Africa's longest civil war could be coming to an end if a Sudanese peace agreement reached between the Arab north and the Christian south earlier this week is implemented. But, the agreement does not include a resolution to the conflict in Sudan's western region of Darfur.
The peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the southern rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Army, calls for a six-year transitional period in which the north and south will share the division of oil revenues, form an interim constitution, share legislative responsibilities and integrate military forces. After six years, a referendum will determine whether the south will remain part of the nation or seek independence.
Salih Booker is Executive Director of Africa Action, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that promotes political, economic and social justice in Africa. He told VOA, "Potentially it represents a broader process of democratization in Sudan, that the rest of Africa not only would support and cheer on, but could take some lessons from as well.”
He mentioned some of the benefits. “The optimistic view is that this peace agreement and this process is going to allow for greater space in Sudan. Greater freedom of the press, greater freedom of speech, of assembly. That the state of emergency that has existed in Sudan will be lifted, because the major war is over."
Charles Snyder, the U.S. State Department's senior representative on Sudan, says the peace agreement can expedite a political solution to Sudan's other conflict: the crisis in the western Darfur region of the country.
"So, we're hopeful that as I said, this very historic peace agreement, which got very little notice I think because of the problems in Darfur, may be the nugget of the solution in Darfur," said Mr. Snyder.
But Mr. Booker remains unconvinced of the Khartoum government's good intentions. He says, “So there is serious reason for healthy skepticism or critical skepticism because the government commitments and the government intentions are somewhat dubious while they continue to conduct a campaign of genocide against civilians in the Darfur region of Sudan."
The conflict in Darfur has killed 70,000 people and driven nearly two million people from their homes since non-Arab rebel groups took up arms two years ago against what they saw as government neglect and discrimination against Sudanese of African origin. The government responded with a counter-insurgency campaign in which the Janjaweed, an Arab militia, has conducted a campaign of rape and murder against the African population.
U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf, a Republican from the state of Virginia, has traveled to Sudan several times. He attended the peace signing ceremony. "But I do think it's a one- two step. I think you had to resolve the north-south issue," said the congressman.
The UN's top envoy to Sudan, Jan Pronk, says it would be hard to reap a peace dividend between the north and south without an end to the suffering in Darfur.
He recently demanded an immediate ceasefire in the western region. "No attacks, no retaliation. The government should not only refrain from bombing, which it already had declared to do, but also from military flights above rebel-held positions,” said Mr. Pronk.
“The government should also refrain from further so-called road-clearing operations. The rebel movement in turn, should refrain from attacks on the police as well as on towns and infrastructure."
Sudan's Ambassador to the UN, Elfatih Mohamed Erwa, says he has read reports that arms have been carried in to the region in violation of a ceasefire, but says Mr. Pronk's demands seem acceptable. "I think it is reasonable and I think he has put forward very interesting and constructive proposals and suggestions to be made to be taken over."
Both sides will meet next week to begin drafting an interim constitution.