Home | Comment & Analysis    Saturday 7 February 2004

Some peace, at last, for Sudan?


Editorial, Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO, Feb 07, 2004 — An agreement appears to be near to end Africa’s longest-running civil war, the catastrophic combat in Sudan that in 20 years has taken more than 1.5 million lives and displaced some four million people.

Peace talks are expected to resume this month in Kenya under the watchful eyes of the Bush administration, which is hoping for a breakthrough on several remaining issues between rebels and the Sudanese government.

A deal would hold out hope for a promising turnabout in the largest nation in Africa, which has harbored terrorism and been ripped apart by conflict, famine and genocide.

The civil war in Sudan is embodied in religious and ethnic strife. The largely Christian south has been at odds with the mostly Muslim north. From the capital Khartoum, the government imposed strict Islamic law and waged brutal offensives against the south.

The heart-wrenching pictures of starvation and death led people the world over to donate tens of thousands of dollars to charities that risked the lives of workers to operate in Sudan.

In 1998, the U.S. launched 13 cruise missiles into a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory under the assumption that it was making chemical weapons on order of Osama bin Laden. Sudanese leaders insisted the plant was not linked to terrorism, but they also began to re-evaluate their place on the map of terror.

In recent months, several pacts have been forged, including an agreement to divide the country’s oil revenues, which average more than $2 million per day, among the government and rebels.

After years of blacklisting Sudan because of its support of terrorists, including harboring bin Laden, Washington is a main player in the Sudanese talks. Secretary of State Colin Powell has been involved and former U.S. Sen. John Danforth has been an active go-between as a special envoy. The U.S. has suggested that it would reward Sudan with formal diplomatic recognition, the end of sanctions against the country and removal from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The Bush administration has much to gain: a chance for regional stability in Africa, cooperation from a once scary haven of terror, and a boost to its foreign policy at a time of relentless criticism over American intervention in Iraq.

Weaning Sudan from war will not be easy. Too many arms remain in the country. Sudan’s horrible record on human rights cannot be dismissed. An isolated conflict with rebels near the border with Chad rages on despite peace talks. That has led to thousands of displaced refugees and highlights how the cycle of violence can flare at any moment.

With Muslim-Christian tensions on the rise in Africa and the Middle East, Sudan is attempting to embark on a path of religious co-existence after decades of systematic violence. Talking peace is one thing. Making peace last is far more difficult.

Here’s hoping that Sudan at least gets a chance to try.

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