Home | Comment & Analysis    Saturday 29 May 2004

Surviving in Sudan


By the Globe and Mail

TORONTO, May 29, 2004 — While the eyes of the world have largely been focused elsewhere, Sudan’s Islamic government and Christian and animist rebel forces in the south have finally reached a deal to end a 21-year civil war that has claimed close to two million lives. The accord, signed Wednesday after nearly two years of intermittent negotiations between Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, is a welcome lesson to the rest of Africa and the Middle East that even the most bitter of opponents can find solutions at the bargaining table if they have the will to do so.

But much remains to be resolved before peace can be proclaimed in Sudan. A separate conflict in the western Darfur region of the country between a Khartoum-backed Arab militia force and two black Muslim rebel groups fighting for greater regional autonomy has exploded into a full-fledged humanitarian crisis. United Nations relief officials say the number of people in urgent need of food and medical help stands at two million. More than a million people have lost their homes and about 130,000 have fled into neighbouring Chad, which faces considerable political unrest and increasing violence as the fighting spills over its border.

The UN Security Council has rightly ignored Khartoum’s claim that what happens in the Darfur region is strictly an internal problem and of no concern to the international body. The council told the Sudanese government to keep its promise to disarm the marauding militias and to stop interfering with aid workers trying to gain access to the remote region.

Washington, too, is eager for peace to break out and worried about the stability of the Chadian government, which it sees as an ally in corralling large numbers of terrorists reported to be hiding along Chad’s mountainous borders with Libya and Niger. It was U.S. diplomatic and economic pressure that helped bring an end to the north-south hostilities. Sudan’s government has been receptive because it is eager to shed its pariah status. Earlier this month, it was removed from the State Department’s list of governments that do not co-operate in the war on terror, but it is still regarded as a state sponsor of terrorism and is still under sanctions barring trade and investments.

The strong statement from the Security Council and Khartoum’s genuine desire to restore normal ties with Washington likely played an important role in an agreement reached Friday to allow international observers to monitor a ceasefire in Darfur and to report on human-rights violations. The next step is for the Security Council to dispatch enough peacekeeping troops to monitor the new peace between government forces and the southern rebels and to ensure that medical and other relief workers can get into the Darfur region and do their jobs safely.

Stopping the civil war is an important breakthrough and a foreign-policy success for the Bush administration. But the road to peace in Sudan remains full of deep potholes and dangerous curves, and negotiating it will require the full attention of the international community.

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