The Bush administration's chief African affairs official, Walter Kansteiner, is urging the parties to the Sudan conflict to refrain from military activity in order to advance the country's emerging peace process. Sudan's Islamic government and southern rebels agreed on a six-year peace plan earlier this month and their leaders held an unprecedented meeting Saturday in Kampala.
The Sudanese peace plan concluded 10 days ago in Kenya contains no specific cease-fire language. But Mr. Kansteiner, who has just returned from a mission to Africa, is urging both sides to halt military operations in order to allow the peace process spawned by the so-called Machakos Protocol to take hold.
In a talk with reporters here, Mr. Kansteiner, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, said initial indications are that violence has subsided since the signing of the accord - named for the Kenyan town in which it was negotiated. He said continued quiet would be a good omen for the first round of follow-on talks that open in Kenya August 12.
Mr. Kansteiner said, "We've heard that things are quiet. We encourage both sides that in the spirit of signing this, although there is no specific cease-fire paragraphs or wording, that we encourage them that in the spirit of this, everyone refrain from military activity. And it does seem as if things have calmed down on a military front in the last 10 days. So we're hoping that, in fact, it stays that way and they can begin the talks again on the 12th of August with some good momentum."
The agreement, signed July 20, provides for a six-year transitional period leading to an internationally supervised referendum which would include an option for Sudan's rebellious southern states to secede. In the meantime, the south is to have a degree of autonomy and there are to be constitutional changes so that Islamic law would not be applied to non-Muslims in the south.
The follow-on talks will address a number of unresolved issues including the division of oil revenues, political power sharing and the question of a truce, and U.S. officials are hopeful they can be resolved within a few months.
In his comments here, Mr. Kansteiner said the United States has gotten positive reports about the meeting in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, Saturday of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and southern rebel leader John Garang. He also said he thinks outreach by Sudanese leaders and sponsors of the peace process has been able to ease Egyptian concern that a possible future southern Sudanese state might divert waters of the Nile:
Mr. Kansteiner continued, "There are a number of efforts underway by both Khartoum and others to make sure that everyone understands exactly what this framework agreement meant, and what has everyone signed on to. And I think as that's becoming clearer that it really is just a framework agreement that involves autonomy for the south, but not independence for the south; but it does in fact in six and a half years give the opportunity for the will of the people to be heard, i.e. a referendum. As people get more comfortable and more familiar with what all that means, the comfort level is higher, and I think especially in Cairo's case. I think they're starting to see the real advantages of this."
Mr. Kansteiner said he expects the U.S. special envoy for Sudan, John Danforth, to return to Africa next month to lead U.S. diplomatic efforts in support of the peace process. Mr. Danforth, a former senator appointed to the post by President Bush last September, has been in Europe briefing U.S. allies on the latest developments and seeking greater financial help for Sudan.