The former special representative of the United States to
Sudan, Roger Winter, says the United States has a “special responsibility” to
ensure peace in the African country. He attributes this to the fact that in
2005 he and other U.S. diplomats wrote significant parts of a deal that ended
two decades of devastating war between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement
(SPLM) and President Omar al-Bashir’s Khartoum government. But Winter says the
current U.S. administration isn’t doing enough to ensure that the government of
Sudan implements key elements of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). He
says that’s one of the reasons for the recent clashes between SPLM fighters and
President al-Bashir’s forces in Sudan’s Abyei area. In the fourth part of a
five-part series focusing on Abyei, VOA’s Darren Taylor reports on
Washington’s response to the crisis.
Winter says the U.S. has been “unique and key” in Sudan’s
recent history. He points out that it was Washington diplomats who finally
paved the way towards peace three years ago when they broke a deadlock between
the al-Bashir government and the SPLM, specifically pertaining to Abyei.
“The U.S. team on which I served…itself drew up the text of
the Abyei Protocol and then presented it to both parties, with the SPLM signing
first and then ultimately the Khartoum government. So the U.S. was very key in
structuring the whole part of the CPA that President Bashir has never actually
proceeded to implement. I would say we have a special responsibility in the
United States because of that,” Winter says.
According to Winters, the United States, like many in the
international community, effectively stopped monitoring the implementation of
the CPA in 2003, when it switched its focus to the conflict in Darfur. Winter
says this “created the space” for Khartoum to maintain political and military
control of Abyei. The SPLM says the Sudan government has consequently kept all
of the region’s oil profits for itself, and has refused to comply with a decision
made by an international boundaries commission that defined Abyei as part of
southern Sudan, in violation of the peace agreement.
In a report for the Enough Project in Washington D.C.,
Winter’s criticism is even more vehement. He writes: “When it comes to Sudan,
the United States is in meltdown mode and Khartoum knows it. The very
administration that energetically created the environment that enabled the
CPA…now stands by watching the CPA stagger and twitch. Although the U.S.
literally wrote the Abyei Protocol, the Bush administration has since shown
little interest or understanding of the issues….
Winter does, however, acknowledge that Washington had
“very good reasons” to focus on Darfur, when Arab militia allegedly allied to
Khartoum began killing black Africans in the region. But he maintains that the
U.S. shouldn’t use Darfur as an excuse for “ignoring” Khartoum’s violations of
“Because of a lack of presence and a lack of interest and
a lack of pressing the government in Khartoum to actually implement [the Abyei
Protocol of] the CPA, I think it [the U.S.] helped create a situation that
enabled the bad guys to produce what we have now seen. And that is the
destruction of Abyei.”
Jason Small, deputy director of the Sudan Programs Group
at the US State Department and a spokesman for Washington’s current special
envoy to Sudan, Richard Williamson, responds that Winter himself – when he was
a senior U.S. diplomat –played a major role in focusing the present US
administration’s attention on the Darfur tragedy.
Small acknowledges that
the humanitarian crisis in the west Sudan region, which Washington has
described as “genocide,” has “captured” the U.S. government’s attention.
“The U.S. has spent over
$450 million to construct the peacekeeping camps for the African Union troops
[in Darfur]…. We’ve been behind the move to transition the AU force to the
United Nations African Union Mission there, which is currently continuing its
deployment there, all the way up to [an eventual] 26,000 personnel.”
But Small denies that
this has effectively resulted in the US ignoring the implementation of the 2005
peace accord and says Washington remains dedicated to peace and development in
all parts of Sudan.
“We are very much behind efforts to support the Comprehensive
Peace Agreement. We have a program to support the southern Sudan security
sector and transforming the SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] into a
professional military; that’s about $40 million a year…. I don’t even need to
mention the hundreds of millions of dollars that [the U.S.] continues to spend
each year to build roads in southern Sudan, to build schools, to provide
assistance to the government of southern Sudan institutions that are just
beginning to be [established], as well as to prepare the groundwork in Sudan
for elections in 2009. These are elections at every level and this is one of
the key pieces of the CPA that we need to start focusing on.”
US ‘normalization’ talks ‘encouraged’ CPA violations
Winter also criticizes Washington for “actively engaging”
in a “policy of appeasement” with Khartoum by holding “normalization” talks
with the al-Bashir administration” earlier this year.
SPLM spokesman Ezekiel
Lol Gatkuoth says the talks, initiated by Sudan’s minister of foreign affairs
and senior SPLM member Deng Alor, were to look at the possibility of ending U.S. financial sanctions against Khartoum that have primarily been initiated as a
result of the al-Bashir government’s alleged sponsoring of human rights
atrocities in Darfur and links to terrorist groups.
