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Former US envoy says nationwide dialogue only way to resolve Sudan crisis


December 8, 2013 (KHARTOUM) - The former United States special envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman said that there is a "growing international consensus" the crises engulfing the African nation for decades cannot be resolved using the usual piecemeal approach which he acknowledged has failed in the past.

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Former U.S. special envoy for Sudan Princeton Lyman (Reuters)

Lyman who left his post as special envoy effective last March, noted that the secession of South Sudan in line with the referendum results stipulated by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), did little to quell the many ongoing conflicts in Sudan.

"Since then [South Sudan independence], President Omar al-Bashir’s regime has been challenged by an armed rebellion whose confidence is growing and deepening internal divisions, punctuated by plots to overthrow him by elements of the army" Lyman said in a brief produced last August by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).

"Now is the time for Sudan to embark on a genuine internal dialogue and reform process that leads to a broad-based, democratic government willing to pursue meaningful reconciliation among Sudanese," said the former envoy who is now an adviser to USIP president.

Lyman emphasized that for a national dialogue to be successful it has to "enjoy broad participation, based on the recognition that all facets of Sudanese society have a right to participate in the process".

This would include elements of the current regime and their affiliated Islamists, political opposition groups and armed rebels who joined hands under the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) umbrella.

SRF is composed mainly of several Darfur rebel groups and Sudan Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) which is fighting government troops in the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

The ex-diplomat appeared critical of the SRF approach saying it gives more weight to the military aspect of their struggle thus complicating prospects for peaceful resolution.

"The SRF’s rhetoric espouses a peaceful resolution to Sudan’s crises, but their actions call that commitment into question, as exemplified by their attack in Northern Kordofan only hours after the conclusion of initial talks with the government in April," he said.

"The subsequent breakdown in talks was a setback, and such maneuvers often politically empower government hardliners resolutely opposed to negotiations. If the SRF is going to participate in a political process, they need to develop a stronger political component of their operations, which have so far been heavily skewed toward military objectives, and honestly evaluate their unified commitment to peaceful change" Lyman added.

Should the SRF articulate their willingness in a political solution in a more serious manner, Lyman said that there should be international assistance "in the form of training and capacity building, to help the SRF transition toward being a political participant in Sudan’s future".

He also noted the divisions that exist within opposition political parties which would also have an adverse effect on attempts to convene a national dialogue that involves them. External assistance and facilitated discussions he said, can help them be a useful part of the dialogue process.

For a starter, the process can be kicked off with confidence building measures that would see a cessation of hostilities in hotspots of Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

The government in exchange would allow the SRF to operate freely as a political party.

"This trade-off is more likely to succeed than simply demanding that the SRF first disarm. Such an understanding could have important implications on the ground – humanitarian organizations have not been able to access many desperate groups in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile for some time – as well as encouraging the SRF to focus more on its political operations".

Following that, quiet diplomacy would work on preparing the grounds for the dialogue to reach a "broad consensus on the agenda, scope and authority of the process before it starts".

Lyman warned that this could take time of a year or more but is nonetheless crucial to the success of the ensuing efforts.

He further cautioned that if all groups participate in the dialogue then it is unlikely that a consensus would be reached so the alternative would be seeking a "sufficient consensus’ approach similar to the one used by South Africa during negotiations on dismantling the apartheid system.

The ex-envoy also highlighted the difficulty posed by the upcoming 2015 elections which would interrupt a dialogue process that is likely to be lengthy.

"Elections in 2015 should not be viewed as an immovable end point in the process, nor should the regime be allowed to use them to legitimize their rule through flawed elections, as was the case in 2010. Instead, if there is a genuine national dialogue process underway, one that is participatory and gaining momentum, then a delay in elections for a maximum of two years should be considered" Lyman explained.

The national roundtable could be facilitated by the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki, he proposed.

"The AUHIP should serve as a guide and advocate for a dialogue process, with the full backing of the African Union Peace and Security Council, whose members should be eager to stem the tide of never-ending Sudan crises on their agenda. President Mbeki and the AUHIP can be particularly helpful to the detailed preparations and “pre-dialogue” needed prior to the start of the process, especially given his close involvement with the dialogue and reform process in South Africa in the 1990s" Lyman wrote.

"To allow President Mbeki and other AUHIP personnel to focus on dialogue and reform in Sudan, the AUHIP team will need to be expanded and a subsidiary mechanism to the AUHIP should be established to oversee implementation of agreements reached by Sudan and South Sudan, which should not be subject to constant renegotiation".

The "elephant in the room" as Lyman described it and add another layer of difficulty is the International Criminal Court (ICC) indictment of president Bashir and a several Sudanese officials.

"If a broad-based, democratic government emerges from a dialogue and reform process it may be in a position to negotiate with the ICC to try suspects in Sudan, or through a joint process with the ICC. If a credible dialogue process is underway, then the United Nations Security Council can consider a temporary deferral of the indictments through Article 16 of the ICC’s founding Rome Statute" he said.

"But ultimately, justice considerations cannot be sacrificed," Lyman stressed.

The ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has long resisted the idea of a national dialogue that was pushed in particular by the National Umma Party (NUP) and its leader al-Sadiq al-Mahdi who was the last democratically elected Prime Minister before Bashir’s 1989 coup.

Many analysts pointed out that such a broad based dialogue would leave the NCP in the minority which means that it will not have the veto power it currently enjoys as the dominant party in thegovernment.

The NCP also faces pressure from the military which will likely reject any attempt to bring armed rebels into the political process. The government has organized a military campaign last month to end the rebellion for good as Sudanese officials pledged.

Furthermore, a previous attempt in 2010 by Mbeki to play the role currently envisioned by Lyman has collapsed forcing him to abandon these efforts.

A letter by Mbeki to the leaders of the political parties at the time declared that his team "gained a deeper understanding of the prevalent and most unfortunate mistrust which has so far made it impossible to organize an open and frank encounter among all Sudan’s political leaders to discuss all major national challenges, which we are certain all these leaders desire".

The letter said that convening the summit of political parties under these circumstances "would only serve further to foul the atmosphere in the country by exacerbating the divisions among the Sudanese political leadership".

Mbeki has shifted his focus through the years to resolving the outstanding issues between north and South Sudan.


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