Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 29 January 2004

Is Khartoum’s Suspension of Naivasha Talks the End of the Peace Process?


What Will It Require of the International Community to Forestall Collapse?

By Eric Reeves

Jan 29, 2004 — If we attend carefully to the fashion in which the IGAD-sponsored peace talks for Sudan recently were forced into suspension by Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime, such a high degree of bad faith is revealed that it is difficult to believe that resumption of the talks will yield any meaningful progress. Certainly without significantly greater international pressure on Khartoum, the regime will calculate that it can engineer a slow withering of the peace "process," one that gradually moves Sudan out of focus in the US even as domestic electoral politics move into high gear. This in turn argues that US (and other) constituencies concerned about ending the massive and still expanding crisis in Sudan must move effectively in the near term---or Sudan will cease to be a "politically viable" issue, at least during the currently accelerating US election cycle.

Just what occurred in the last days of this most recent session of negotiations in Naivasha (Kenya)? Insidiously deft efforts by Khartoum have done much to obscure the exact chain of events, but wire reports and various sources close to the talks have made clear just what happened and where the particular moments of Khartoum’s bad faith are to be discerned. A sequential narrative, organized by day, may be the most revealing:

*Tuesday, January 20, 2004: Reuters first reports that someone from the Khartoum regime has indicated that Ali Osman Taha, NIF First Vice President and lead negotiator at Naivasha, will be going to Mecca on the Islamic Haj, and this will force a suspension of the Naivasha talks. Kenya’s Lazaro Sumbeiywo, chief IGAD mediator in the talks, is incredulous, and Reuters reports his response to what at the time was an unsourced rumor:

"The chief mediator of the talks, Kenyan Lazaro Sumbeiywo, said Taha had not mentioned any upcoming absences or a break in the talks and cast doubt on the comments out of Khartoum. ’He hasn’t told me of any break that is coming up,’ Sumbeiywo said. ’I don’t think he would want to leave without an agreement. It would mean that he is not serious, and yet I know he is serious in these talks. There are two camps in Khartoum: those who want to get an agreement and those who don’t,’ Sumbeiywo said. ’This claim that he is going for the haj could be from those who are against.’" (Reuters, January 20, 2004)

*Wednesday, January 21: Reuters reports that the source of the news about Taha’s leaving for the Haj, and the consequent suspension of the talks, is Ahmed Dirdeiry, Khartoum’s Deputy Ambassador in Nairobi and an authoritative spokesman for the regime. Dirdeiry has been fully briefed by Khartoum. But Sumbeiywo, caught unaware, has already too accurately captured the implications of such an expedient maneuver: Taha’s leaving for the Haj "means that he is not serious" and is part of the "camp" in Khartoum that "doesn’t want peace." Taha has been on the Haj twice before, and there is no religious obligation to go in this particular year. NIF expediency stands fully exposed.

*Thursday, January 22: Recognizing that Khartoum’s suspension of talks in such expedient fashion poses a grave threat to the peace process, US Congressman Frank Wolf writes to President Bush, declaring that "I am extremely concerned that the peace process is at risk of collapsing"; Congressman Wolf explicitly invokes the Sudan Peace Act and the terms that follow from any Presidential determination that Khartoum is not engaged in "good faith" in the peace negotiations.

[Such renewed Presidential determination was in fact due on January 21, 2004, according to a State Department report on "Sudan Peace Act Presidential Determination," October 22, 2003; there is no evidence that this promised and already tardy determination has been made; see http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2003/25548.htm.

Congressman Wolf is the extremely powerful Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies. His jurisdiction includes the US State Department and its budget. His letter would have secured immediate attention from the State Department and other senior administration officials. This in turn likely resulted in some form of high-level communication with Khartoum.

*Friday, January 23: Sensing that it has been too blunt with its strategy for engineering a suspension of the peace talks, Khartoum seeks to diminish the precipitous nature of the break-off by agreeing to final language on popular consultation for two of the contested areas, the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile. This agreement is reached in the presence of Vice President Taha, as well as two of his aides, and John Garang (Chairman of the SPLM), as well as two of his aides. The agreement would subsequently be reported by various wire services, giving the impression of progress prior to the suspension of the talks. Notably, there was no progress on Abyei---the area that has been the greatest sticking point, and where Khartoum continues with activities having clear military potential.

*Saturday, January 24: Khartoum demands revisions to the document signed the day before. Although this entails revising an agreement just secured, the SPLM/A delegation agrees to this revision.

*Sunday, January 25: This will turn out to be the last day of negotiations in this session. Khartoum demands that the final document reflect the language of both the January 23 document and the January 24 document; the SPLM/A delegation agrees to this second change. But despite SPLM/A acceptance of the demanded changes, Khartoum refuses to sign a final document.

*Monday, January 26: Talks are suspended and there is no signed agreement on these critical issues, despite an accommodation of all of Khartoum’s demanded changes. The three-week suspension of the talks insures that this agreement on the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile will not survive, but rather will have to be renegotiated. At the moment of truth, with agreements on security issues, wealth-sharing, and the difficult issues of the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile---and with comprehensive agreement clearly in reach if Khartoum had been willing to remain in session---the talks were suspended. The contrived excuse of "Taha’s Haj" never changed from what chief IGAD mediator Sumbeiywo all too accurately described as a clear indication of lack of seriousness.

