February 2006

After my visit to Damazin and Kurmuk, in Blue Nile State, earlier this month (see weblog nr 12), I paid a visit to Upper Nile State and Unity State. Blue Nile state is a so-called “Other Area”, which means that it has a special status, neither belonging to the North, nor to the South. Two other areas have a similar status: Abyei and South Kordofan, internationally well known as the Nuba Mountains. The composition of the population of these states, each situated somewhere between the North and the South, is more mixed than that of the others. A referendum in the South will not have the same consequences as for the Southern states. The political problems in these states are more complicated, partly due to the specific composition of the population, partly due to specific roots of the war in these areas, but also because of economic reasons. Oil, land and water play a major role in these states.

A village in the Nuba Mountains

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Photo: Paula Souverijn-Eisenberg (c)

Damazin is more Arabic, less poor, strongly dominated by the National Congress Party, though the cooperation with the SPLM has developed remarkably well since the signing of the peace agreement. Kurmuk is more African, utterly poor, strongly SPLM. I was struck by the sense of cooperation on the ground. It seems as if there is a greater willingness to cooperate in the region than at the national level. That is reassuring, but fragile. A widening divide at the national level would give a negative impulse to the peace spirit at the grassroots.

Such a negative impulse can result from various different decisions. In earlier weblogs I referred to the dispute concerning the allocation of oil revenue to the region. Where is the money? Still in Khartoum, or has it been put on unknown accounts? Who decides what amounts to 50% (the Southern share of the revenue of oil production on its territory) of what? Where exactly does the oil production take place, or, in other words: where exactly is the border between North and South? What is the accounting price per barrel of oil? These and other questions are raised time and again, at high level between the parties that have signed the CPA and at the level of the administrations in the various states who want to spend the money to pay salaries, buy the equipment necessary to run their departments, rehabilitate schools and clinics and invest in economic development. The people are waiting. They are getting frustrated and become suspicious. Khartoum accuses Juba not being able to run a government and Juba accuses Khartoum deliberately undermining the authority of the new state.

Another negative impulse is the slow withdrawal of the Sudanese (Northern) Armed Forces (SAF) from the territory of Southern Sudan. Within one year after the signing of the peace agreement, on 9 January 2006, 31% of the SAF should have been redeployed behind the border between the two territories (the famous line of I January 1956, the day that Sudan gained its independence). The UN has the task to verify this. That is a difficult task, because one year ago we were not yet allowed by John Garang to deploy our monitors in order to verify the benchmark. If you do not know how big the forces were at the benchmark date, and where they were located in which composition, it is sheer impossible to certify that the necessary reduction has taken place. Yet I was able to inform the Security Council that the target had been reached. I could do so, because both parties had provided data and neither party had disputed the data of the other party. However, in the meantime SPLA seems to have second thoughts. On the ground there are many complaints that in reality he SAF has not withdrawn, or withdrawn and returned thereafter.

I found an example in Unity State. Officials complained that the SAF had returned to safeguard oil fields on the territory of Unity State. The neighbor state South Kordofan claims that these oil field are part of its territory. The border dispute has not yet been solved. By sending the SAF to protect the fields the Khartoum seems to use its power to claim the oil production as its own, which means that the South would be deprived of its share of 50%.

A third problem is the integration of the forces of the so-called Other Armed Groups into the SPLM. These forces had fought as an alternative rebel movement in the South. Sometimes they had fought against the SAF. Sometimes they had changed alliances and fought together with the SAF against the SPLM. There were quite a few of them, often of a specific regional or tribal nature. Together they had formed a conglomerate, the Southern Sudanese Defense Force, SSDF. The SSDF had not participated in the Nairobi peace talks between the North and the South. The SPLM had excluded them, understandably, because many of the SSDF forces had been supported by Khartoum. The Sudanese government has always been a master in the game of divide and rule and has always tried to let others do the dirty work.

