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Darfur Crisis Hampering North-South Peace Talks in Sudan - 2004-09-09

More than two years after signing a cease-fire that ended a two-decade long civil war, the National Islamic Front government in Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in southern Sudan have yet to finalize the details of a comprehensive peace. As VOA’s Serena Parker reports, many analysts blame the conflict and humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of western Sudan for the delay in ending the north-south civil war.

Formal cease-fire talks underway in Kenya between Sudan’s National Islamic Front government and the SPLM, the political wing of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, broke down in late July. Since then, there’s been almost no progress, other than an August agreement to extend the cease-fire by three months.

However, David Shinn, a career diplomat who served in Sudan, says while the peace talks have dragged on longer than expected, the two sides have made substantial progress. “The current iteration of the peace talks have been underway for two years now,” he says, “and it’s important to give credit to both parties for the success that they have achieved, which is the signing of six protocols dealing with oil sharing, power sharing and security issues among others.”

These protocols are to lay the framework for a final peace agreement, but that has yet to be reached. Professor Robert Rotberg at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government says the delay has a lot to do with making sure there are no surprises after the final agreement has been signed.

“They want this agreement to work, and they’ve been encouraged by the Kenyan mediators and by U.S. mediators and outsiders to make sure that everything is in order so that there won’t be hostilities that break out, which has always happened in the past,” he says. “Whenever there has been a cease-fire or agreement of some kind, they’ve always broken back out into war very soon thereafter and no one wants that to happen.”

Mr. Rotberg says Khartoum also is preoccupied with the humanitarian crisis in Darfur and all the unwanted international attention it’s receiving. He says the pressure to resolve the Darfur crisis makes it harder for the government of Sudan to concentrate on the details of a final agreement with the SPLM.

The crisis in Darfur pits two different rebel groups against the government and pro-government militias known as the Janjaweed. The fighting has forced more than one million people from their homes and killed an estimated 50,000. The long-running north-south civil war involves the Islamic government in Khartoum and rebels in the Christian and animist south. More than two million people died over the course of the conflict, mostly as a result of war-related famine.

Although the two conflicts are distinct, Peter Moszynski, an aid worker with more than 20 years experience in Sudan, says they share similar roots. “Khartoum has tended to rule in a very centralized manner,” he says, “and all the peripheral regions complain of the same marginalization and complain about basically the same issues as do the southerners, although the southerners are predominantly non-Muslim and the other groups in northern Sudan are Muslims.

Mr. Moszynski adds it’s worth remembering that the rebels in Darfur took up arms because they felt excluded from the southern peace process. Now he says, the way the crisis in Darfur is settled will have an impact on the rest of the country. “The trouble is that the more intransigent Khartoum appears and the less willing they are to compromise, the less faith other people have in them, particularly the SPLA in the South, but also all the other areas as well,” he says.

The other areas where people feel marginalized by the central government include the Nuba Mountains in central Sudan, the Nubia Desert in northeastern Sudan and the Blue Nile region of eastern Sudan. In the past people in these regions have risen up against Khartoum. And they may again, says former diplomat David Shinn.

“There are other areas that could potentially raise similar issues; for example, the Beja Congress in the eastern part of northern Sudan,” he says. “It could even go further than that as time goes on. And indeed if you have eventually a north-south peace agreement signed, I don’t rule out that there would be some tendencies toward divisions in the South itself.”

Some analysts say factions within the Khartoum regime are using the Darfur crisis as an excuse to sink the north-south peace deal, which they never wanted. If that’s the case, the United States can take action. The Sudan Peace Act is up for renewal in October and President Bush must certify that Khartoum and the SPLM are negotiating in good faith. If the President determines that the government has not engaged in good faith negotiations, the United States can seek a United Nations Security Council resolution for an arms embargo on the Sudanese government.