Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 6 October 2003

Top ruling party official says peace "within two months very likely"

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BBC Monitoring Middle East,Publication date: 2003-10-06

Text of interview with Nafi Ali Nafi, deputy secretary-general of the Sudanese National Congress, by Muhammad Sa’id Al-Hasan, published by London-based newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat on 5 October, subheadings inserted editorially

Dr Nafi Ali Nafi, deputy secretary-general of the Sudanese ruling National Congress Party and minister of the Department of Federal Rule, has previously served in many positions. He was head of the National Security Agency, advisor at the Presidency, and minister of agriculture. Observers view him as one of the hard liners or hawks in the National Salvation regime. Throughout the National Salvation rule (14 years), he opted to stay away from the limelight, the media and the press.

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat interviewed Nafi, the number two person after First Vice-President Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha within the government delegation that participated in the negotiations with the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement [SPLM] in Naivasha.

The interview touched on the atmosphere during the first meeting between Taha and SPLM leader John Garang and his justification for the latter’s absence from previously arranged meetings with Taha and others in Abuja, Nigeria. Nafi disclosed a turning point during the bilateral negotiations that gave priority to security and military arrangements as the key to resolving the other issues. He also discussed the reactions to the participation by the defence minister and senior officers from the general command, holding the rank of major-general, who came with complete files on the military and security arrangements, options and alternatives.

Nafi did not rule out the possibility of reaching a comprehensive cease-fire within two months from the signing of the agreement on military and security arrangements. He pointed out that the file of war in southern Sudan is now closed, adding that proof of this is that the agreement to suspend hostilities is being renewed automatically. The following is the text of the interview:

Turning point in negotiations

[Al-Hasan] What was the turning point in the negotiations between the government’s delegation and the SLPM in Naivasha?

[Nafi] Short meetings were held between President Umar al-Bashir and SPLM leader, Dr John Garang, in Kampala and Nairobi. The nature, circumstances and timing of these meetings were not suitable for negotiations or for discussing of the issues related to the peace process in Sudan. Nevertheless, they definitely set the stage for an atmosphere of normalization, rapprochement and trust. The meeting between First Vice-President Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha and the SLPM leader in Naivasha acquired particular importance because it followed the failure of earlier attempts and efforts to hold meetings between the two, the last time being in Abuja, Nigeria.

There were doubts and concerns about the success of any meeting. During his recent visit to Khartoum and his meeting with President Al-Bashir and the first vice-president, the Kenyan foreign minister showed particular interest in securing a meeting between the two leaders (Taha and Garang). He stressed that Dr John Garang had agreed to meet with First Vice-President Taha. He also assured us that he is confident and certain that Garang would show up at the specified time and place. When the first meeting took place, a day after the arrival of the first vice-president, the SPLM leader hastened to explain the circumstances and reasons that prevented the earlier bilateral meetings, noting that they were not the result of a lack of desire on his part to hold a meeting but were due to certain circumstances that precluded such meetings. For his part, the first vice-president accepted the explanation and stressed the need to get such things behind us since they are part of the past. The important thing, he added, is the present and the future and how to directly address the questions of peace and building constructive and positive relations. This atmosphere of trust from the start cleared the suspicions and doubts and opened the door to a constructive dialogue and negotiations.

Closure of the file of war

[Al-Hasan] Do you believe that the recent agreement on security and military arrangements at Naivasha will close the file of war or do you think that anything is possible?

[Nafi] We believe that this agreement means the full closure of the file of one of the longest wars in Africa. And this is not a wish or a presumption. It is based on the actual direct dialogue that took place between the first vice-president and the SPLM leader, as well as the bilateral and collective negotiations that lasted for three weeks, the longest and most difficult period in the history of the Sudanese peace process. A sign that the war file is closed is the renewal of the agreement to cease hostilities, which prohibits hostile action or battles between the two sides, the government and the SPLM.

[Al-Hasan] But observers had a different interpretation for the agreement to cease hostilities for two rather than three months. Is this true?

[Nafi] Based on the agreement between the government and the SPLM, the agreement to cease hostilities is renewed every three months. The reason for the two-month renewal is that the mediator, Gen Sumbeiywo, proposed it. He said that he wished that it would be shorter, but he knows that there are other issues that need to be completed and he thought that this period would be adequate to finish these things. The two sides agreed to the renewal. Dr Garang said that if a final agreement is not concluded within two months, the agreement to cease hostilities will be renewed once again. I can testify that the discussion on this point, meaning cessation of hostilities, was easy and positive and did not touch on the core of the peace issue.

Spirit of negotiations "positive and constructive"

[Al-Hasan] Did the difficult background of the negotiations and the different positions cast shadows of doubt and suspicion on the Naivasha talks?

[Nafi] I can say that the spirit of negotiations, despite the difficult and complex issues involved and the long hours spent in the discussion, remained positive and constructive. Even the discussion involving disputant matters took place amicably and with mutual respect. There were no provocative, inappropriate or unacceptable remarks. Also, I would like to add that the tolerant Sudanese nature dominated the atmosphere of the negotiations. A distinction was made between personal relations and dealings and mutual respect on one hand and political disagreements on the other hand. The latter issues were handled with reason and logic based on the terms of reference.

The will of peace "stronger than ever"

[Al-Hasan] Does the government delegation believe that a real change took place in the ranks of the SPLM delegation and its leader Garang at Naivasha?

[Nafi] Certainly. We have clearly noticed that the will of peace this time was stronger than ever. Best proof of this is that the negotiations continued and there was eagerness to maintain them. There was also patience, perseverance and total seriousness in handing the peace matters for three weeks. This is why we managed to reach an agreement on the security and military arrangements and set the agenda for the coming talks on 6 October, which will begin on the level of experts and technicians and end with a meeting between the first vice-president and the SPLM leader.

