March 14, 2012 (WASHINGTON) – A United States (US) official will travel to the Middle East in the coming weeks to seek the help of governments there in pressing Khartoum to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered to rebel-held areas in the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
- US Special Envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman testifies at the Senate Foreign Relations Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on March 14, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Getty Images)
The two states have been the scene of fighting between Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and rebels from the Sudan People Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N). The latter had been part of what is now the army of South Sudan during the north-south civil war, which was officially concluded by the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005.
With the displacement caused by the fighting and inaccessibility of parts of these states, there have been warnings about a looming humanitarian crisis unless aid groups are allowed in. US officials and aid experts have said that as many as 250,000 people could be on the brink of famine by the end of April.
There has been a joint initiative unveiled last month by the United Nations (UN), African Union (AU) and the Arab League (AL) which called for the three organisations to assess the needs and humanitarian situation throughout the conflict area, and then to deliver assistance to the needy.
While the SPLM-N agreed to it, Khartoum has yet to give its blessings to the plan.
The US have warned that it could act unilaterally to deliver relief even without Khartoum’s consent. But the latter rejected any plans for an aid corridor without involvement by its government organisations, saying that supplies could go to SPLM-N rebels.
At the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today, the special envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman said that they prefer to get approval from Khartoum because it would be the most efficient method.
"Should Khartoum agree to allow access to international humanitarian organisations across the lines of fighting, there must be swift progress on implementation. If necessary, we will examine ways to provide indirect support to Sudanese humanitarian actors to reach the most vulnerable. We have monitoring and accountability tools to make sure that civilians would be the beneficiaries of these activities. Nevertheless, an international program, as proposed by the UN and its partners, is the best means to reach the most people and we continue to urge the government to approve it,” Lyman said.
The US official said the economic crisis faced by the Sudanese government as a result of secession of the oil rich south provides a leverage opportunity particularly in the light of the agreement signed between Khartoum and Juba on Tuesday, which will pave the way for a summit between Presidents Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Salva Kiir.
“I think the opportunity is coming up as a result of this agreement that was reached in Addis because what it focused on more specifically was the recognition on the part of the negotiators from Khartoum is that they face a very major economic problem and the only way out of that is not just an oil agreement with the south because the south can only provide so much out of that,” he said.
Lyman said that Khartoum’s allies namely China and the Arab countries should be convinced to press Khartoum on the humanitarian issue in return for financial assistance.
“And therefore what matters is the kind of assistance they will get from their friends in the Arab world, China, etc.” Lyman said
He also disclosed that some unnamed countries have recently “stopped giving Sudan considerable assistance”.
“[W]hat now we can do and I think is important that we do, is work with those countries on the kind of support they offer to Khartoum that is to encourage Khartoum…That they have to deal with Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. You can’t have a big investment and donor program in the middle of that…But also to give them encouragement that if they do the right thing and do the right kind of agreement that the support would be there for them to deal with their major economic problem. That what I think we have to work on a great deal more” Lyman added.
“A colleague of mine is going to be visiting the Middle East later this month to talk with the countries in that area” he revealed.
The US envoy hailed this week’s accord between Sudan and South Sudan that was brokered by the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHUP) chaired by former South African president Thabo Mbeki. However, he warned that without a resolution to the issue of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, the environment for talks will be poisonous.
“You can’t get to the atmosphere they are talking about if we don’t make progress in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. It is simply poisoning the situation… It is forcing them to clash on the borders because both have security concerns in those areas. We have to make progress before the summit [between Bashir and Kiir]; that will lead only to quieting of hostilities but hopefully the atmosphere political talks can start” Lyman said.
He went on to say that he sees signs that the Sudanese government is changing its attitude towards ending the conflict with SPLM-N.
“Another factor quite frankly the growing realisation in Khartoum that there isn’t a military solution to this conflict and that simply going on with the fighting and facing the opprobrium of a humanitarian disaster is not in their interest…..The argument and I think the resistance that has come out from Khartoum has been is that they see the situation and the calls for international assistance as a plot to get inside Sudan and eventually take these areas south and they see a repeat of the CPA. That the international community will come in then they will set up camps then they will set up peacekeeping operations and pretty soon the government will lose control of more of its territory…..so there is deep suspicion of the motives of the international community and they see this as ‘we are not gonna go down the path again we are gonna keep the country together even if we do it through military means”.
He expressed guarded optimism on the chances for a breakthrough on post-secession issues between Khartoum and Juba. The two sides remain locked in disputes over issues including the position of their borders, control of the disputed Abyei territory, and the transit fees South Sudan pays its northern neighbour to export oil from Port Sudan.
Tensions have been further exacerbated since South Sudan shut down all its oil fields in January in protest of Khartoum’s seizure of crude it said was to make up for unpaid fees.
"We have seen these re-commitments before. So while we take a great deal of hope from them, a lot will depend on what happens over the next several weeks," Lyman said.
Nancy Lindborg, a senior official at the US Agency for International Development, said the US hoped that the new agreements due to be signed during Bashir’s trip would open the door to the worst hit regions.
"If necessary we will examine ways to provide indirect support to Sudanese humanitarian actors," Lindborg said, without providing details. "We stand ready to immediately deliver food and humanitarian assistance to those in need”.