This is Khartoum’s testing of international resolve to bring a just and sustainable peace to Sudan. And the international community is failing, evidently without the moral will or political commitment to bring to bear appropriate pressure on the regime. If such pressure is not immediately and resolutely generated, the talks will wither---resuming, perhaps, but without any sense of deadline or urgency. At an expedient moment, the NIF regime will declare an "impasse" and that "no further progress can be made." The pretext may be Abyei, which holds particular potential to divide an SPLM/A whose unity has been already sorely tested by negotiations over the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile. Or perhaps it will be over the status of the national capital, or some particular feature of the power-sharing agreement that should pose no insuperably difficult issues of principle.

Or Khartoum may simply sign an agreement with no intention of honoring it. Having attenuated the meaning and enforceability of any final agreement, the regime may judge that the simplest strategy (one that has worked many times before) is bald reneging. Though the UN has evidently begun to plan for a peace support operation, there are to date no signs that there is robust support for such an operation from the most powerful UN members, and no signs that appropriate resources are being planned, let alone readied for deployment. These inadequacies, belatedness, and lack of resolve are all well noted by Khartoum; and calculations about how peace might be most effectively subverted after a signing agreement are certainly well underway.

In short, without very significant and continuing pressures---and indeed explicit threats---Khartoum will simply delay and calculate the least consequential way in which to halt progress toward a just and sustainable peace.

Does this seem too brazen? We need only consider today’s news from Darfur to see the full nature of Khartoum’s contempt for international opinion and indeed international law. The BBC reports:

"Two refugees have been killed after a Sudanese plane bombed them in Chad, a United Nations official says. A spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency said a man and his two-year-old girl had died, citing Chad officials.
The UNHCR says that some 100,000 people have fled the western Darfur province since a rebellion began last year. They say the government is bombing their villages to drive them out but this would be the first time the bombs have landed in Chad." (Reuters, January 29, 2004)

Not content to seek out and destroy Darfur’s civilian population, primarily the African Fur, Zaghawa, and Masseleit peoples, Khartoum is now attacking civilians inside Chad and violating Chad’s airspace. Voice of America and ABC News are reporting that in addition to the two people killed by Khartoum’s bombing attack in Chad, fifteen refugees (four of them children) were wounded (Voice of America and ABC News, January 29, 2004).

The consequences of Khartoum’s accelerating campaign of aerial bombing terror are partially captured in a report today by the UN’s Integrated Regional Information Networks; the shocking headline reads:

"Chad-Sudan: Hundreds Killed in Daily Air Raids On Darfur Villages"
(UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, January 29, 2004)

The IRIN account continues:

"Daily bombing raids on villages in Darfur, western Sudan, are killing hundreds of civilians and causing thousands more to flee across the border into neighbouring Chad only to find themselves part of a spiralling humanitarian crisis.

"’Between 50 and 100 are arriving every day from Tine [Sudan] and the surrounding villages,’ Barout Margui Sawa, a local official in charge of the refugees in Tine Chad, told IRIN. ’The Antonov planes circle every night from 01:00 to 02:00 GMT. They drop bombs on the Sudanese side, so people are scared.’"

"Since 9 January, Antonov aircraft were dropping bombs every day across the border in Sudan, circling over Chadian airspace above the border town of Tine Chad, said Abubakar Mohammed Chaib of the Chadian Red Cross. Before that, the aircraft had been coming only every second or third day. ’They [the refugees] are coming because of the aircraft bombing. There is nowhere safe in Sudan,’ he said. On 29 December two bombs had been dropped on the Chadian side of the border, inside Tine, he added."

"[T]he daily threat of aircraft overhead and the sound and smoke from the bombs---steel drums full of explosives---being dropped nearby is scaring many of them away, according to Nuria Serra, a field coordinator with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). She said an increasing number were fleeing inland from the border town, as the crisis in Tine heightened by the day."

"[M]any of the wounded in the hospital told IRIN that the bombing campaign in Darfur was targeting innocent civilians. Harun Uthman, a man from a village outside Nyala, southern Darfur, said he had been at home on 15 January when an aircraft circling overhead dropped its bombs. ’I lost six men and two girls in my family, my father, my brothers, my grandparents, my wife, and my son.’

"Bakhit Abdullah Khamis, whose leg had been amputated from the knee at the MSF hospital, said a bomb had been dropped on his village outside Karnoi on 19 January. ’I was at the well with my cows when the plane came. There were eight of us, four are dead.’

"Ibrahim Da’ud Djimet, lying next to him on the MSF tent floor, said: ’We’re farmers with our herds. If there are rebels, they’re not in the villages, they’re in the bush. If the government wants the rebels, I don’t know why they bomb the villages.’"
(UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, January 29, 2004)


Negotiations in Naivasha have all along been, and perhaps will be again, with a regime that is once more engaged in the daily bombing of civilians and civilian targets---deliberately, brutally, unrepentantly. This is of course not news to the people of southern Sudan, who have endured years and years of such barbarism. But nothing better captures the character of the regime in Khartoum. Nothing better illustrates the ruthlessness and cruelty concealed behind the urbane veneer of the National Islamic Front. Understanding this evil, and refusing to allow it room to maneuver by means of duplicitous stratagems, is all that will bring even the semblance of peace to Sudan.

But no real peace can survive while such evil remains in power, and this should make clear the ultimate goal of any peace process: to set in motion the political forces by which the NIF’s longstanding, comprehensive, and vicious grip on power is broken.

Eric Reeves,
Smith College,
Northampton, MA 01063

413-585-3326 -

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