Security and military "main key to resolving the other issues"

[Al-Hasan] How did the proposal on the security and military arrangements materialize?

[Nafi] The previous rounds of negotiations touched on several issues of dispute. The discussion of the details of the security and military arrangements was postponed. It was thought that issues of wealth, power and others would be settled first and be followed by the security and military issues. However, one of the elements of success achieved in the meetings between the first vice-president and the SPLM leader is that the two decided that handling the security and military arrangements was the main key to resolving the other issues. Their agreement on this issue was an important turning point in the negotiations. Hence came the invitation to the defence minister and his accompanying high-ranking military delegation, four major-generals from the general command, to join the Naivasha negotiations in their capacity as the people directly involved with the matter. They brought with them complete files, options and proposals regarding the negotiations since they are directly concerned. The political leadership on both sides intervened only to secure rapprochement regarding the issues being proposed.

[Al-Hasan] Does this mean that experts and specialists participated in the economic and political issues, meaning the wealth and the power?

[Nafi] Since the government has chosen negotiations with the SPLM to achieve peace, it has assigned the specialized quarters, including technicians and experts, to handle the relevant issues and put forward their views, options and alternatives. So, it was natural for the security and military delegation to be present to handle the security arrangements since they are the specialized quarter.

The three armies

[Al-Hasan] Is the normal thing to have a single army or three armies (the National Army, the Joint Army and the SPLM Army), as the agreement on military arrangements notes?

[Nafi] The normal thing in any country is to have one strong army, which is what we will have by the end of the transitional period. The agreement on the security arrangements covers the transitional period (6 years), after which all the troops will be combined and unified in a single army.

[Al-Hasan] Is it true that there will be a reduction in the military troops?

[Nafi] It was agreed to reduce the troops to a reasonable level once a just and comprehensive peace is achieved. It would not be reasonable to maintain the same number of military troops during peace and war times. Once a peace agreement is signed the volume of the troops will be reconsidered and the reduction will be done gradually and based on a scientific and objective methods.

[Al-Hasan] Is there a plan to discharge or relieve some of the armed forces?

[Nafi] No reference has been made to discharging part of the troops and nobody has thought about this. However, the reduction of the troops will be made after peace is achieved and all the troops will be used in various domains, based on their skills and expertise.

Agreement on comprehensive peace "within two months very likely"

[Al-Hasan] Will an agreement on a comprehensive peace be signed in two months, as the SPLM leader has stated?

[Nafi] Signing the peace agreement after or within two months is very likely because reaching the agreement on the security and military arrangements has removed a major obstacle. The negotiations on the other issues have gone a long way and they are all technical issues in which an agreement can be reached.

[Al-Hasan] Does this mean that they can be concluded during the October round of negotiations?

[Nafi] It is possible to do so if we prepare the necessary documents related to the outstanding issues.

[Al-Hasan] Do the military and security arrangements provide for the deployment of Arab observers from Arab countries?

[Nafi] The monitoring mentioned in the agreement aims to ensure the stability of the cease-fire between the two sides (the army and the SPLM troops). It will be undertaken by observers from the IGAD [Inter-Governmental Agreement on Development] countries.

Egypt

[Al-Hasan] Did the neighbouring countries, particularly Egypt, stay in touch during the Naivasha negotiations?

[Nafi] The neighbouring countries, including Egypt naturally, continued to follow up the negotiations with extreme interest. Egypt’s efforts and role were positive in supporting peace and safeguarding Sudan’s unity, integrity and stability.

National Congress, SPLM partnership

[Al-Hasan] Is it true that the meeting between the first vice- president and the SPLM leader resulted in a partnership between the National Congress and the SPLM?

[Nafi] The mere agreement between the government and the SPLM represents a fundamental step toward political partnership. What is meant by partnership is to create its atmosphere by identifying the various views on all issues and reaching a common understanding regarding these issues. The dialogue on all issues and files requires cooperation and understanding and we believe that the political partnership and understanding, if achieved, could guarantee the implementation of the peace agreement and mobilize all the political and national forces to consolidate peace in Sudan.

The Machakos Agreement

[Al-Hasan] How could you ensure the participation of the political forces while the negotiations and the agreement are bilateral between the government and the SPLM?
[Nafi] The Machakos Agreement of 20 July 2002 stipulated that a broad-based government be formed during the transitional period. The participation of the political forces will come through the executive agencies.

[Al-Hasan] What about the main political forces, the Democratic Unionist and the Umma?

[Nafi] These forces have not taken part in the negotiations, which are confined to the government and the SPLM. We have maintained consultations with the main forces. We have presented the documents and military and security arrangements that we have reached to the political forces.

Hasan al-Turabi

[Al-Hasan] Has there been normalization of relations with the Popular Congress and will Dr Hasan al-Turabi be released?

[Nafi] I believe that the retreat of the spectre of war and the achievement of a just and comprehensive peace will eliminate the aspects of tension and dispute and will reflect positively on all files, including the atmosphere of political treatment and consideration to every case. We hope that this will have an impact on all spheres.

Hard liner and hawk

[Al-Hasan] Observers describe you as a hard liner and that you belong to a group of hawks in the National Salvation regime. Where do you stand in terms of the national accord and peace?

[Nafi] First of all, national accord and peace represent areas of total conviction for the National Salvation regime. Peace is a main priority. Progress and development can only be attained under comprehensive and just peace. National accord is a strategic policy for the state and not a transitory political alliance. The president’s agenda for the second term focused on both peace and national accord. The firm principles rise above individual opinions and views. As for those who describe us as hawks and doves, I tell them that this is a wrong description because strategy and convictions are based on consultation and institutional work.



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