In Nairobi it was agreed that the SSDF should make the choice, either to be integrated into the SPLM or into SAF, within the period of one year after the signing of the CPA, so, before 9 January 2006. Talks had started between SPLM and SSDF, but they had been difficult, because the relation between John Garang and the leadership of the SSDF had been tense. After the death of Garang Salve Kiir had made some overtures. This resulted in an agreement one day before the deadline, on 8 January this year: the Juba Declaration between Salve Kiir and Paulino Matip, the leader of the SSDF.

NCP leaders in Khartoum were surprised. I found that strange, because objective spectators had always expected that ultimately SSDF would choose in favor of the South. Clearly Khartoum had thought that they could always continue a policy of manipulation and bribery. Earlier this year I had asked Paulino Matip how many of his commanders would follow him. He had been cautious: about 40% had done this right away, others would follow after further discussions. However, he feared that the SAF would try to undermine the agreement by inciting violence. He was afraid that quite a few would either be threatened or bought.

In Bentiu I had a discussion with a number of SSDF commanders who, after some hesitation, had decided to join SPLM. They returned to “the mother”, they said. They tried to make it look self-evident: “we have always been SPLM”, some of them claimed. It was not so credible, in the light of their earlier alliance with the SAF. Was it a political alliance or had they only been acting as mercenaries? I urged them to stick to their position. They promised, but it is no secret that the forces within the SAF and within Military Intelligence and National Security will not hesitate to frustrate the process of integration.

Since the Juba declaration in some parts of the South violent clashes have taken place between SSDF and SPLM military. We have been able to contain them, responding alertly and sending UN military observers and mediators. However, such successes will only be sustainable if the leaders of the North and the South cooperate with each other in order to prevent the repetition of the negative impulses.
Last week I went to Abuja for the fourth time during this seventh round of the Darfur peace talks. A fortnight earlier I had left the talks quite disappointed (see weblog nr 9)
because the parties seemed to have lost their sense of urgency. In the meantime the situation on the ground has worsened. The tension between Sudan and Chad has intensified. Armed hostilities between the two countries are a serious option. Both governments accuse each other about support to their mutual domestic rebel movements, operating across the border. Any result from the talks in Abuja, aiming at a solution of the civil war within Sudan, can be set aside by the outbreak of an international conflict. A war between Sudan and Chad would have disastrous consequences for the refugees and displaced people in the two countries.

The threat is particularly manifest in El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, close to the border with Chad. It is no longer safe for UN personnel and humanitarian workers outside the town. Militia, at least four different Sudanese rebel movements and two Chadian movements, Janjaweed, bandits, the Sudanese police, its army and also elements of the Chadian army carry weapons, threaten each other as well as civilians, make and break alliances, plunder convoys and compounds and receive arms from unknown sources, by air as well as across the border. The African Union peace force in this region is not strong enough to act and has become a target itself. Much relief assistance had to be postponed. Recently I had to withdraw half of our staff. They could not work anymore and their security could not be guaranteed. We have updated our evacuation plans and decided to build bunkers in order to protect the remaining staff.

In the Jebel Mara, a mountainous area to the east of Nyala and a stronghold of SLA, some new attacks by militia supported by government troops have taken place. It was no longer safe for the humanitarian workers in the area. We had to withdraw them by road, under the protection of the AU. The second group had to be airlifted by helicopter, because the rebels did not allow the AU to come in any more. The rescue operation took place under difficult circumstances. The helicopter crashed. One person died, the others were rescued. We were very grateful that the others survived, thanks to the heroic efforts of some crew and security staff. However, it was a sad day. If the cease fire would have been respected and also other agreements would have been kept, the death of a young girl, working to help the victims of the war, could have been avoided.

To the South of Nyala the SLA has occupied the town Gereida. A year ago cease fire talks had resulted in the agreement to make this a demilitarized area, to be monitored by the African Union. The occupation did not take place by force, but by declaration. During a couple of months SLA combatants had entered the town in small groups, without uniform. When they felt strong enough they declared the town liberated again. The AU was not forceful enough to counter this violation of the cease fire agreement. Because the Joint Committee that should address violations does not seem to meet anymore, the new status quo remains unchallenged.

