Sudan facing 'traffic jam' of peace initiatives

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United Nations / IPS, 13 April - In recent months, renewed international efforts to bring peace to Sudan have raised hopes of ending the country's 19 year old civil war. Many observers believe there is a unique opportunity towards building peace in Sudan at the moment. There are several ongoing peace initiatives by several international partners.

US special envoy Senator John Danforth's success in getting the warring parties to agree to his four confidence-building proposals has raised hopes of ending the long-running war. Rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in the south have been fighting for greater autonomy from the government in the north since 1983.

As a sign of growing international interest in peace-making, Britain and Norway also recently appointed their own special envoys to Sudan. A new joint aid agency report released Friday, called 'The Key to Peace: Unlocking the Human Potential of Sudan', warns that these overlapping efforts could lead to confusion.

The report says the various peace initiatives must be merged if they are to be effective. "There is an enormous attention now focusing on prospects for peace in Sudan. The US, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Norway, the Egyptians, the Libyans and other regional players," says Dan Silvey of Christian Aid, a non-governmental organisation.

- What is needed of course is that these initiatives converge and are coherent and aren't used to undercut each other, he adds. "But, equally not to give the space for the warring parties on both sides to play one off against each other. I think there are some welcome signs of growing coherence amongst this international pressure and this is one thing that we want to see encouraged," he says.

Four British parliamentarians from the Associate Parliamentary Group for Sudan also attended the launch of the report in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on Friday. They were returning from a six-day fact-finding mission to Sudan. British legislator David Drew believes the most promising peace initiative is the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) talks. 

IGAD is Sudan's longest running peace initiative. It was launched in 1993 and is chaired by Kenya with the involvement of Sudan's other neighbours - Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia and Eritrea. However, Sudan's government is threatening to pull out of IGAD unless faster progress is made. It favours a more recent Egyptian-Libyan initiative, developed last year.

Drew wants the international community to use its influence to revive the IGAD peace process. "I think the key to this is to re-establish IGAD. There is a traffic jam of peace initiatives at the moment and I think that is causing some confusion. The very many different peace initiatives are not necessarily being helpful in their own right." 

- At the very least IGAD has got the declaration of principles, a mechanism which includes clearly what the south is looking for - the ability to be able to advance a referendum, he says. "That is surely the simplest and the most honest way to take things forward. So, I would say, to be definitive, we need to re-establish IGAD. And I think the most effective thing the international community can do at the moment is bring political pressure to bear," he suggests.

The declaration of principles envisions a peace agreement structured around a democratic and secular Sudan and calls for the sharing of national wealth and resources. Failing that, it calls for negotiations over the modalities of an interim period followed by a self-determination referendum for the south. 

If unity efforts fail during the interim period, the south would be given the option of voting for independence. The government in Khartoum agreed to the Declaration of Principles in 1997, after a massive multi-front rebel assault. As its military situation improved, it has back peddled from that commitment.

The Egyptian-Libyan initiative, launched in 1999, was designed largely to undercut support for IGAD and its emphasis on self-determination. It currently consists of nine rather vague points including preserving Sudan's unity, making citizenship the basis of rights, recognising Sudan's diversity, safeguarding democratic pluralism, guaranteeing basic freedoms, establishing a decentralised government, forming an interim government and implementing immediate cessation of hostilities. The proposal is heavily tilted towards the government in Khartoum and is unpopular in the south.

Dawes believes the key players in these two proposals should meet. "I hope by international pressure we might see a meeting of [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak, [Kenyan President Daniel arap] Moi, [SPLA leader John] Garang and [Sudanese President Omar al] Bashir to start the process of getting back to IGAD. I think that's something the international community could do."

- Eygpt is becoming a key player, not least because the government in Khartoum does tend to look to Egypt as its closest ally, he addes. "We need to put pressure on to make sure that the four of them could be asked to meet." There have been some suggestions that a troika of states - the US, Britain and Norway - work together to spearhead this.

Hilton Dawson, another member of the British associate parliamentary group on Sudan, says there is support for greater British involvement among ordinary Sudanese people. "Many have expressed a desire for clear, substantive and early negotiations to built upon the progress which I do believe a lot of people feel is happening, feel that there's a momentum developing." 

- The search for peace needs to be given added involvement and added momentum and needs to be addressed very clearly and addressed with energy and sincerity on both sides, he says. "Many are seeking the involvement of a third party and that has come first of all as a bit of a surprise to hear the UK constantly touted as the possibility of a third party and an honest broker in all this process." 

- That's a very important message to take back home, he says. "We'll be making sure that our ministers in international development and our prime minister are well aware of this," he promises.

The humanitarian organisations Christian Aid, CARE, Oxfam, Save the Children, and Tearfund jointly produced the aid agency report. 

By Katy Salmon, IPS


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