costly; in the long term, these same needs will be much, much more costly—in lives and resources.
Planning for peace, including funding commitments, is already far behind schedule on all fronts, should an agreement be reached by the target date of January 1, 2004. To be sure, Khartoum may yet collapse the peace talks on the remaining issues, especially the status of the three contested areas—which, significantly, all have significant strategic bearing on future oil development, as well as their own acute humanitarian needs. But the need for planning cannot be held hostage to this possibility: the assumption must be  that a peace agreement will be signed and  that its meaningfulness will depend almost entirely on the immediate and comprehensive response of the international community.
Darfur makes all too clear the logic of this latter claim.
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