December 2006

"Welcome back", my colleagues said, when I returned to Khartoum, earlier this month. However, I was only passing through on my way to New York, for my final debriefings to the UN Headquarters. After having been declared persona non grata by the Government of Sudan I had been allowed to return in order to arrange for an orderly handing over to my Deputy, Taye Zerihoun. UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, had told President Bashir that his Government had no right to terminate my assignment as Annan's Special Representative. He had demanded that I would be allowed to return, be it for a brief period only. President Bashir had agreed, but in particular Foreign Minister Lam Akol had continued to obstruct this, stating that I could only return in my personal capacity and that I would not be given permission to meet people other than my own staff, nor to leave the UN premises, let alone to travel outside Khartoum. It had taken Taye Zerihoun quite some time to convince the Sudanese that this would add insult to injury to the UN Secretary General. Finally they agreed.

I went to Juba in order to meet President Salve Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar. I arrived in a difficult period. One week earlier in Malakal violent clashes had taken place between the SPLM and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). They had resulted from a political dispute concerning the maintenance of law and order. In Blue Nile State, The Government of Southern Sudan had appointed a new head of one of the districts in that state. The leader of one of the so-called Other Armed Groups (OAG) had contested him. Many of these OAGs had chosen to follow their leader Paulino Matiep and had joined the SPLA. However, quite a few others have continued to destabilize the South, often with support from the SAF. As a matter of fact the leader of this particular armed group held at the same time a high military position in the SAF. The UN had often raised the position of the remaining OAGs with the authorities in Khartoum, but they had refused to address the problem. This is clearly a violation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the North and the South, which had stipulated that the OAGs ought to be dissolved one year after the signing of the CPA and after having been integrated either in the SPLA in the South or in the SAF in the North. Some OAGs continue to bet on two horses, roaming around in the South without joining the SPLA, refusing to go to the North, but still receiving weapons from Khartoum.

The clashes in Malakal had also involved so-called Joint Integrated Units (JIUs) of SPLA and SAF. The establishment of these units had been stipulated by the CPA, but so far most of them are only co-located, instead of integrated. The JIUs need to be physically formed and adequately trained, in order to function effectively as a guardian of peace. Both parties, however, have delayed the implementation of these units. Neither of the two parties has brought their most capable forces into these joint units. On the contrary, often less capable units, such as former other armed militia groups, have been deployed into the joint forces. Maybe both parties prefer to rely on their own forces in case of a conflict, rather than on the common forces that they had established in order to prevent a violent outbreak of such conflicts. This may seem an understandable lack of confidence in each other, but it is clearly not in accordance with the spirit of the peace agreement. Moreover, this practice is further complicating matters. As was shown in Malakal, the JIUs, instead of functioning as a binding element in the country, tend to become a splitting force.

The clashes in Malakal were the worst since the signing of the CPA, nearly two years ago. They resulted in hundred casualties amongst the combatants and a further fifty civilian deaths. But the good thing was that in this case the CPA based Cease-fire Joint Military Committee (CJMC) proved its worth. The CJMC, consisting of very high level military from both SAF and SPLA and chaired by UN Force Commander Jasbir Lidder, promptly flew to Malakal. They told the fighting forces to withdraw and to lay down their weapons. The UNMIS peace-keeping force, in Malakal represented by an Indian contingent, did not stay in the barracks but went into town in order to restore calm. As a consequence an escalation of the violence and an extension into other regions was be prevented.

The events in Malakal may serve as a wake up call for the parties in both Juba and Khartoum. President Kiir clearly understood this. He flew to Malakal directly after the clashes. The Government of Southern Sudan fears a repetition in Wau and even in Juba itself. In neither of these towns the JIUs have been formed. In and around both towns there are still strong forces that threaten to attack. Moreover, the SPLA army itself is underpaid, which has led to dissatisfaction and violence. Finally, there is the suspicion that some forces in the North continue to abuse this situation and feed destabilisation.

