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Sudan’s Interest in South Sudanese Peace
Sudan’s Interest in South Sudanese Peace
Briefing 110 / Africa

The Chaos in Darfur

The two-year-old flare-up of violence in Darfur continues, adding 100,000 people this year to more than 2.5 million who have lost their homes since war began in 2003. Sudanese, regional and international peace processes have stalled. They should restart with parallel initiatives that take into better account all of Darfur’s communities and armed groups.

I. Overview

Violence in the Darfur region of Sudan’s far west continues unabated. Some 450,000 persons were displaced in 2014 and another 100,000 in January 2015 alone, adding to some two million long-term internally displaced persons (IDPs) since fighting erupted in 2003. The government remains wedded to a military approach and reluctant to pursue a negotiated national solution that would address all Sudan’s conflicts at once and put the country on the path of a democratic transition. Khartoum’s reliance on a militia-centred counter-insurgency strategy is increasingly counter-productive – not least because it stokes and spreads communal violence. Ending Darfur’s violence will require – beyond countrywide negotiations between Khartoum, the rebel Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) coalition and unarmed players – addressing its local dimensions, within both national talks and parallel local processes.

Darfur’s complex and multiplying local conflicts are increasingly ill-understood, due to lack of information and the limitations of reporting from the hybrid UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). Intensification of combat with rebel factions prompted the government in 2014 to fall back again upon notorious military auxiliaries, this time its new Rapid Support Forces (RSF), thus worsening violence and displacements. Arab militias and paramilitary forces like the RSF attacked non-Arab communities accused of being pro-rebel, fought each other, took part in communal conflicts and even hit at regular government troops.

Increasingly divided over Sudan, the UN Security Council has been unable to develop consensus around a new peace strategy and largely supports the untenable status quo. Discussions are now underway with the government about a possible UNAMID drawdown. Without strong support from New York and the African Union (AU) when the government obstructs it, the mission has been too deferential to Khartoum and systematically presented a narrative of an improving situation divorced from reality. It has also frequently failed to intervene and protect civilians, leading the UN to acknowledge “record levels of civilian displacement not seen since 2004”.

Peace in Darfur is unlikely separate from a solution to Sudan’s wider national problems, for which a number of processes need to be revived, modified or initiated, including an effort, especially in the UN Security Council, to review and rethink policy on Darfur and toward Khartoum generally. This briefing has a more limited purpose. It concentrates on Darfur dynamics, in particular a mapping of the complex conflict lines between and among communities and armed groups and militias, some sponsored by the government.

Suffering from a weak economy and without a military breakthrough, Khartoum appeared more open in 2014 to the inclusion of armed opposition in an AU-facilitated national dialogue. The AU mediation hoped to obtain separate ceasefires for Darfur and the “Two Areas” (South Kordofan and Blue Nile) in a “synchronised” way, paving the way for SRF inclusion in the dialogue. However, the process stalled, largely over Khartoum’s reluctance to negotiate with Darfur rebels on a basis other than the 2011 Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD). While this may suit the government in the short term, the region’s continued fragmentation into competing armed communities will become increasingly difficult to arrest and reverse.

Darfur’s different conflicts cannot be addressed all at once or in the same way. Crisis Group analysed the limits of the existing peace process in January 2014, and many of its recommendations are still relevant, in particular to review the DDPD, some of whose provisions require establishing a national consensus around the relationship between central government and peripheries, while others – chief of them the increasing communal violence – are too local to solve by national dialogue only. While Sudan’s government has remained reluctant to compromise on the DDPD and invokes as justification the document’s importance for Qatar – which indeed considers it a major diplomatic achievement despite the lack of implementation – it would be in Khartoum’s own interest to address swiftly both the national and local dimensions of the violence in Darfur. For the latter, the government should in particular:

  • progressively control and disarm paramilitary forces and militias, via a mix of incentives, such as participation in local peace processes and the national dialogue, as well as development and services, but also coercion, including arrest and prosecution of those responsible for crimes; and
     
  • initiate and support communal dialogue and durable local peace and reconciliation mechanisms involving traditional and militia leaders, while leaving mediation to respected, neutral Sudanese, including from outside Darfur, and limiting the government’s role to facilitating, supporting and guaranteeing agreements.

To advance resolution of Darfur’s conflicts, the government and armed opposition should:

  • reach a ceasefire in Darfur, synchronised with a similar one in the Two Areas, including provisions for unfettered humanitarian access in both; and
     
  • develop proposals to address concerns of all Darfur communities on issues such as security, land ownership, services and development.

International players, particularly the AU, arguably have a more important role to play in national than local processes. However, the UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council should:

  • agree on a Sudan strategy and then properly support it with political backing and appropriate resources.

