Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 27 May 2004

ANALYSIS- Excluded factions could threaten Sudan peace

By Nita Bhalla

NAIROBI, May 27 (Reuters) - A peace breakthrough in southern Sudan could prove fruitless unless the main protagonists in Africa’s longest-running civil war include other marginalised regions in reconciliation efforts, analysts say.

The government and rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) signed an accord in Kenya on Wednesday on how to share power and manage three disputed areas, lifting key hurdles to a final deal to end 21 years of war in the oil-producing south.

A formal peace deal is expected later this year, ending what was until recently the most high profile conflict in a war-scarred nation more than four times the size of France.

But analysts say the exclusion of many factions from the deal may yet sink efforts to stabilise the nation of 30 million.

"I think the deal is the next best step for solving Sudan’s problems, but the agreement has excluded many armed militias who will create problems," International Crisis Group analyst David Mozersky told Reuters.

Observers fear that as the SPLA and Khartoum start sharing power, rebels in the north and parts of the south may be tempted to step up fighting to have their own grievances addressed.

Fearful of diluting their own control of peace efforts, Khartoum’s National Congress government and its SPLA foe have given no role in the talks to up to 30 armed groups around the country, whose demands for a share of power and resources are very similar to the SPLA’s.

Independent estimates put the total size of their forces at between 6,000 and 30,000.


Often depicted as a conflict between the Arab, Muslim north and black animist or Christian south, the war in the south has been fuelled by divisions over control of oilfields and political power, and religious issues.

But Sudan is torn by similar disputes in other regions, and even in the south the SPLA is not the only opposition force.

The most serious of Sudan’s other conflicts is in western Darfur region where complaints by local rebels of being marginalised by Khartoum mirror SPLA grievances in the south.

Fighting in Darfur between black African rebels and horse-mounted militias of Arab heritage has raged for over a year, creating one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

"If there is a peace agreement between the government and the SPLA, but the situation in Darfur and the east is not addressed, the potential for continued instability and conflict remains high and the peace agreement itself may be undermined," South-African based analyst John Ashworth said.

Another such conflict is a revolt by Beja rebels of a Muslim Sufi order in the east. So far their operation has been confined to attacks on the Khartoum-Port Sudan highway.

Yet another conflict sprang up this year in the Shilluk Kingdom of Upper Nile in the south, described by one regional observer as "another Darfur". At least 70,000 people have been driven from their homes.

A 17-year-old civil war between Ugandan troops and Lord’s Resistance Army rebels based in lawless areas of southern Sudan is another source of instability, primarily threatening SPLA leader John Garang’s control of the south.

These conflicts apart, some Garang critics doubt he has the political skills to secure peace nationally. They point to his uncertain record in uniting southern tribes within the SPLA, which suffered a split in 1990s between the Dinka and Nuer.

It is not just rebel groups that could jeopardise peace.

A decade and a half of autocratic rule and repression have left Sudan’s once powerful Islamic movement divided. Previous efforts by the government to weaken northern opposition parties have resulted in some parties developing their own armed wings.

While many opposition leaders hope peace will usher in a new era of democracy, analysts say sidelined political parties with no voice in the peace process could grow hostile.

"The Sudanese government will need to take a more broad-based approach and bring in all armed factions as well as the opposition political parties if they really want this to work," Ashworth said.

Opposition groups in the north say their biggest concern is a transition to democracy in Sudan, which has been ruled by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir since a 1989 coup overthrew a democratically elected government.

Sudan watchers say achieving pluralism will depend on whether the SPLA-National Congress alliance that will rule for a six-year interim period after a peace deal focuses on reconciliation rather than internal power struggles.