Capturing the Moment: Sudan’s Peace Process in the Balance
Capturing the Moment: Sudan’s Peace Process in the Balance
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Sudan’s Imperilled Transition: Policy Recommendations for the U.S.
Sudan’s Imperilled Transition: Policy Recommendations for the U.S.
Report 42 / Africa

Capturing the Moment: Sudan’s Peace Process in the Balance

Sudan’s window of opportunity threatens to become a missed opportunity if the peace process is not revitalised in the near future. Escalation of fighting around the oil fields, increasing use by the government of helicopter gunships against civilian as well as military targets, and indecision surrounding the nature of wider international engagement all put at risk Sudan’s best chance for peace since the latest phase of civil war began nearly nineteen years ago.

Executive Summary

Sudan’s window of opportunity threatens to become a missed opportunity if the peace process is not revitalised in the near future.  Escalation of fighting around the oil fields, increasing use by the government of helicopter gunships against civilian as well as military targets, and indecision surrounding the nature of wider international engagement all put at risk Sudan’s best chance for peace since the latest phase of civil war began nearly nineteen years ago. The parties continue to signal that they are ready to negotiate seriously. The international community, and in particular the United States, must seize this opportunity to revitalise the peace process before the two sides re-commit themselves to resolving Africa’s longest conflict on the battlefield.

A government helicopter gunship attack which resulted in the killing of at least two dozen women and children lined up to receive food in the remote southern village of Bieh highlighted yet again the war's terrible cost. The tragedy, however, served as an impetus for progress on one of U.S. Special Peace Envoy John Danforth’s proposed humanitarian confidence-building tests – a protocol focused on the protection of civilians. Widespread condemnation from human rights organisations, relief agencies, the UN, and the international community forced Khartoum to accept international monitors for the agreement on the protection of civilians, which both parties had signed by late March 2002.  The incident also accelerated implementation of one of his other key agreements: a local cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains. The parties’ willingness to accept all four of Danforth’s tests clears the way for the U.S., United Kingdom and Norway to work as an informal “troika” with regional states in an effort to move beyond the Danforth initiative to a more serious negotiating process that addresses the underlying causes of the conflict.

A series of agreements reached between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and other groups in both the North and South indicate that the opposition to the government has grown more united during the past few months.  Most significantly, the SPLA reached an understanding with the Sudan People’s Democratic Front (SPDF) that ended a damaging decade-long split and resulted in the return of a number of key Nuer commanders. This has increased the SPLA’s ability to attack oil infrastructure but has led in turn to a major government offensive to secure areas of oil production and exploration.  The SPLA also merged with the northern-based Sudan Alliance Forces (SAF) and concluded political agreements with former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi’s Umma Party and Hassan al-Turabi’s Popular National Congress (PNC) party.

As Senator Danforth prepares to make his final recommendation to U.S. President George Bush, the implications, both positive and negative, of his initiative should be understood fully. The cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains has alleviated the terrible suffering the Nuba people have endured in the past decade. In addition, it has enhanced the warring parties’ perception of the U.S. as a crucial mediator and raised hopes for a larger, more comprehensive peace.  However, the cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains has also allowed the opposing parties to divert their forces to the oil fields, leading to an increase in civilian suffering in western Upper Nile.  Furthermore, Danforth’s strict adherence to humanitarian tests has exposed an unwillingness to shed reprehensible war tactics, particularly on the part of the government, whose comparative advantage on the battlefield is rooted in the use of helicopter gunships and high altitude bombing. But it has not extracted a better understanding of the adversaries’ commitment to a viable peace process.

An international retreat from the peace process would represent capitulation to hard-line elements in Khartoum that are opposed to a settlement. International efforts to construct a meaningful process and achieve a comprehensive agreement should instead intensify. That represents the most realistic hope for addressing the human rights crisis at its roots as well as facilitating a democratic transition in Sudan.

This report recommends and provides a blueprint for such intensified efforts by the informal troika (U.S., UK, and Norway), working with the key regional actors (Kenya and Egypt), to point an alternative way forward that is consistent with the new global emphasis on a partnership between Africa and the broader international community.

Khartoum/Nairobi/Brussels, 3 April 2002

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