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U.S. Warns of Dark Path Ahead Without Cooperation in Sudan

Lily Hough and Naseema Noor

WASHINGTON, Jul 14 2011 (IPS) - As South Sudan was admitted as the 193rd member of the United Nations on Thursday, officials in Washington said the hard work in the fragile new country has just begun.

“[The U.S.] has stood with the peoples of Sudan throughout these struggles…and we must remain involved until there is lasting peace in the region,” U.S. Senator John Kerry said at a special Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing here Thursday.

“We should recognise that while only one country is joining the community of nations, the reality is that two nations emerged on Jan. 9: the newly independent south and a greatly changed north,” he added. “Both of these nations are fragile, and they will remain that way until they reach an agreement that allows them to live separately but work together.”

Ambassador Princeton Lyman, U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan, said at the hearing that the U.S. is prepared to help the newly separated Sudan face its uncertain economic future, as it will be forced to adjust to a significant loss of oil revenue and will need debt relief, access to resources and a sustainable climate for private investment – but only on the condition that it fulfills its obligations under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

“It depends on their behaviour and what happens these next weeks and months in terms of accountability,” Lyman added, pointing out that the U.S. has already taken initial steps to normalise bilateral relations but will not move forward without a demonstrated commitment from the north.

“It’s not a matter of dictation,” Lyman said. “It’s a matter of living up to international standards and [Sudan’s] own promises. So this is going to be a critical component of their own ability to succeed.”

President Omar al-Bashir raised hopes for such an agreement earlier this week by indicating that Sudan would stabilise and develop the Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states.

But some human rights groups contend that the reality on the ground paints a less hopeful picture.

The hearing, called to address the most pressing challenges facing South Sudan, fell on the same day that the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP), a United States-based satellite monitoring group, released a report with images alleged to be evidence of mass graves in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan state.

The advocacy group claims that photographs of three dug-up sites are consistent with mass graves and thus evidence of systematic murder, which may support accusations by human rights groups that the North’s military has targeted the ethnic Nuba peoples in the border region.

“The three excavated areas positively identified by imagery analysis, independent of eye-witness reports, corroborate allegations by two eyewitnesses of potential mass graves south of the Tilo School in Kadugli,” stated the report.

Concerns from international human rights groups over a potential humanitarian crisis unfolding in the region – where some 100,000 civilians have been displaced from their homes, according to the U.N. – have delayed negotiations over the contentious status of Abyei, which sits at the heart of the conflict.

The international community fixed an eye on the region as a breeding ground for human rights atrocities after the north’s Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) forcefully annexed the oil-rich area in May and violence intensified when the south’s Sudan People Liberation’s Army (SPLA) deployed retaliatory troops in June.

“Our timetable got derailed by the military takeover of Abyei. [Now], we need to make sure that Abyei is demilitarised and the people feel safe and then we can deal with this issue, so it has been delayed and I’m bothered by it, “Lyman said.

“I think we ought to have a very firm timetable for addressing [the status of Abyei] because otherwise it just lingers as a source of conflict,” he added.

To date, as the vicious border conflicts in the area proceed, with the U.N. humanitarian office reporting SAF-launched aerial bombardments of SPLA areas this week, they threaten to unravel any semblance of stability accorded by the CPA.

In the wake of celebrations over South Sudan’s successful January referendum and transition toward independence, the U.S. has urged both al-Bashir and Salva Kiir, President of South Sudan, to quickly return to the negotiating table and settle unfinished business in the completion of the CPA.

Along with Abyei’s uncertain status, several other critical issues – namely, the establishment of mutually-beneficial arrangements regarding oil revenues, citizenship status and a method for securing peace along their shared border – were, according to the CPA, to be negotiated by Jul. 9, but today remain unresolved.

“How these outstanding issues are managed over the near term will define the future relationship between Sudan and South Sudan,” Lyman said. “Allowing these issues to linger without resolution for too long could destabilise the future relationships between [the two nations].”

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