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Report: Sudan's Civil War Could Escalate If Unchecked - 2002-06-28

A new report warns that if the international community does not use its diplomatic and economic muscle to end Sudan's civil war, the fighting could soon get even worse because each side is growing more powerful.

A Brussels-based advocacy organization, the International Crisis Group, said more pressure must be used to get Sudan's warring parties to end the 19-year conflict that has killed about two million people. If nothing is done, according to the report, the war is likely to intensify.

The report said oil revenues have allowed the government to purchase increasingly lethal weapons and expand the use of air power. As for the rebels, the Sudan People's Liberation Army, the report said they have acquired more sophisticated weapons and are engaging government forces in more intense conventional battles.

The government of Sudan and the rebels have been holding talks in neighboring Kenya, under the auspices of the regional Inter Governmental Authority on Development, but these negotiations have been dragging on for nine years, with neither side willing to budge from their entrenched positions.

John Prendergast, a senior analyst with International Crisis Group, believes the time has come for the international community to exert pressure on the government and the rebels.

"The U.S. and other key countries, the EU, have to talk about what they can do with regard to getting forward movement on the part of the parties. I don't see how either one of the two parties, the SPLA or the government, will be willing to move substantially on some of the really divisive issues in the absence of pretty serious new external moves on the part of the international community," Mr. Prendergast said.

Mr. Prendergast suggests several areas where the government in Khartoum is vulnerable to outside pressure, starting with a cutoff in money from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

"This is something the government of Sudan desperately needs, to re-engage these multilateral institutions. Sudan's debt is just overwhelming. It's breaking the country's economy. We need to hold the line and say when a comprehensive peace agreement occurs, then you get the assistance and the debt relief," he said.

To put pressure on the SPLA rebels, Mr. Prendergast suggests denying them funding, arms and international recognition.

Hopes for peace in Sudan have been raised in recent months by renewed involvement by the United States, Britain and Norway, and Mr. Prendergast says these countries should continue their involvement.

The International Crisis Group said unless a real effort is made to end the civil war, the Sudanese people will be condemned to increasing death and destruction.