The Government has protested, of course. However, the army is violating the cease fire also. Two days ago the army, together with the militia, attacked villages around Sheria (in the area between Nyala and El Fashr). The SLA shot a helicopter gunship of the army. The use of these gun-ships itself is a clear violation of the agreements and also of Security Council Resolutions.

The situation in Sheria itself is rather desperate, after a series of attacks and counter-attacks. Here too, despite agreements concerning unhindered access for humanitarian workers, relief assistance can not be given. It is too dangerous.

A family in an IDP settlement outside the AMIS compound in Sheria.

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Photo: Paula Souverijn-Eisenberg (c)

All this implies that the situation in Darfur is getting more and more out of control. In Abuja. I tried to emphasize that the first priority in the peace talks should be to reach a new cease fire agreement, which could not be interpreted differently by the various parties and which should be fully respected. Violations should no longer go unnoticed, but addressed and sanctioned. In my view this requires a cease fire regime with provisions which can be imposed on the parties. In Abuja I was flabbergasted by the talks: parties were negotiating with each other the right to decide themselves whether or not a specific action constitutes a violation and whether or not to recommend punitive action. This will lead nowhere. The only way to guarantee stability is an international force that can prevent attacks and will sanction violations. That the AU is not in a position to do so is not its fault. The AU has to work with a cease fire agreement which is flawed in many respects. Moreover, the AU is lacking the resources to act timely and effectively.

I wonder to which extent the negotiating parties in Abuja represent the people of Darfur. They are discussing issues which are not so relevant for the well-being of the Darfurians. They do not seem to care much for the fate of the victims, whether living in the camps or in villages and towns under threat. I also wonder to which extent the negotiators represent themselves. The Government delegation has not met the high expectations about a more forthcoming stance, now that the SPLM has become a coalition partner of the NCP. SPLM leaders in Juba and Khartoum told me that they can only play a serious role in Abuja after having reached a common position with the NCP. I am afraid that this will take months. From their rebel leaders in Abuja are not fully representative for their movements either. They seem to lose control over their commanders in the field. Some continue betting on two horses: fighting and talking. Others get involved in the power struggle in Chad, receiving weapons from abroad and starting new alliances.

Negotiators in Abuja had understood that the mood in the Security Council is changing. There is serious talk about a transition from a force under the auspices of the AU to a UN force. This may give a boost to the negotiations in Abuja. This is one stray of hope.

There is a second reason for hope. After Abuja I went to Darfur again to speak with rebel commanders in the field. There I became a bit more optimistic. Many commanders and their troops want peace. They are losing confidence in those leaders whom they accuse of derailing the peace talks. They do not want to make a choice between Abdul Wahid and Minnie Minawi, but they also refuse to become a third party within the SLM. They are afraid that alliances with Chadian forces are a prelude to new hostilities. They also fear indiscriminate pre-emptive attacks by the Sudanese army, which will force them to fight again. They fear that this would be the end of Abuja. If forces within the rebel movements, active on the ground, would be able to get this message heard, the peace talks might become successful, in the end.

SLM fighters, belonging to the faction led by Minni Minawi, at a parade in Haskenita, Darfur.

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Photo: Marianne Nolte (c)
Looking back at the first year after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan we can say that the peace process is on track. That is what I said in my address to the Security Council, last month in New York. It is on course, slow, but forward, without backtracking. The leaders in the North and in the South are determined to keep the peace, if only because they know that their fate and that of their country depends on the determination to keep the peace. Once enemies, they know depend on each other, bound to work together.

Is this true? A week ago Salve Kiir, President of the Government of Southern Sudan and Vice-President of the Sudan, leader of the SPLM, held a press conference in which he publicly criticized his Northern partners in the peace process, the National Congress Party. The status of the special area Abyei has not been settled. The agreed 50% of the oil proceeds has not been paid. A number of institutions officially established on the basis of the CPA is not functioning. Kiir used unexpectedly harsh language. His statements were answered by Northern politicians claiming that the money had been transferred and suggesting that expenditures in the South were not transparent. The political atmosphere has deteriorated.

