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Minor Militia Groups Could Block Peace


NAIROBI, Sep 30, 2003 (IPS/GIN) — There are fears that small rebel groups sidelined from peace talks could derail any peace agreement between the government and the main rebel group.

The groups are already incensed that they were kept out of security arrangements signed last week between the government and the biggest southern rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

The SPLA has been fighting since 1983 for independence or autonomy for the mainly black Christians in the south, who make up about 35 percent of Sudan’s population.

Peter Kueth, an official of South Sudan Defence Force, one of the small rebel groups crying foul, says any future agreement may be difficult to implement since it lacks representation of other rebel and militia groups that pose a threat to security in the region.

These small rebel groups, some of which are allied to the Arab-dominated Islamic government in Khartoum, include SPLA-United and Equatorial Defence Force, both of which broke away from the SPLA in 1991.

"There is great danger because the government and SPLA will do all they can to force everyone to accept the agreement, including disarming all other militias," Kueth told IPS this week.

"I can assure you that the militias will not succumb to any pressure of disarmament. It will be a major hurdle when it comes to implementing the agreement," he warned.

Kueth says they have been lobbying the international community to ensure their representation in all deals in order to bring a lasting peace to Africa’s largest nation, but that their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

The church also envisages a problem if the other rebel forces are not incorporated into the agreement. "Some of these people are holding towns and this spells trouble," notes an official of the New Sudan Council of Churches.

"It is our hope that both the government and SPLA will realize this and reach a deal with the small rebel and militia groups," observes the official, who requested anonymity.

But Sudanese political analysts argue that these groups are not in any way a threat and do not possess enough military strength to derail any peace agreement. "They are just out to make noise, but they are toothless, they cannot bite," remarks Akasha al Sayed, a Sudanese living in Kenya.

The security arrangement, reached on Sept. 24, was a result of a three-week parley between Sudan’s first vice-president, Ali Osman Taha and SPLA leader John Garang, who had been meeting in Naivasha, 85 Kilometers from Kenya’s capital of Nairobi, from Sept. 2.

The pact spells out an integrated army of 24,000 troops - 12,000 from the government and the other 12,000 from SPLA to be based in the south. The remaining government forces will withdraw from the south within two years of signing the agreement.

Integrated forces from both the government and SPLA will also be deployed to disputed areas of Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile, each with 6,000 soldiers. The two regions, together with Abyei, have been contested by both parties.

Security arrangement, deployment and size of forces have been a major stumbling block in peace talks, which seek to end 20 years of conflict that has killed over two million people and displaced four million.

Civil society groups working in southern Sudan have described the signing of the security arrangement as a step in the right direction.

"It is a welcome move and is a sign that a final peace deal is on the way," says Executive Director of Sudan Health Association, Dr. Paul Subek.

He warns, though, that implementation of the pact is of utmost importance. "Without implementation, the situation in Sudan will not improve. But once what is spelt out in the document is effected, then war in Sudan may be a thing of the past," he told IPS in a telephone interview.

To Moses Ajoker, a Sudanese living in Kenya, the biggest challenge will be to protect the agreement.

"With the help of the international community, we need to work out and guard against any deviation from what is stipulated in the framework agreement," he says.

The agreement paves way for settlement of other sticky issues like power and wealth sharing, expected to be tackled in the next round of peace talks scheduled for Oct. 6 in Kenya.

Once agreed upon, a final comprehensive peace agreement, which will put an end to Africa’s longest conflict, will be drawn.

Negotiations between the government of Sudan and SPLA started in Kenya last year. They are being held under the auspices of Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which comprises Ethiopia, Eritrea Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda, Somalia and Sudan itself.

Observing the talks are IGAD partners Norway, the United States, Italy and Britain.

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