The war between North and South Sudan started shortly after Sudan became independent, as one of the first African states since the decolonisation. It lasted fifteen years, followed by a decade of peace and again a war for about twenty years. It has been the longest war in Africa with the highest number of casualties. Another resumption would be a catastrophe. This is the reason why, at last and after many hesitations, the UN Security Council has dealt with Sudan. A resumption of the war would not only be a tragedy for Sudan itself, but also for the region. In the present circumstances it would also affect the neighbour countries Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Congo. If linked with a continuation of the civil war in Darfur, also Chad, the Central African Republic and perhaps Egypt and Libya might become involved. To a certain extent some of these countries are already involved, but rather indirectly, and predominantly in political and economic terms. However, an outright civil war between North and South Sudan might put the region in flames, in particular if linked with the eternal conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and with the war between Ethiopia and Somalia, which recently broke out. This region may very well become a theatre also for Islamic fundamentalists, either from within or from the Middle East.

For these reasons the UN Security Council has dealt with Sudan from the point of view of peace and security, not only in Sudan, but in the region as a whole. The mandate of the Security Council is to preserve world peace and security, to manage conflicts and to prevent their escalation. The Security Council does this with the help of political instruments and, sometimes, by sending peace keeping forces, upon the invitation of, or at least with the consent of the parties to the conflict. This has been the mandate of UNMS, the UN peacekeeping force in Sudan, which I have had the honour to lead during the last two and a half years. So far, we have been reasonably successful, at least in Southern Sudan. The recent events in Malakal show that UN peacekeeping can work. However, we keep our fingers crossed. The CPA is quite a robust agreement, but the root causes of the conflict between the North and the South still exist. Moreover, there are forces in Sudan that have something else in mind than peace.

I am convinced that President Bashir is sincerely aiming to honour the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the South. So does Vice-President Taha, who, together with John Garang, has been the architect of this agreement. But there are still forces in Khartoum that disagree and seek to return to the situation before peace: one Sudan, one system, ruled by Khartoum: one country solely based on Northern values. These are the same forces that continue to seek a military victory in Darfur, despite having signed a peace agreement. These are the same forces that obstruct the work of the United Nations mission in Sudan, despite the fact that this mission is present in Sudan upon the invitation of the Governments in Juba and Khartoum.

Sudan is no democracy. It is not a dictatorship either. A conglomerate of power groups is ruling Sudan. This conglomerate is not transparent and in a delicate balance. It is a combination of military, business, national security and ideological groups. Some of these groups are more enlightened than others, keen to open up the Sudanese society, not only for foreign capital, but also for liberal ideas concerning democracy and human rights. Sudan can gradually become a democracy, with the help of the CPA, if fully implemented. Its democracy can find a base in the new Constitution, provided that National Security Law will not set this Constitution aside. Presently that seems to be the case. Sudan has become a National Security State. During 2006 other groups, mainly interested in maintaining power and strongly focussed on the economic interests of a specific class, have gained influence within the conglomerate. Those are the groups behind the forces mentioned above. They do not control the President, but the President is fully aware of their power. Presently he seems to be more inclined to listen to their views than to those of the more enlightened ones.

A high official in the South once told me: “Bashir wants peace. He has bullet wounds in his body”. He does not want to return to war. However, he is very careful not to antagonize the hardliners. Bashir's advisors often do not tell him the whole truth. Much information does not reach him, or only in a biased form. However, Bashir clearly does not make an effort to get to know the whole truth. He is a skilled survivor, who very well knows where his power rests. He also knows the limits of his power and how to keep the balance. Such political skills require accepting a certain degree of disobedience, turning a blind eye to atrocities, inducing para-military forces or outlaws to defend the interests of the elite and rewarding them, taking sides in a conflict between such forces and their adversaries, or instructing some of them to attack and kill potential enemies. Contacts are laid indirectly, never in the open, always in the dark, in order to eschew accountability. Some leaders, even if they are of good intentions in general, deliberately do not want to know everything. Some groups belonging to the leadership in Khartoum have deliberately sought war and tribal cleansing in Darfur. Others have blundered into this catastrophe, by allowing too much and closing an eye, after which they thought that there was no other alternative than hardening their position. The same may happen with regard to the relation between North and South Sudan, four years from now.

