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Analysts say US Must Do More to Maintain Sudan Peace [PART 4 OF 5]

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 the CPA.

“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 in Khartoum.”

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 that area.”

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.

Terrorism ‘trade-off’

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 his homeland.

“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 Sudan.

“We 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.”

He 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.”

Small adds that there’s a “strong willingness” in Washington to use both “carrots and sticks” to push both the SPLM and Khartoum towards peace.