If Sudan’s government and the former Southern Sudan SPLM rebel movement carry out their pledge to accept the findings of next month’s expected arbitration court ruling on Abyei, it would go a long way toward cementing renewal of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) for northern and southern Sudan.
That’s the sentiment to come out of a peace seminar known as the Forum for Supporters of the CPA that was held in Washington this week. It was organized and coordinated by high-ranking members of the Obama administration, including Sudan special envoy Scott Gration and Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and attended by delegates from 33 countries.
Senior vice president of the International Crisis Group Mark Schneider listened in on some of this week’s deliberations. He notes that following through on Abyei could help Sudan get past the first of several major hurdles needed to prevent the breakup of Africa’s largest country into two distinct states.
“If in fact both sides accept it, it would be a major step permitting the demarcation of north and south boundaries, which then would be a critical factor in moving forward on the CPA and the carrying out of elections, and ultimately, the referendum that’s scheduled for 2011 on whether or not there will be a single unified Sudan or whether there’ll be two separate countries, with the border indicated through the demarcation that’s yet to be resolved,” he explained.
Disposition of borders and revenues from Abyei, Sudan’s richest oil-producing region that straddles the border between north and south, has been a major sticking point complicating efforts to move unification efforts toward new elections (currently scheduled for next February) and a 2011 referendum charted out when the 2005 CPA went into effect.
In the past, Khartoum has turned down southern Sudanese leaders’ and international arbiters’ terms for boundary rights around the disputed oil area. But President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Sudan’s Vice President Salva Kiir Mayardit, who also serves as the President of Southern Sudan, did agree to let the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague adjudicate the border claims. The Court’s findings are expected to be issued as soon as July 22.
Mark Schneider says this week’s pledge in Washington by both sides to the dispute to accept the results of international arbitration, if ultimately carried out, could provide a blueprint on how to proceed on elections, a north-south referendum, and ultimately the test of finalizing an enduring CPA accord.
“The distribution of oil revenues from Abyei and from other largely southern oil wells is one of the issues to be finally resolved in these negotiations and in CPA implementation. And once there’s a physical agreement on the boundary in Abyei, then you’ll know what the distribution is of some substantial portion of the oil revenues,” said Schneider.
In their remarks to the forum, US Special Envoy for Sudan Scott Gration and Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg underscored the Obama administration’s concern about keeping up the pace of the negotiations so the parties would not lose sight of a January 2011 referendum on the future of Sudan’s southern region.
Ambassador Gration met with National Congress Party (NCP) government officials and SPLM rebel supporters on the sidelines of the Washington summit Monday and Tuesday.
Later he told reporters the two sides would accept next month’s arbitration ruling by the court in The Hague to decide Abyei’s firm boundaries.
But a participants’ statement published yesterday by the US State Department is quoted as saying that the parties “Looked forward to the final and binding decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in determining the boundaries of the Abyei Area, and reiterated their commitment to support the parties in implementing the decision.”
Last week after a briefing in Washington, Ambassador Gration drew concern from anti-genocide activist groups and spokespeople for displaced Darfur refugees, when he gave reporters a description of conditions observed during his visit to Sudan’s conflict-ridden region.
“What we see is the remnants of genocide,” he told reporters, noting that the violence levels had shifted from brutal government-supported militia attacks on civilians to conflicts between rebels groups, the Sudanese government, and some violence between Chad and Sudan.
Sudan’s government also seized on the US ambassador’s remarks, interpreting them to underline Khartoum’s contention that genocide does not occur in Darfur.
The International Crisis Group’s Mark Schneider suggests that if the Washington forum succeeded in firming up both sides’ adherence to an upcoming arbitration decision, then the conference will have taken a major step toward ensuring Sudan’s existence as a state and bringing peace and greater stability to an imperiled region.
“I think that you can definitely accept his (Ambassador Gration’s) conclusions that that is what they have agreed to. There’s a substantial distance, however, between that statement and the actual taking steps to put into effect the outcome of the arbitration once it becomes known in the end of July. Essentially a month from now, you’re going to have the final declaration, and if both sides carry out this agreement of today, that would be very impressive,” he said.