The people of the South have been given the right to vote for a separate and independent state of Southern Sudan at the referendum, foreseen six years after the signing of the CPA. This right has been enshrined in the CPA itself and has been reconfirmed by the Government and the Parliament in Khartoum. However, I am convinced that, if they exercise their right, war will resume. The same forces that presently continue to destabilize Southern Sudan and that seek a military victory in Darfur will not allow separation of Southern Sudan, despite the constitutional guarantees. They will attack and the regime will have to follow, if it wants to stay in power. The boundaries between the North and the South have not been demarcated fully and there are still disputes concerning the precise location of the oil fields. These will be reasons for war in case the majority of the people of the South will choose in favour of independence. The final status of the three areas Abyei, South Kordofan (the Nuba Mountains) and Upper Nile State in case of a separation between North and South Sudan has not yet been decided. In these areas the Arab and the African population will be drawn into violent conflicts. In the North the African community, mainly heirs of people coming from the South and displaced during the civil war, will be suppressed. The same will happen to the Arab minority in the South. The exercise of constitutional rights by the people of Southern Sudan may lead to massive violation of human rights throughout the country as a whole. If this happens the Security Council will feel duty bound to send a different force to Sudan, not to keep the peace, but to make peace. After all, the Security Council has explicitly endorsed the CPA and thereby given the impression to the people of Sudan that the international community will guarantee its implementation in full. However, in those circumstances sending a UN force to make peace will be a tall order. Whether such a force could guarantee the independence of Southern Sudan, solve the underlying conflict and ensure peace remains to be seen. It could also itself become a party in an ethnic and religious conflict of wide proportions, across borders.

Is all this inevitable? There is another option: people voting at the referendum in favour of the unity of the state. To preserve the unity of Sudan could be perceived as in the interest of world peace. For this reason the Security Council has given UNMIS the mandate to present unity as the most attractive option. We have tried to do so not by preaching this option. The people of Southern Sudan should be able to cast their vote in freedom, without manipulation or pressure. As soon as they would have the impression that they are manipulated from outside they would accuse us of intervention or neo-colonialism. This could even feed campaigns in the opposite direction, against unity. So, preaching would be counterproductive.

Instead unity should be made the attractive option by improving the lives of the people during the six years following the signing of the CPA. If during these years peace would turn out to be sustainable, and if at the same time constitutional rights and minority rights would be well respected and if poverty would decrease, the people of Southern Sudan might come to the conclusion that this is much better than before, during the war. They might then conclude that it would make sense to continue along this path and to give unity a chance. More peace, more rights, more welfare, those are the conditions for unity to be attractive. So far, we have not been fully successful in this respect. Indeed, there is more peace in Southern Sudan, despite widespread community violence. The country has embarked upon the road towards democracy and better governance, fighting corruption, respecting civil rights and liberties. However, poverty prevails. Economic reconstruction and recovery have hardly come off the ground. In terms of primary health care, basic education, water supply and sanitation the people of the South have not experienced tangible improvements. There are still four years to go. They should be used fully.

However, even if the people of Southern Sudan would conclude at the time of the referendum that since the war their life has improved, they still might vote for a different path than the continuation of unity in diversification. They may feel that in the future, after the referendum, their peace, rights and welfare in the then irreversible unity state will not be guaranteed. They certainly will not vote for unity if they have lost their confidence in the Government of National Unity. No trust, no unity. They may have lost their confidence already, watching the Khartoum regime operating in Darfur. How could people have any confidence in a regime that is attacking its own citizens or allowing attacks by Janjaweed and other outlaws, rather than protecting them? How could people trust their leaders breaking promises, violating agreements, denying their responsibility for ongoing killings and rape and lasting impunity, denying also their involvement in bombings and military mobilisation, lying about the facts on the ground, manipulating the international community, obstructing the work of the very UN mission that has been sent to the country to preserve peace? It is the attitude of the leaders that is the greatest threat to peace.

I was passing through Khartoum and Juba in order to prepare my final debriefings in New York. I left Sudan with some hope, but much pessimism. I doubt whether policy-makers in the capitals of the countries represented in the Security Council foresee what may happen around Sudan in the coming years. They certainly have not shown an awareness of the urgent need to take prompt and effective action to ensure peace, rights, freedom and welfare for the people of Southern Sudan and Darfur, who have suffered already so much and so long.