Gatkuoth says the
negotiations were decided upon as a means by which Khartoum would take
“decisive steps” to end the violence in Darfur and to “fully implement” the CPA
as regards southern Sudan.
But Winter is adamant
that the talks between Washington and the al-Bashir administration aimed at
“normalizing” relations between the U.S. and Khartoum actually “encouraged” the
government of Sudan to continue to disobey the peace deal.
“The talks really can’t go anywhere, unless there are verifiable
improvements by Khartoum on the ground. In addition to that, there has to be
accountability for two and a half or more million deaths [during the war in
southern Sudan]. We [the U.S.] can’t just blink and say, ‘Okay, now we’re going
to regularize our relationship and we’ll just forget that two and half to three
million people have died at the hands of this government.’”
In response, Small emphasizes that as soon as violence
erupted in Abyei, Washington ended its talks with the al-Bashir government and
the SPLM. As the devastation in the area became clear, Special Envoy Williamson
stated: “The U.S. is suspending talks with Sudan. At this point the leadership
of either side is not interested in meaningful peace.”
Says Small, “The timing of the special envoy’s last visit
to Sudan – following the outbreak in Abyei and what he witnessed
there…obviously changed the perspective on the seriousness by which these
parties – both the north and the south – were prepared to engage with the
United States on serious issues of improvement of relations. And so I think the
Special Envoy made the decision that it was time to put those talks on hold
until such time as these parties could demonstrate seriousness about solving
some of these thorny issues between them.”
But Williamson’s apportioning of blame to both the SPLM
and Khartoum for the death and destruction in Abyei has grated analysts and the
southern Sudanese alike. Winter says it’s unfair to the SPLM.
“I think there’s a very important point here that I would
say on a personal level that Special Envoy Williamson is missing here and that
is that there is no moral equivalency between the two parties here. We have in
Khartoum a government that came to power by coup. It kicked out a
democratically elected government. Since then it’s produced several million
dead Sudanese. For much of that time it’s been on our list of states that
sponsor terrorists. It birthed [al-Qaeda leader] Osama bin-Laden during the
1990s and its history is replete with conflict in Darfur, conflict in the
south, conflict with Chad, conflict in the Nuba Mountains, conflict in eastern
Sudan and so on.”
Winter stresses that the SPLM is “not perfect” but seems
to be doing everything in its power to entrench democracy in Sudan.
“They are not responsible for two-plus million deaths,
they are not responsible for the damage done to Abyei by the [Sudan Armed
Forces] 31stbrigade; they are not the moral equivalent of the crowd
But Small responds: “Both parties do bear a degree of responsibility
for what happened [in Abyei]. We’ve looked very carefully at what happened in
Small says US investigations into the Abyei conflict have
revealed that SPLM forces also played a role in the violence. But, at the same
time, he maintains that the US government recognizes that the southern Sudanese
have for decades “suffered a lot” at the hands of Khartoum.
“By no means are we making any moral equivalency between
the two parties. But I think it is important in this circumstance that we look
very carefully at who…. shares responsibility and who is needed to correct this
issue and to move the ball forward,” he says.
The manager of a Sudanese NGO in Abyei, Daniel Jok Deng,
also criticizes the U.S. for taking actions he says are “detrimental” to peace in
“It seems that the U.S. is not 100 percent clear
on its foreign policy pertaining to Khartoum, because of certain other
interests that it has as a country in cooperating with people that might give
intelligence on terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda,” he says.
Small respondsthat it’s “absolutely false” that Khartoum is providing information
about terrorists in Sudan to Washington in exchange for the U.S. government
ignoring the al-Bashir government’s violations of the 2005 peace agreement, and
the “severity” of the situation in Darfur.
But Deng insists the
U.S. must be stricter with the Khartoum government if there’s ever to be
harmony in Sudan.
“The American government needs to decide on a clear message
and policy towards Sudan and not give [Khartoum] the room to be able to find
loopholes and hiding places and to peddle intelligence in order to continue
perpetrating genocide,” he says.
Small maintains the U.S. is not in the business of
“trade-offs” and reiterates that the current US administration has and in the
future will do all it can to ensure there’s peace in both Darfur and southern
have not gone soft on Khartoum,” he says. “In fact, we have been very, very
direct with Khartoum. We have not withheld using pressure on the government of
Sudan to help change their behavior.”
points to President George W. Bush’s imposition last year of sanctions on
Sudan, “including adding several individuals to our targeted sanctions list, as
well as 30 government of Sudan-owned or -controlled companies. We’ve
continually been prepared to multi-lateralize those sanctions at the U.N. We
have continued to use the tools that we have to put additional pressure on the
regime. President Bush also signed the Sudan divestment legislation at the end
of last year.”
adds that there’s a “strong willingness” in Washington to use both “carrots and
sticks” to push both the SPLM and Khartoum towards peace.