by Ambassador Donald Booth
Abdul Wahid al Nour, leader of one of Sudan’s armed opposition groups, has not set foot in his country in over a decade. He spends most of his time directing his armed group in Darfur from a satellite phone in his Paris apartment. His refusal to negotiate has been a perennial problem for international efforts to end the conflict in Sudan, but it has become especially damaging as other parties to the conflict begin moving toward peace.
On October 31, three of the four most prominent armed groups in Sudan committed to a unilateral, six-month cessation of hostilities following a similar commitment from the Sudanese government. While such declarations are not new to Sudan, it is unusual for parties to make that commitment at the outset of the fighting seasons (the dry season in Darfur). In recent months, we have also seen, with the notable exception of the area of Darfur under Abdul Wahid’s control, a reduction in violence and bellicose rhetoric from the negotiating parties.
Yet Abdul Wahid refuses to commit to even a temporary halt in fighting for humanitarian aid to reach the people of Jebel Marra, and he has refused overtures to negotiate with the Government of Sudan or participate in consultations to end the violence. He refused to take part in the Arusha Consultations of August 2007, the Sirte Conference of November 2007, the unification initiative in N’Djamena and Addis Ababa in July-August 2009, and the AU-UN/Qatar Initiative in Doha from 2009-2011.
Abdul Wahid has also boycotted all of the more recent initiatives to end Sudan’s conflicts, including an African Union-led process and recent meetings in Kampala overseen by President Museveni. In August, the leaders of some of the largest armed and unarmed opposition groups signed the African Union-drafted roadmap for future political negotiations, which was previously signed by the government. But Abdul Wahid did not attend.
To be fair, Abdul Wahid has valid reasons to be skeptical of the political process and to distrust a government that has bombed and displaced his people for over a decade. Recent arrests of opposition political party officials in Khartoum are a disturbing setback for those trying to engage in peaceful political competition. But Abdul Wahid’s exclusively military strategy has not advanced his cause and has enabled continued violence to devastate his homeland. Abdul Wahid’s refusal to grant UN peacekeepers permission to address claims of government attacks against civilians in areas that he controls is incomprehensible.
Peace in Sudan must not be held hostage to Abdul Wahid’s refusal to engage. What is needed is an inclusive and comprehensive peace process that involves all actors and addresses the political, security, and humanitarian issues at the root of Sudan’s conflicts. The people of Sudan, and above all the people of Jebel Mara, need Abdul Wahid at the table.
In my own recent visits to Darfur, I spoke with several groups of displaced Darfuris who all said the same thing. They just want the fighting to stop.
It is time for Abdul Wahid to join other opposition groups by declaring a unilateral ?cessation of hostilities, committing to political negotiations, and engaging in genuine efforts to end years of unspeakable violence.
Donald Booth is the United States Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan