Home | News    Saturday 23 April 2005

Warlords seen as spoilers of Sudan peace process

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By Joyce Mulama

NAIROBI, Apr 21, 2005 (IPS) — Top Sudanese militia leaders failed to show up for talks in neighbouring Kenya this week, prompting fears of a possible return to war in the south of the country.

Gabriel Tanginya and Paulino Matib, who are also senior officers in the Sudanese army, control much of Upper Nile, the oil-rich state on the border with northern Sudan.

Both men are known for their hatred of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) which signed a peace deal with the Islamic regime in Khartoum in January.

The deal, signed in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, ended Africa’s longest running conflict, which erupted in May 1983.

SPLM/A leader John Garang accused the government of Sudan of preventing the militia leaders from attending the conference. ’’It is the responsibility of the Sudan government. Some of (the militia leaders) have not arrived; those who hold guns and are used by Khartoum,’’ he told the gathering.

Defending itself, Sudan government denied Garang’s claims. It said no instructions had been given to the militias not to attend the Apr. 18-21 meeting. ’’It is not true. The government has not told anyone not to come for the meeting. Let us give them more time, they are coming,’’ said Neimat Bilal, spokeswoman at the Sudan embassy in Nairobi.

They never showed up.

Before the signing of the peace accord in January, political analysts had warned of a possible attempt to undermine the agreement if the estimated 36 armed and political groups operating in the south were excluded from the negotiations.

But both the government and SPLM/A had ignored the appeals to include the militias in the talks, mediated by the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD). IGAD comprises Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia.

During this week’s ’South-South Dialogue Conference’ in Nairobi, Garang appealed to the representatives of the about 12 political parties present to focus on unity. ’’This meeting is organised with the view of healing wounds caused by the protracted war of 21 years. It is to clear misunderstandings and create a way for building consensus for the other parties to participate in power and wealth sharing as stipulated in the agreement,’’ he said.

The agreement provides for a 50/50 oil wealth sharing between the government and SPLM/A. Under the power-sharing arrangement, Garang will become the first vice president of Sudan during the six-year interim period, which begins as soon as a government of national unity has been formed in Khartoum.

The south-south dialogue was organised by the Moi Africa Institute, a brain-child of Kenya’s former president Daniel arap Moi, who launched the first round of IGAD talks for Sudan in 1994.

Moi urged the participants to seal all loopholes that may distract them from peace. ’’I call upon you to relinquish all divisive tags and accommodate each other. This will help you to cultivate a collective sense of responsibility as a way of transcending beyond fault lines in your society,’’ he said.

Garang extended an olive branch to the armed militia groups not present at the meeting. ’’I wish to assure the armed groups which are not here that they are welcome to join SPLM/A. It does not matter who signed the agreement or who negotiated it. It is your peace. Let us use this dialogue to heal, reconcile and forgive each other and close our ranks,’’ he said.

Unity is crucial in implementing the agreement, which will be monitored by the international community. After the interim period, southerners will vote in a referendum to decide on whether to remain part of Sudan or secede.

’’The challenge now is for Sudan to reconcile so that they vote in unity during the referendum. If the government does not sufficiently and fundamentally change, why should we vote to become second-class citizens in our own country?’’ he asked.

The neglect of southerners by Khartoum is responsible for the war in the south. The level of under development in the region, the size of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda combined, is so acute that there is only a 12-kilometre-tarmacked road in Juba, the main city in south Sudan under government control. There are no schools and no hospitals, except structures the church and non-governmental organisations (ngos) are trying to set up in the region.

Last week a donor’s conference in Oslo, Norway, pledged 4.5 billion dollars for post-war reconstruction, of which 40 percent will go to the south.

Even as southerners are seeking to build consensus for peace among themselves, women, who have borne the brunt of the war, are demanding that they be given a chance to make decisions.

’’Sixty percent of south Sudan’s population is women. This makes women participation in all decision-making processes inevitable,’’ said Theresa Sirisio, a representative of the Sudan African National Union (SANU), one of the parties at the Nairobi parley. A 1998 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation statistics (FAO) put southern Sudan’s population at 5.3 million.

’’Women empowerment may be accomplished through education or allocation of financial resources to help them reduce poverty,’’ Sirisio said. Illiteracy rate among women in South Sudan is one of the highest on the African continent, ngos say.

Welcoming the Nairobi meeting, a northern opposition leader Wednesday called for a similar north-north dialogue. ’’What is happening in Sudan is that the vulnerability of the peace protocol is being tested. There is now a south-south dialogue in Nairobi. We also need a north-north dialogue,’’ said Sadiq al Mahdi, former prime minister of Sudan.

Addressing a gathering of mostly Sudanese immigrants at South Africa’s Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, al Mahdi said: ’’The talks are important. But they will go nowhere unless a national conference is organised for all the stakeholders in Sudan.’’

Al Mahdi, the last civilian prime minister who was overthrown by the pro-Islamic junta in 1989, is in South Africa to garner support for the conference.

He criticised the January peace deal for allocating 52 percent of all government posts to the ruling National Congress (NC) and 28 percent to the SPLM/A. ’’This is unfair. The 52 percent should have gone to the north and the 28 percent to the south; not to political parties,’’ he said.

Under the agreement, all the other political parties - both in the north and south - who did not participate in the peace talks - will divide the remaining 20 percent of posts in the proposed government of national unity.

*With additional reporting by Moyiga Nduru in Johannesburg.

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