By Daniel Van Oudenaren
March 27, 2009 (WASHINGTON) — Foreign Minister Deng Alor Kuol and Pagan Amum Okiech, the Secretary-General of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), will arrive Saturday in the United States, heading a high-level delegation sent by the party’s chairman.
The visit follows the appointment last week of a special envoy to Sudan, retired Air Force General J. Scott Gration, who on Monday paid a visit to the Mission of the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS). He also has met with the Ambassador of the Republic of Sudan, confirmed a US official.
Foreign Minister Alor last visited Washington in January when the SPLM chairman himself, Salva Kiir Mayardit, visited the White House to bid farewell to the outgoing president.
Speaking with reporters Thursday in Khartoum, the SPLM secretary-general said that the visiting special political committee aims to discuss the current political situation in Sudan with the new US administration. In particular, the delegation means discuss implementation of the north-south Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and ways to advance the defunct peace process in Darfur, where the major rebel movements have rejected talks with the unity government.
Okiech expressed hopes that the visit would help find a solution to the present crisis in the country, as well as potentially secure help from the US administration to boost the implementation of the CPA and resolve the Darfur crisis.
The GOSS Head of Mission in Washington, Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, explained that he had discussed similar issues with Special Envoy Gration during their meeting on Monday.
“We had a meeting with the general,” said Gatkuoth. “He is a very serious man.”
They discussed CPA implementation, border demarcation, elections, general security in the South, and building the capacity of the region’s semi-autonomous government.
While SPLM has virtually no political presence in Darfur, the party is a minority partner in the national unity government that is struggling to control the war-torn region. SPLM has hosted leaders of some minor rebel factions in Juba in a peace effort, and last October sent a delegation headed by Okiech to Chad and Darfur to meet with JEM, one of the major rebel movements.
Gatkuoth disclosed that he and the new US envoy discussed the role that SPLM can play in resolving the Darfur crisis. “Especially the issue of Darfur, he is focusing on that,” he said of Gration.
After more than 21 years of war, since 2005 the SPLM has maintained a tenuous peace with the ruling northern party, which is now known as the National Congress, though in October 2007 it briefly withdrew from the national unity government. The two parties are involved in a border dispute in Abyei, the home area of the Deng Alor, along with some broader political struggles.
US ties with Southern Sudan are strong, and the US Agency for International Development provides assistance to the region. However, SPLM leaders have expressed concern at gross breaches in the US-backed CPA.