Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 2 February 2004

Peace in Sudan and other hopes

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Editorial, The Globe and mail

TORONTO, Canada, Feb 02, 2004 — The prospect of a peace accord in southern Sudan is part of the good news — from Libya, from Somalia, from other traditional trouble spots — that is often obscured by the daily stream of bad news. The Bush administration, which is justly criticized for its foreign policy miscues, has been part of the solution in some of these positive developments, thanks to direct action in certain cases, quiet diplomacy in others and a willingness to lean equally on both sides to settle disputes. The enlightened intercession of other players — the European Union, neighbours in the regions — has also started to pay dividends.

In Sudan, U.S. pressure is one reason why the Khartoum government and rebel forces have made considerable progress toward ending one of the world’s more protracted and violent conflicts. The civil war has claimed about two million lives and displaced millions more during two decades of fighting.

Libya, like Sudan, would love to get off Washington’s list of state sponsors of terrorism and its accompanying sanctions barring trade, loans and investments. Secret negotiations with U.S. and British officials led to a deal in which Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi agreed to end all efforts to develop nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, remove any in existence and open the country to full inspections. Libyan authorities have so far kept their promise, shipping nearly 25,000 kilograms of nuclear documents, materials and parts for ballistic missiles to the United States for evaluation and destruction. Iran, too, has opened its closed doors to inspections of its nuclear facilities.

Elsewhere, the various warring factions, clans and militias that turned a large swath of Somalia into a lawless nightmare for more than a decade reached an accord last week to set up a transitional national government, with representation apportioned along clan lines. Previous such initiatives failed. But this time all the main players in Somali society, including bitter rival warlords, appear to be on board.

In Asia, Pakistan is cracking down on the terrorists who once counted on government officials for support and protection and, after an 18-month hiatus, is about to resume talks with India on several contentious issues, including the future of Kashmir.

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai’s weak government managed to forge a consensus long enough to produce a new constitution calling for free elections and equality before the law for men and women. Taiwan and China are lowering temperatures a little and restoring some stability to their relationship. And although North Korea has yet to bend on the nuclear arms issue, at least the situation has not deteriorated further.

Hope in all of these cases must be tempered with caution, based on previous experience. Afghanistan, for example, remains extremely fragile. The regional warlords are a major threat to democratic reform, narcotics traffickers have resurfaced in a big way and the deposed Taliban and al-Qaeda have launched a new round of violence, including suicide attacks on peacekeepers.

In Sudan, too, peace is not yet at hand. Under the watchful eye of former U.S. senator John Danforth, President George W. Bush’s personal envoy, the government and the rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, have agreed to a formula for sharing the country’s oil wealth after the war ends. But they have yet to reach a deal on such contentious items as power-sharing and the administration of disputed areas. The government’s new assault on unrelated rebel groups in the western part of the country also threatens to derail the accord. After the failure in December of ceasefire talks brokered by neighbouring Chad and the refusal of the government to consider demands for autonomy, the situation in one part of the country looks as grim as ever, even as it improves in another.

This, sadly, is the lot of the world; as one crisis abates, another grows. All the more reason to take note of the tentative success stories, and hope they will light the way for others



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