Africa, Armed Conflicts, Headlines, Human Rights, North America

US-SUDAN: Limited Progress Made to Rescue Peace Accord

Marina Litvinsky and Jim Lobe*

WASHINGTON, Jun 23 2009 (IPS) - The United States Tuesday urged the government of Sudan and former rebels in the south to re-invigorate their 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), as 30 Sudanese political leaders met with 170 observers from 32 countries and international organisations here to discuss the faltering CPA, which expires in 2011.

“We are facing some very important milestones in the near future … they will set the foundation, for better or for worse, of the very future of Sudan,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg said in welcoming the delegates assembled at the Park Hyatt Hotel.

Delegations from Khartoum’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and the South’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) had held four days of talks here before Tuesday’s meeting, which focused on key obstacles – including border demarcation, the registration of millions of voters before next year’s national elections, and the sharing of oil revenues – to the CPA’s full implementation.

According to the Obama administration’s special envoy on Sudan, ret. Gen. Scott Gration, the two sides confirmed that they will abide by the decision of an international tribunal in The Hague on a territorial dispute around Abyei, a strategically located city which was devastated by clashes between the two sides 13 months ago. The Permanent Court of Arbitration is expected to rule on the dispute next month.

The two sides agreed to “accept the Abyei arbitration as final and binding,” Gration told reporters.

While much of the international attention on Sudan has focused on the fighting in Darfur over the past several years, the administration of President Barack Obama appears at least as concerned at the moment with the possible breakdown of the CPA, which ended a 22-year-old civil war in which an estimated two million people – almost all of them in the south – are believed to have died.

Indeed, Gration himself came under strong attack from Darfur and some human rights activists just last week after he told reporters the situation in Darfur could no longer be considered a “genocide” – a word adopted by the administration of former President George W. Bush and Obama himself during the 2008 presidential campaign – by the government against ethnic African groups in the region.

“What we see is the remnants of genocide,” he said, adding that the violence in Darfur is “primarily between rebel groups, the Sudanese government and… some violence between Chad and Sudan.”

Since his appointment, Gration has supported easing long-running tensions with Khartoum in an effort to induce greater co-operation both with respect to Darfur – where he recently helped negotiate the return of international humanitarian groups that had been expelled by the government of President Omar Bashir after his indictment for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC) – and to the CPA.

The CPA, which was one of the few major diplomatic achievements credited to the Bush administration, effectively suspended the civil war by creating a coalition government that incorporated the SPLA in Khartoum and granting semi-autonomy to the South.

It also set forth a series of benchmarks on which the parties had to agree for the accord to be fully implemented. These include demarcating the north-south border, updating the country’s census and registering as many as 20 million voters before Sudan’s 2010 elections, as well as establishing a formula and mechanism for apportioning oil revenues derived from the region.

Most important and most controversial, the accord provided that residents of southern Sudan could vote no later than 2011 to decide whether to secede from Sudan and become an independent nation.

According to most Sudan experts here, Khartoum has dragged its heels on implementing the benchmarks, raising tensions with SPLA leaders, and fuelling their belief that it has no intention of fully complying with the accord, let alone permitting such a vote to take place.

As a result, both sides have engaged in a military build-up along the still-disputed border amid growing concerns that the CPA may collapse into renewed civil war. Indeed, inter-ethnic and inter-clan conflicts in the south – which some experts believe are being deliberately fuelled by Khartoum – have escalated over the last few months.

According to a new report titled “Sudan: The Countdown” released by the Enough Project, more than 1,000 people have been killed in the south this year and more than 135,000 more displaced from their homes.

“For too long, the international community has been slow in responding to the sputtering pace of CPA implementation and the NCP’s attempts to undermine the agreement,” said Save Darfur Coalition President Jerry Fowler, Enough Project Executive Director John Norris, and Genocide Intervention Network Executive Director Sam Bell, in a statement representing many of the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that met with both sides earlier this week.

“This conference shows a welcome renewed commitment from the United States to lead the international community in re-engaging with the CPA.”

Gration himself stressed that swift action was needed to save the accord. “Our time is short,” he said in greeting the delegates. “We only have 164 days until the national election in February of 2010, and we only have 403 working days until the referenda in January of 2011, so time is urgent. It’s time to move forward. It’s time to work together to bring peace to this country that’s permanent and last.”

Apart from the ongoing stand-off over Abyei, among the most urgent problems is the preparation for next year’s national elections. The SPLM argued that the most recent census dramatically under-counted the number of southerners and is demanding a re-drawing of constituencies.

The National Elections Act, enacted in 2008, is vague on the policies and procedures for the elections and draft regulations have yet to be finalised, according to the Enough report.

The National Assembly recently adopted highly questionable reforms to the Press and Media Law, and it has yet to amend the National Security Act, a law that bears directly on the safeguarding of civil liberties during the electoral process, the report noted. Meanwhile, registration of voters, particularly in the south, has lagged badly.

Although popular perceptions around elections are mixed, recent polling by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), which has tracked opinions in the South since the CPA was signed in 2005, shows a consistent and overwhelming desire among southern Sudanese to vote in the self-determination referendum – with 90 percent of these southerners intending to vote for separation.

“This week’s Washington conference is a positive start, but should be followed up with efforts that penalize failure to implement key provisions of the agreement,” warned the Enough report. “Engagement must avoid a myopic focus on the current problems and instead consider longer-term policy objectives that, after the referendum, will help prevent a violent collapse of the Sudanese state.”

*Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at

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