July 2006

Ten weeks after the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement the situation is still quite bleak. As I wrote a month ago, the main problems are the lack of implementation and the lack of support. Violations of the agreement continue. Intra SLA fighting has not stopped. Two new movements have emerged. One is called the G19, a group which originally consisted of nineteen people, who were present in Abuja as members or advisors of the SLA delegation, but who increasingly disagreed with the leadership. In Abuja this led to a further split within the SLA, this time without consequences for the negotiations, because the dissenters were not considered strong on the ground. That may have been the case, but the G19 received more and more support amongst those who disagreed with the outcome of the talks. They were able to establish a stronghold in the north-western part of North Darfur, around Musbat and Birmasa. About one month after the signing of the agreement Minnie Minawi's forces attacked them, allegedly with some support from the Sudanese Armed Forces. They fought back, became stronger and presently they seem to be in control of the area concerned.

A second new group is the New Redemption Front (NRF). They seem to have their base in the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which had participated in the Abuja talks. The JEM has never been strong on the ground, but the movement had quite knowledgeable negotiators with well articulated political objectives. They are supposed to have close ties with the Islamist. However, during the negotiations they never took a religiously inspired or ideological position. Their political demands did not include the establishment of a religious governance system in Darfur. Neither did they have specific religious claims with regard to the negotiations themselves (for instance special considerations for prayer time or during Ramadan). The JEM negotiators were both clever and flexible, up to a point. During the negotiations I more and more got the impression that they were not interested in reaching a result. Their objective did not seem to be peace in Darfur, but power in Khartoum. Because a solution in Darfur would also strengthen the position of the ruling party, the NCP, they would not join a peace agreement and always try to convince the other movements to do likewise.

That is the reason why the JEM could so easily change alliances. First, the movement joined forces with the MRND, a relatively small rebel group with a base close to the Chadian border, which was prevented by SLA to participate in the talks and had declared to fight itself a place at the negotiations table. When the SLA split into two factions which could not decide on common representatives, the JEM became their common spokesman, cleverly retarding any progress in the talks. Later JEM became the prime ally of the SLA faction led by Minnie Minawi, despite the fact that the latter's forces had driven them out of their stronghold around Gereida in South Darfur. Until a week before the closure of the talks the new allies were staunchly rejecting the draft agreement. However, when Minnie Minawi and Abdul Wahid traded places at the table, whereby the former signed the agreement and the latter rejected it, the JEM sided with the faction led by Abdul Wahid. After Abuja the JEM declared its intention to join the struggle of the Beja and the Rashaida in Hamesh Koreib in East Sudan. They brought their (little) forces from Darfur to the East. However, the Beja and Rashaida, who together had formed the Eastern Front, started consultations about peace talks with the Government and declared that the JEM was not welcome in the East.

Shortly thereafter, in June this year, the NRF attacked Hamrat al Sheikh, a small town in North Kordofan. It was a shock. For the first time a place outside Darfur had been attacked. Was this an exception, a guerilla attack to surprise and confuse, or would this be the beginning of the extension of the war in Darfur to other regions of Sudan? It had to be strongly condemned, as a brutal violation of the peace agreements, not only the DPA, but also the previous agreements, based on the N'Djamena cease fire, to which not only the Government and the Minie Minawi faction of the SLA are bound, but also the others, including the JEM, Abdul Wahid's faction of the SLA and all those commanders who at that time were part of SLA, but since then have joined either the G19 or the NRF.

Abdul Wahid must have understood this. He does not want to sign, but he also does not want to violate agreements which he has signed in the past. He has publicly dissociated himself from the NRF, keeping the door open for talks. Some secret overtures have been made, but so far to no avail. In the meantime Abdul Wahid is increasing his demands. This week he declared that his aim is to become President of Sudan. It may have been his answer to the nomination of Minnie Minawi, last week, to the post of Chief Advisor of the Presidency, a position created by the Darfur Peace Agreement. This would make Minnie Minawi officially the number four in the hierarchy in Khartoum and also number one in Darfur, heading the provisional government of Darfur, to be established in due time. Talks after the signing of the DPA could have resulted in a deal between Minnie Minawi and Abdul Wahid to split this powerful new position into two functions, one in Darfur and the other in Khartoum. However, this seems to be a foregone option after Minnie Minawi's official nomination (as of today he has not yet been appointed) and his invitation by President Bush to meet him in the White House. As a signatory to the peace agreement he certainly deserves credit. However, it remains to be seen whether these political and diplomatic steps will contribute to lasting peace. Abdul Wahid does not seem to be interested anymore to share power with Minnie Minawi. I am afraid that each week the chances to get more support to the DPA diminish.

