afrol News, 21 July - The Sudanese government and the SPLM rebels reported to have made a major breakthrough in peace talks in Kenya. The framework of a peace agreement had been agreed upon and this included several new key aspects. Within six years, according to the agreement, the people of South Sudan would be enabled to determine whether to establish their own, independent state.
Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir today said on state radio that "real peace began with the signing" of the agreement in Kenya. "We have agreed on a structure which resolves the basic question of state versus religion and self-determination [for the south]," Ghazi Salah al Din, head of the government delegation, today told the press after five weeks of negotiations in the Kenyan town of Machakos.
Another key issue resolved in the partial agreement was the case of Muslim Shari'a law. All provinces were in future to be allowed to decide on the imposition of Shari'a, meaning that the southern region - where Christian and African religions dominate - may escape Muslim law. Further, an international commission was to monitor the results of the Kenyan agreement, giving peace a greater chance than after the failed 1972-peace.
Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi was host to the negotiations between the Khartoum military government and the rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which are to continue in Kenya on 12 August. Representatives from the US, the UK and Norway, countries which have been central to the peace efforts, also participated as observers at the talks.
The agreement on a framework for peace however does not mean that hostilities were to cease yet. The agreement is not yet a full peace agreement and a ceasefire is not included. Fight had also gone on during the five weeks of negotiations, when SPLA troops had captured the southern border town of Kapoeta. The peace facilitators however noted they expected a relative tranquillity until the negotiations are resumed on 12 August.
Although today's agreement seems to resolve the most complex issues fought over, several difficult questions still remain. Most pressing is the control over oil resources in mid-Sudan - now under government control, but partly within the mostly non-Muslim south of the country. The oil resources had been a major reason for returning to warfare in 1983, nine years after the 1972 peace.
The August negotiations will have to treat this and other questions. Meanwhile, the question of a ceasefire is the main object of disagreement between government and SPLA spokesmen. While the government insists any agreement can only be implemented after a ceasefire is in force, SPLM insists on reaching an agreement before hostilities could be halted.
The warring parties have been under enormous pressure from the outside world to finally with a solution to the conflict. African pressure has been high, especially from Kenya, whose President has been mediating in the conflict for ten years.
The real change of climate however came after the 11 September attack on the US. In fear of becoming a target of US attacks, the Khartoum government has entered on a line of cooperation with Washington, which was known to support the SPLM rebels. With the naming of US ex-Senator John Danforth as Special Envoy to Sudan, the peace process got accelerated.
The 19-year-old Sudanese civil war has been the most violent in African history. It has left at least 2 million civilians dead and many more displaced.
Reactions to the Machakos peace agreement have generally been positive. The government and opposition in Khartoum are reported to have hailed the signing. Also SPLM and other Southern Sudanese armed groups are positive.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in a statement said he "warmly welcomed the successful outcome of the first round of the Sudan peace talks," calling it "a significant breakthrough." The Minister of Development in co-mediating Norway, Hilde Frafjord Jensen said "this is a historic moment." She however admitted it was "a big dilemma" that a ceasefire had not been reached.
Sources: Based on US, UK, Norwegian govt sources, press reports and afrol archives