By Steven Koutsis, Charge d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy, Khartoum
The United States has long supported international efforts led by the African Union to mediate an agreement between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement- North (SPLM-N) to bring an end to fighting in the “Two Areas” of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. In 2016, both sides signed the AU Roadmap Agreement, under which they recommitted to simultaneous talks toward agreements to cease hostilities and provide humanitarian assistance. Unfortunately, the parties have been unable to come to an agreement on the method of delivery to provide humanitarian aid in opposition held areas. This impasse is hurting the Sudanese people living in areas controlled by the SPLM-N, as well as blocking all of Sudan from moving forward with a peace and reconciliation plan sponsored by the African Union.
In order to break this impasse on an agreement and facilitate much-needed humanitarian assistance, the United States has offered to deliver humanitarian medical assistance to the people in SPLM-N controlled areas. Our offer to oversee and implement these deliveries intends to give confidence to the SPLM-N that the Government of Sudan would not be able to control or block aid provided under this mechanism. The Government of Sudan has agreed to this proposal, but as of yet, the SPLM-N has not allowed the proposal for humanitarian access to go forward.
To be clear, the United States is ready to begin delivering medical supplies and vaccinations to the people within SPLM-N controlled areas of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states. While the supplies would be inspected by Government of Sudan customs authorities at a port of entry, they would remain in the custody of United States at all times until delivered to the opposition held areas.
The method of delivering humanitarian assistance to the Two Areas was the last remaining roadblock to the signing of a cessation of hostilities agreement last August, bringing an end to decades of fighting. The agreement would include international monitoring and agreement on full access for all other humanitarian assistance to be delivered by international agencies to the SPLM-N held areas. This would mean civilians in dire need would begin seeing food and other humanitarian supplies arriving in their areas very quickly.
Given current predictions of emergency-level food insecurity likely to occur within the next two months in SPLM-N controlled areas, an agreement to allow humanitarian access to begin now is critical to save lives. In addition to the urgent need for humanitarian assistance, as long as there is no jointly agreed and monitored cessation of hostilities, and as long as opposing forces remain in close proximity to each other, there will continue to be tensions and skirmishes which will only inflict greater harm on civilian populations.
The United States urges the SPLM-N to remove political conditions preventing humanitarian assistance from reaching populations in need and allow rapid deployment of humanitarian aid to civilians in the areas it controls. This agreement would not preclude—and indeed we would strongly encourage—separate arrangements for necessary medical evacuations or prisoner exchanges to be coordinated by other parties through a third party nation.
The Government of Sudan also has a role to play in making this process work by addressing the root causes of the conflict. In order to realize sustainable peace, all parties must engage in a genuine political process as an alternative to war. This will require the Government of Sudan to create an environment that is conducive to freedom of expression and full political participation by both armed and unarmed opposition in and outside of Sudan.