Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 23 October 2003

Southern comforter


Leader, The Guardian

LONDON, Oct 23, 2003 — Influenced by evangelical Christian groups and conservative Republicans, the Bush administration has shown unexpected, welcome interest in Sudan since taking office in 2001. Yet the hostility of the Muslim, Islamist-led north to the Christian south has been but one contentious strand in a long and complex tale of ethnic, territorial and economic strife, political rivalry, famine and drought that has kept the country in a state of chronic instability for most of its post-independence history. Sudan’s sorry story is one that has often passed unnoticed and unread in the west. It took the al-Qaida attacks on US embassies in east Africa in 1998 to get the Clinton administration’s attention. Its response was to attack Khartoum, Osama bin Laden’s former base, with cruise missiles - a futile gesture that only served to underline Sudan’s plight as a failed state menacing its own people and its neighbours.

US secretary of state Colin Powell’s encouraging intercession yesterday in negotiations hosted by Kenya between the Sudanese government leaders and John Garang’s southern secessionists marks the culmination of a more constructive US engagement, assiduously and quietly assisted by Britain and Norway. The two sides have already agreed on security arrangements and a future, six-year transitional government, to be followed by a referendum on southern independence. Issues concerning power-sharing, disputed territories and oil revenue are still unresolved. But as Mr Powell says, a settlement or at least, the beginning of an agreed peace process under UN supervision - as formally proposed by Britain this month - is now within grasp, after 20 years of civil war. While any accord must ultimately be acceptable to all of Sudan’s fissiparous groups, this is not an opportunity to be missed.

Impressed by Sudan’s post-9/11 anti-terrorist shift, the US is dangling aid and an end to sanctions, if a deal is struck. This too is welcome, as long as Washington remembers that even a recovering, pro-western Sudan will remain a sovereign country. Simply turning rogue states into client states is not sound policy.

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