In this moment of truth for peace in Sudan, it is not simply the Khartoum regime that is being tested for its willingness to engage in meaningful peace negotiations with the southern opposition. The “tests” that US special envoy John Danforth has set out for Khartoum, as well as for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), will become unflattering measures of his own integrity and usefulness if he fails to acknowledge Khartoum’s violations, or repudiation, of his four “confidence-building measures.” Evidence of such violations and repudiation is already ominously apparent. The cause of a just peace in Sudan will not be served if Khartoum is allowed to substitute incremental “improvement” in some areas of its war policy for a fully demonstrated willingness to engage meaningfully in a serious peace process. Absent sustained international pressure for a just peace, Khartoum will simply bide its time and resume its barbarisms later.
Eric Reeves [January 16, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
Serious doubts exist about Senator John Danforth’s commitment to his mandate as special envoy for Sudan. On various occasions he has spoken glibly, evasively, and at times clearly without an understanding of key issues. But in assessing for President Bush whether the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum is genuinely willing to make peace, the stakes are too high for anything other than a rigorous honesty, one that does not allow room for the regime to violate stipulated tests, or respond to “confidence-building measures” with transparent double-talk.
Two of Danforth’s four confidence-building measures are front and center at this very moment:  a cease-fire in the highly distressed Nuba Mountain region—a military stand-down by both sides that will allow for sustained delivery of the humanitarian aid that Khartoum had until recently blocked for over a decade; and  a cessation of Khartoum’s bombing of civilian and humanitarian targets in the south and other marginalized areas.
 The cease-fire terms are being negotiated by technical teams in Switzerland this week; the outcome of these negotiations is uncertain, though there is cause for hope. But this is true only if the US and the United Nations are willing to point clearly and publicly to violations of the cease-fire. Any violation puts UN and other humanitarian workers at risk, and could very well result in their being evacuated. This may, in fact, be Khartoum’s design. Moreover, a cease-fire violation by Khartoum at this point—with the Danforth mission still in the region—is an extremely poor augur for future compliance.
It is in this context that we must consider the strange silence that has enveloped a story that appeared three days ago in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, whose Washington correspondent John Sawyer is accompanying the Danforth mission. The newspaper reported on January 13, 2002 that Danforth was forced to omit an important stop in Asmara (Eritrea) in order to fly immediately to Khartoum. This change “followed reports from United Nations personnel that a Sudanese army unit had violated a cease-fire agreement for the Nuba Mountains region” (St Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan 13, 2002).
The newspaper report continued by noting that a “U.S. official traveling with Danforth said the Eritrean stop had been scrapped because Danforth wanted assurances immediately from Sudan’s government that the cease-fire agreement would be honored” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan 13, 2002). Asmara is of considerable regional importance, as it serves as the base for the National Democratic Alliance, the coalition of northern and southern groups (including the SPLA) opposing Khartoum’s tyranny. The consequences of this alteration in itinerary are significant.
Yet there has been no further assessment or elaboration or correction of this extremely serious report. There has been no comment from the UN, despite the fact that UN personnel are explicitly and publicly cited as having declared that Khartoum’s army violated the cease-fire, at an exceedingly critical moment. Danforth, having skipped the planned meeting in Asmara, has also made no further reported comment on the cease-fire violation or on Khartoum’s response to what has been reported.
It cannot be forgotten that even as Danforth plans to test Khartoum and the SPLA, so Khartoum plans to test him, his resolve, and his ability to speak the truth. If the regime is allowed to violate the cease-fire while the US special envoy is in the region, and is not taken sharply to task for such violation, Khartoum will have been given all the evidence it needs about US commitment to a truly serious assessment of the prospects for peace.