In the meantime there are indications that the NRF and the G19 are closing ranks.The G19, after having been attacked by Minnie Minawi's forces, needed support from where ever they could get it. It means that the JEM, which seems to have access to ample financial resources in the Middle East and thus can provide weapons, has found a new ally. There also seem to be Chadian troops involved, but it is not clear whether they receive instructions from their government or from other power groups in Chad. According to the DPA all combating forces should have disclosed there whereabouts and stay in the areas which they controlled at M-day, when the agreement became operational. After verification of these zones by the African Union stability would be guaranteed by the freezing of the status quo and by demarcating buffer zones, demilitarized zones and humanitarian corridors. Instead Minie Minawi's faction has chosen to attack the G19 as well as the troops belonging to Abdul Wahid's faction. In this situation it will be difficult to verify the positions held by the parties on M-day. It seems that all parties, those who signed and those who did not sign, are trying to expand the area under their control.

In particular Minnie Minawi's faction has been accused of attacking civilians as well, with gross violations of human rights. Minnie Minawi has denied this and as long as an investigation has not taken place he should be given the benefit of the doubt. It is possible that his troops acted against his instructions. It would not be the first time that this has happened on either side of the conflict .The AU has refrained from carrying out an investigation, which makes it difficult to ascertain the truth. However, thousands of people have fled their homes. They have told stories which resemble those of last year, when they were attacked by militia.

All these violations should be a first issue on the agenda of the Cease Fire Commission, but so far it has they have not been addressed. Violations always take place after the signing of such an agreement. That cannot be avoided. However, a good cease fire agreement includes the establishment of institutions which can address such violations, if and when they take place. The Cease Fire Commission provided for in the DPA is such an institution. However, it does not yet function properly, because the two signatory parties - the Government and the Minnie Minawi faction - deny access to that commission to the non-signatories. This is understandable, but it is not wise. If the Abdul Wahid faction, the JEM and the new split factions violate the cease fire, which they have done, they should be taken to task. Denying them access to forums which have been established for that very purpose results in ongoing violations, not addressed, giving all parties, including the Government and Minnie Minawi's faction, an excuse to continue fighting, despite their signature. Is that the intention? We do not know, but we do know that we are caught in a vicious circle.

In my discussions during the peace talks in Abuja I have argued that a peace agreement would be a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for peace. We jumped across a hurdle, a high one, but after that hurdle there was a further track towards the finish. However, parties seem to think that the hurdle is the finish. Many international observers who signed the agreement as a witness declare that those who did not yet sign simply should do so, without further ado. That is a justifiable legal position, but politically it will not work. That has become clear in the ten weeks since the signing of the DPA. In many camps the people simply do not trust the parties that signed.

In some camps this has led to violence and to polarization along tribal lines. The anger is also directed against the African Union, which is not being seen as neutral. Instead the AU is being accused of having taken sides. G19 commanders speak about the AU as 'the enemy'. Troops loyal to Abdul Wahid have denied the AU access to regions which they control. AU escorts and convoys have been ambushed. It is not AMIS fault. The AU is only doing what is has to do according the peace agreement, within its limited capacity. But it is high time to invest in confidence building, by addressing all violations without exception, by allowing non-signatories to participate in talks to implement the cease fire, by starting all-inclusive preparations for the Darfur Darfur Dialogue and by including all displaced people, irrespective of their tribe or of their political affiliation, in the reconstruction of their villages. Last but not least confidence building requires a quick, serious, transparent and credible start with the disarmament and demobilization of the Janjaweed. Without demobilization of the militia and a visible disarmament of the Janjaweed the victims of the atrocities will not believe that the Darfur Peace Agreement, upon its signing, was meant to be a jump stride forward on the road towards sustainable peace.
The withdrawal of the SPLA forces from East Sudan has been completed. This is a success of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan. According to that agreement the forces should have been withdrawn already on 9 January this year, one year after the signing of the CPA. That turned out to be impossible, because of logistical difficulties. When Khartoum understood that the delay was not due to reluctance on the part of Juba and that the SPLM was still committed to the peace agreement, the Southern forces were granted more time. The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) even assisted them with trucks to facilitate the redeployment.

I had not expected otherwise. The SPLA troops had stayed very long in the East. Quite a few of them had established families over there. However, most of them wanted to go to home. I don't think that the Southern government would have been able to keep these soldiers much longer in the East. Moreover, they are needed in the South. The Government of Southern Sudan has claimed huge numbers of combatants to be disarmed and demobilized after peace, but they hardly how many. The SPLA has always functioned as a guerilla army. All veterans of decades ago are still considered as potential fighters, if needed. However, the real core of SPLA, reliable, staunch and well trained, is not so big. Part of it is needed to to form the Joint Integrated Units, on a fifty-fifty basis with the SAF (about two thousand each). Another part is necessary as a buffer for protection against other armed groups that are still roaming around, or in case the Comprehensive Peace Agreement would not hold. No wonder that president Kiir wanted his troops to return from the East, back to their own territory in the South.

