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Kenyan Efforts Open Way for Peace in Sudan, Somalia - 2003-12-24

This story is part of VOA's 2003 in Review series

Peacemaking was the foremost activity in East Africa this year, with the Sudanese and Somali peace talks taking place in Kenya and Tanzania hosting the Burundi talks.

Peace negotiations have achieved a degree of success in 2003. The Sudanese government and Sudan People's Liberation Army agreed to have two separate armies as well as integrated units and an internationally monitored cease-fire agreement. For the first time ever, rebel leader John Garang and First Vice President Ali Osman Taha met face to face, and a rebel delegation had an unscheduled visit with government officials in the country's capital, Khartoum.

Both sides to the talks and Kenyan officials are saying a deal is possible before the year is out.

Delegates to the Somali talks have put together a draft constitution, which has received widespread support and is currently being fine-tuned.

And, the Burundi government and a faction of the Hutu rebel group, Forces for the Defense of Democracy (FDD), signed a peace deal under which the rebels have been integrated into the government and army.

But not all peacemaking has been successful. And even talks that are making progress might not achieve peace because not all the factions are taking part in them.

In the Darfur region of northwestern Sudan, clashes between another rebel group, government troops and Arab militias, that many say are backed by the government, have caused a major humanitarian crisis. Analysts say, unless those rebels are included in the negotiations, there will be no peace in Sudan.

The Somali talks have been plagued by infighting among warlords and other participants. Several of the warlords had stormed out of the negotiations earlier and have attempted to set up their own peace processes.

And, in Burundi, a Hutu rebel faction called the National Liberation Forces that was not part of the peace process continues to carry out attacks against government troops and former FDD rebels.

The year closes with an air of impatience about the progress of the Sudanese and Somali talks, which international partners say are taking too long.

To nudge the parties into a deal, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell visited the Sudanese talks in October and predicted that both sides would sign a comprehensive peace deal by the end of December. He also hinted that the U.S. would lift sanctions against Sudan if a deal were signed and if it the authorities joined in the fight against terrorism.

U.S. special envoy to Sudan, former Senator John Danforth, had expressed optimism about peace in Sudan back in July when he visited Kenya.

"I've said to President Bush that I think this is the end game, that we are very close, that we will know very soon whether there is the prospect of peace, whether there's going to be a peace agreement, and if there isn't, as his representative, I don't know what else I can do," said Mr. Danforth.

Kenyan Foreign Minister Kalonzo Musyoka, who has been predicting an imminent peace agreement in Sudan, is equally optimistic about the Somali talks. He said 40 of the leading participants in the talks will meet January 9 to try to get the deadlocked talks going again.

"Patience is running out on the part of everybody, all the people of goodwill for the people of Somalia. Any leader who will not show up [to the January meeting] will be seen to be an enemy of this process, and will be treated as such," he said.

Mr. Musyoka says he hopes the meeting will pave the way for the selection of Somalia's new interim government.

Clearly, bringing peace to eastern Africa will continue to be the region's main challenge in the coming year. In Burundi, the government and Forces for the Defense of Democracy rebels will have to convince the National Liberation Forces to lay down their arms.

The Sudanese government and rebels still have to find a way to share power and wealth, and resolve territorial problems in the central part of the country. Meanwhile, even whether the Somali leaders' meeting in January will be held is far from certain; it has been postponed twice already.

But already, Kenya, with its efforts to bring warring parties in the region together, is establishing itself as a regional peacemaker.

Nairobi-based political analyst Mustapha Hassouna says Kenya is keenly aware of its responsibilities in the region.

"Kenya today is in the position of saying to the world that they're quite capable not only of undertaking peace processes, but also quite capable of bringing about a result which would not only suit Kenya but also suit the region," he said.

He says Kenya knows that resolving conflicts in Sudan and Somalia will guarantee its own security, as well as the security of other nations in the region, particularly with respect to reducing or stopping the flow of arms in and out of the war-torn areas.

Regional protection from terrorist threats was also high on the region's agenda in 2003. U.S. President Bush pledged $150 million to fight terrorism in five East African countries, with initiatives ranging from new security equipment at airports to beefed-up police surveillance.

Kenya's security minister Chris Murungaru says his government has made great strides in fighting terrorism.

"We have achieved a lot," said Mr. Murungaru. "We have set up the Kenya counter terrorism police unit, we have developed a counter terrorism strategy, and because of those interventions, we have been able to secure ourselves against terrorism in the past one year in spite of heightened threats."

The government has also drafted anti-terrorism legislation, modeled after the U.S. Patriot Act, and is bringing to trial a number of suspects in last year's suicide bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel on the coast.

But these and other measures have created their own conflicts. Muslims in Kenya and the surrounding areas feel they are being targeted by the anti-terrorism measures, especially by provisions in the draft legislation that say people can be arrested for wearing clothing or displaying objects that can be associated with terrorism.

A spokesperson for the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, Nazal Rajput, says Muslim unease in Kenya reflects global patterns.

"The Muslims globally don't consider this to be a war waged by U.S. on terrorism" said Ms. Rajput. "It's more like a terrorist war waged on the Muslim community and Islam itself."

Ms. Rajput says she feels the U.S. is putting tremendous pressure on the Kenyan government to enact the legislation.

Kenya's big challenge in the new year will be to try to woo back tourists, who have been scared away by travel warning issued by the United States, Britain and other countries.