 The lack of a forceful US response to Khartoum’s latest pronouncements about a halt to civilian bombings will be just as telling. For even as President Omar Beshir yesterday trumpeted his willingness to offer a four-month suspension of the bombing of civilians targets, other members of his regime make clear publicly that the offer is utterly meaningless. Chief presidential peace advisor Ghazi Salah al-Din Atabani has rejected out of hand the idea of monitoring such a bombing cessation, saying monitoring is “unrealistic” (St Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan 15, 2002). This is, of course, not true. Human Rights Watch has recently published a compellingly professional account of what precisely would be required of such an international monitoring regime.
Needless to say, without monitoring, a purported “cessation” of civilian bombings is meaningless. There would no way whatsoever to determine authoritatively whether ongoing bombings were of military targets (against which the regime’s Antonov “bombers”—actually retrofitted cargo planes—are almost entirely useless) or civilian and humanitarian sites, clearly the preferred target in Khartoum’s war to destroy southern civil society.
Even without formal international monitoring, there has been (and will continue to be) ample reporting from the ground by UN and other humanitarian personnel, news reporters, and human rights organizations. There are also the chilling accounts of the victims themselves. We already have numerous systematic accounts of Khartoum’s bombing of civilian and humanitarian targets, coming from Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres, the US Committee for Refugees, and other regionally-based organizations.
In further testimony to Khartoum’s bad faith on the issue, Ghazi Salah al-Din Atabani declares that, “It’s not a question of bombardment of civilians. It’s the exploitation of civilians. Using them as human shields is exploitation, too” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan 15, 2002). Strikingly, this stands as an implicit admission that Khartoum does indeed bomb civilian targets, and echoes the comments of Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail some months ago. For since there is not a shred of evidence that Khartoum has ever avoided a target because of civilian or humanitarian presence, both these leaders of the National Islamic Front are clearly committed to the notion that it is acceptable to bomb civilian targets if Khartoum’s forces “believe” there is also a military presence.
In fact, long experience has taught the SPLA the dreadful lesson that a civilian presence is no protection whatsoever against Khartoum’s Antonovs. Again, however, since Antonovs fly at high altitudes (to avoid ground fire) and are cargo planes from which crude, but very large and deadly barrel bombs are simply rolled out the back cargo bay, they are notoriously inaccurate and simply incapable of threatening the mobile and dispersed military assets of the SPLA. They consequently focus on large, soft, immobile civilian and humanitarian targets.
In this connection, it is worth noting that the civilian hospital at Yei has been bombed so many times in the past that the roof, which formerly bore a large red cross to indicate it medical function, has been painted over with camouflage green to make targeting by Khartoum’s Antonovs more difficult.
It should also be remembered that in the summer of 2000 the bombing of humanitarian targets by Khartoum was so intense that the UN was forced to suspend all humanitarian flights of Operation Lifeline Sudan. Targets at the time included Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Rescue Committee, and many other of the world’s most distinguished humanitarian relief organizations.
Khartoum’s refusal to allow for international monitoring of a cessation of aerial bombardment of civilian and humanitarian targets makes the offer a travesty. The callousness and duplicity with which the regime justifies these savage bombings (going after military targets supposedly using “human shields”) is matched only by the utter preposterousness of Khartoum’s offer of a cessation.
Unless special envoy Danforth is willing to speak some hard truths to Khartoum, and convey these brutal realities to President Bush, the US will not be assisting the peace process. On the contrary, we will be signaling the regime that these “confidence-building measures” were never seriously regarded, and that failure to meet the stipulated tests may actually serve the regime’s military cause.
For in the perverse logic of the Danforth initiative, if both or either party signals it is not serious about peace, the US will not invest the diplomatic resources that simply must be devoted to a robust peace process. In other words, Khartoum’s failure to pass Danforth’s tests means that the south—where the war has been so terribly concentrated—will pay the price for that failure. Given the immensity of human suffering and destruction that the south has endured over 19 years of war, this is grotesque.
At this critical juncture, Senator Danforth offers Sudan his honesty, his forthrightness, his tough-mindedness—or he offers this torn land nothing at all.