Nairobi/Brussels, 22 April 2015

Op-Ed / Africa

Sudan’s Interest in South Sudanese Peace

Originally published in Sudan Tribune

Sudan and South Sudan’s relationship is of vital importance to resolving conflicts in both countries. Khartoum, and other countries in the region, clearly benefit from a stable South Sudan.

Once-fraught relations between the two countries have improved in recent years, helped by substantive discussions over shared interests, including oil exports, support for armed groups, and border security. Khartoum should now use its influence in Juba to seek better regional cooperation and a peaceful resolution of internal and cross-border conflicts.

Once-fraught relations between the two countries have improved in recent years

A more sophisticated Sudanese approach that ensures southern armed groups are part of a more inclusive, and thereby stable, government in Juba, is in Khartoum’s own best interests. A constructive Khartoum-Juba relationship is likely to be significant, for instance, in the U.S. government’s mid-2017 assessment of its recent decision to ease sanctions on Sudan.

Do not support South Sudanese armed groups

There is currently fighting in several parts of South Sudan, a disaster for those in the affected areas. But violence is not on the scale of the 2013-15 civil war, and is unlikely to escalate dramatically, partly thanks to Khartoum’s refusal to support rebel groups.

When the former First Vice President of South Sudan, Riek Machar, arrived in Khartoum after fleeing fighting in Juba in July 2016, the Sudanese government severely restricted his capacity to re-start his rebellion. He then left for South Africa, and was subsequently denied re-entry to Sudan in November 2016; he was eventually obliged to return to South Africa.

Khartoum should continue resisting requests from South Sudanese opposition leaders to arm or provide other forms of support to rebel fighters

Khartoum’s actions are central to determining whether South Sudan moves towards sustainable peace or falls back into a complex and multi-layered conflict. Ending armed rebellion in South Sudan is the primary responsibility of South Sudan’s transitional government who must reach out to armed groups to make peace. Yet violence in South Sudan is most deadly and protracted when warring parties receive support from neighbouring states.

Khartoum should continue resisting requests from South Sudanese opposition leaders to arm or provide other forms of support to rebel fighters.

Political rather than military support

Sudan can go further by using its influence with Juba to implement relevant parts of the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS), to which Sudan was a signatory and guarantor in August 2015. Sudan should also work with other Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD, a regional body) member states – notably Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya – to support Juba’s commitment to conduct a national dialogue with opposition political parties and armed groups.

Sudan’s visible engagement with these processes is critical to overcoming the trust deficit between Juba and armed groups.

As well as supporting peace in South Sudan, Khartoum should accept that there is no military solution to its own domestic conflicts in in the Two Areas (South Kordofan and Blue Nile states) and Darfur. These conflicts have cost billions of dollars and Sudan should seek a sustainable political resolution, supported by regional actors, including Uganda.

For recently improved relations between Khartoum, Juba and Kampala to translate into real regional harmony, Sudan should honour its commitment to a Cessation of Hostilities in both Darfur and the Two Areas and reconvene negotiations on humanitarian access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

To help peace take hold in frontier areas, Sudan should also consider innovative approaches to border security that are based on the complex realities of armed groups and ethnic communities in both countries. Leaders are drawing from examples such as the 2010 agreement between Chad and Sudan which halted support for one another’s rebels.

Without such measures, improved relations with Juba will not be sufficient to resolve Sudan’s own internal conflicts, which have domestic drivers, require their own political solution, and are not simply the expression of a Sudanese proxy war with South Sudan.

The benefits of better relations with Juba

Overall, Sudan can benefit from improved relations with Juba in three ways.

First, by agreeing that it will not support South Sudanese rebel groups, it can continue to demand that Juba, in turn, deny support to Sudanese rebels in the Two Areas and Darfur.

Secondly, improved relations will bring much needed economic benefits. December’s three-year oil deal profits both sides and improves the terms of South Sudan’s transit fee regime. Production is also re-starting in Unity state which will increase exports. The new index-linked arrangement means that fees will reflect global oil prices, rather than simply being a fixed rate which, at a time of low prices and conflict-suppressed production, contributed to South Sudan’s economic challenges.

Diplomacy, not destabilisation, is Sudan’s winning strategy in South Sudan

Khartoum should understand that the oil agreement, together with support for security arrangements in South Sudan’s Unity state that favour stability, ties both countries more closely in a regime of economic interdependence - to their mutual benefit. This makes it less likely that conflict will break out again along the shared border.

Third, the conflict in South Sudan is a major preoccupation for the international community. Continuing to play a constructive role in its resolution and preventing further escalation, coupled with renewed efforts to resolve its own internal conflicts peacefully, will help Khartoum lock in its improving relations with the U.S. and the European Union. This will increase the chances for complete sanctions removal and debt relief.

Diplomacy, not destabilisation, is Sudan’s winning strategy in South Sudan.