Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 27 May 2004

A partial peace


Leader: Financial Times

LONDON, May 27, 2004 — All the main pieces are now in place for an end to the war in southern Sudan, a conflict that has lasted more than 20 years and cost more than 2m lives. The long-awaited deal being finalised yesterday at Lake Naivasha in Kenya provides the basis for a comprehensive accord, opening the way for a six-year transition before the south gets to vote on independence.

Flaws in the agreement are already obvious, however, most of all in the way it shares responsibility for the country’s destiny (and the division of its oil revenues) between the two principal protagonists of the conflict, the Arab-led government in Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, keeping other factions in both north and south out of the equation.

The dangers of this approach have been starkly demonstrated by the human catastrophe in Sudan’s western Darfur region since rebel groups there rose against the government last year.

Delays in completing the north-south peace negotiations have served the Khartoum government by keeping the pressure off its policy towards Darfur. Sudan’s Islamic leaders are fully aware of the importance Washington places on a settlement for the partly Christian south, supported by a vocal US evangelical lobby. Concentrating their efforts on helping to bring about a north-south deal, the US and Britain have both pulled their punches over the Muslim-against-Muslim conflict in the west. The UN Security Council has appeared impotent and ineffectual.

By enlisting local Arab militias as proxy forces, Khartoum has fuelled old conflicts between nomadic Arabs and African farmers. Human Rights Watch accuses it of a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing, targeting civilians of the same ethnic groups as the rebels. About 1m people have been uprooted. The Brussels-based International Crisis Group reckons 30,000 have died.

The scope for international leverage may be limited. Memories of the Rwandan genocide 10 years ago have prompted calls for outside intervention. But, realistically, who would undertake it? After Iraq, a further US-led intervention in a Muslim country hardly seems the most plausible option.

A ceasefire in Darfur last month committed Khartoum to "neutralising" the militias. Under international demands, the government also agreed last week to ease access by humanitarian organisations. Western and African governments should now exert all the pressure they can on Sudan’s leaders to bring the Darfur rebel movements and other marginalised factions into a more inclusive negotiating process on the country’s future. Without broader participation the hard-won peace deal will be worth little.

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