Why has Kiir chosen to go public? So far he had followed a different approach, moderate in public but tough behind the screens, in meetings with his colleague politicians in Khartoum, including President Beshir. But he had lost a couple of political disputes and was increasingly criticized by his own constituency in the South. He had to go public, in order not to alienate himself from his people.

During my discussions in Juba with Southern politicians, including Kiir, his Vice-President Riek Machar and key SPLM leaders such as John Luk and Justin Yac. I got the impression that the gap between North and South is widening. The honeymoon is over. Southern leaders see themselves first and foremost as Southerners, hardly as coalition partners in the Government of National Unity. They cannot identify themselves with this Government, of which they themselves are full members. In Khartoum I had noted that the Southern members of this Government had not much influence. Their position in the Government had been weakened by the appointment of a Council of Presidential Advisers, not accountable to anyone than the Presidency itself. Their position within their own ministry had been weakened by the appointment of State Ministers and Deputy Ministers belonging to the NCP. The bureaucracy clearly showed a greater loyalty to the latter than to the SPLM ministers. The SPLM has not done much to keep a close contact with its own ministers. Some of them have reacted by becoming overly loyal to their coalition party, the NCP, thereby distancing themselves even further from the rank and file in the South.

To a certain extent this is a normal political and bureaucratic process, not unlike coalition politics in other countries. However, in the Sudan the situation is different. Sudan is not being ruled by a normal coalition government, but by a Government of National Unity which in 2011 will have to face a referendum about this very unity. It is a coalition government in a country of 'two systems, one nation', in the terminology used by the late John Garang. Any divide now, if not properly addressed, will five years from now inevitably lead to separation instead of unity.

A family in front of their home in Juba

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Photo: Paula Souverijn-Eisenberg (c)

In my speech to the Security Council on 15 January this year I expressed the fear that the confidence gap was growing. I gave some examples and called for a common approach to avoid further mutual suspicion. I am afraid that the leaders are not inclined to do so. In the South many do not seem to believe anymore that unity is an option for ever. They are not yet campaigning for separation, but they seem to have made up their mind. They are angry about what they perceive as the policy of Khartoum to undermine the position of the SPLM and the Southern Government. An example is their accusation that Khartoum is still supporting operations of the Lord Resistance Army, a rebel movement originating from Uganda, in Southern Sudan. However, they express their anger in a rather fatalistic way: “Khartoum will never change”. Political opportunities which do exist to catalyze such a change are often missed. I cannot avoid the impression that some Southern leaders do not even try to grasp such opportunities, but seek and cherish excuses to campaign for separation later.

The Northern leaders, for their part, seem to believe that the Southern leaders have already made up their mind and that it would be useless to try to accommodate them in order to change their opinion. They too turn inwards rather than intensify the cooperation. This results in slowing down the pace of implementation of the CPA and in frustrating the formation of the Joint Integrated units of both armies, a cornerstone of the peace agreement.

I fear that the mutual distrust will become a self fulfilling prophecy. Separation six years after the signing of the peace agreement may become unavoidable. However, although a referendum resulting in a majority vote for separation would be legitimate, it would be disastrous. The UN would have to guarantee that such a majority vote would be respected. That would be sheer impossible. I am convinced that separation would lead to war. Many in the North would go to war in order to keep the South part of Sudan. The Southern minority living within the North would become a target and the Northern minority in the South likewise. The border between the North and the Sourth would be disputed. Fights would start in order to occupy the oil fields. In the transitional areas (Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile) civil wars would erupt.

Last week I visited Blue Nile State, one of these transitional areas. The Northern, more Arabic, part of Blue Nile is a world of difference with the extremely poor Southern, more African, part of Blue Nile. The two main towns, Damazin in the North and Kurmuk in the South, seem to lie in two different countries. But it was remarkable to see how SPLM leaders could cooperate with NCP politicians. It gave me new hope. The gap can be bridged. But we need time and trust. Both are scarce.