The departure of the SPLA forces from East Sudan took place with grace. People in Kassala were jubilant, not because they were glad that they were leaving, but because of respect for SPLA. It was opposite to what many had expected: no signs of relief that an enemy was leaving, but a demonstration of confidence that the newly won peace would last.

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Photo's: Jasbir Lidder (c)
Will it last? The East has not only been affected by the war between North and South Sudan, but also by internal conflicts and in particular by the insurgence launched by the Beja and the Rashaida, who together had formed an Eastern Front. I wrote about this earlier. In 2005 we had been quite successful in our efforts to contain the violence. Both the Government and the Front had responded positively to our suggestions to start 'talks about talks'. However, gradually the UN were sidelined by some countries with specific interests. This finally led to the decision to choose Libya as the facilitator of the peace talks. In my weblog of 6 January I had written that I did not expect much of this initiative: Libya does not have a good record as an impartial broker. As a matter of fact,the talks never took off.

After a visit of Vice President Kiir to Eritrea in February, followed by the resumption of diplomatic relations between Eritrea and Sudan, matters took a different ourse. In April Vice President Taha was present during the fifteenth anniversary ceremonies of the Eritrean independence. This was unique. Since the end of the war with Ethiopia Eritrea is quite isolated. It demands a full implementation of the findings of the international arbitration commission on the demarcation of the border with Ethiopia. Both countries had promised, when the arbitration procedure started, to accept its findings as legal and binding. However, when the commission decided more in favor of the position of Eritrea - which several years earlier had started the war by launching an attack in the disputed area - Ethiopia refused to follow through. Ethiopia is not being criticized for this position by the international community. It still enjoys good relations with many other countries. This has angered President Isaias Afeworki, who reminds other countries that several years ago he had fully accepted the conclusions of a similar arbitration in a conflict between Eritrea and Yemen. That arbitration had brought an end to a brief war about some disputed strategic islands in the Red Sea. The arbitration had produced a verdict in favor of Yemen and consequently Afeworki had withdrawn his troops. Ethiopia has not done so at the border with its neighbor. Afeworki has threatened with retaliation, which could result in the resumption of war. He has made life very difficult for UNMEE, the UN peace force in the border area. UMEE has a Security Council mandate to monitor the peace between the countries. However, the Security Council is criticized by Eritrea for not taking action against Ethiopia and President Afeworki has ordered UNMEE observers with nationalities of countries which he holds responsible to leave the country. . Afeworki's reactions have contributed to the isolation of his country, though many observers admit that his position is legally correct. However, in the reality of international politics other factors are often more important.

The recent thaw in the relation with Sudan makes Eritrea less isolated. Both countries have decided that peace talks between Sudan and the Eastern front should take place in Asmara. The Eastern Front has accepted Asmara as the venue. The Front hardly has a choice. For many years it has been supported by Eritrea. In fact it has been controlled by the Government in Asmara. Many countries in the region (Eritrea, Chad, Uganda, Ethiopia, Libya and also Sudan) consider support to rebels in neighbor countries as effective means to guard their borders and to weaken potential rivals. Delivering weapons, providing refuge to rebel leaders and harboring rebel forces is a common feature in the region.

The talks in Asmara are due to start in the second half of July. The Eastern Front in Sudan has organized meetings just across the border with Eritrea to prepare itself. They have declared to stay united at all cost, and to invest in good communication with their constituency on the ground, in order not to become alienated from the reality in the field. They declared that they would not repeat the mistakes by the Darfur rebel movements who have negotiated peace with the Sudanese Government in N'Djamena and Abuja, These movements ended utterly divided between themselves and have lost support from the people in Darfur, even from those for whom they claimed to fight. The Eastern Front, as many others, has realized, that this had contributed led to the present failure in the implementation of Darfur Peace Agreement.

Will the Eastern Front succeed? It remains to be seen whether the peace negotiations actually will take place between Sudan and the rebels or between Sudan and Eritrea. Eritrea may be an effective facilitator in the short run, because of its influence on the Eastern Front, but in the longer run that is its weakness. Eritrea is by definition not impartial. It may prefer a result that is more in its own interests than in that of the two parties. It needs oil. It needs Sudanese support or at least neutrality in its dispute with the common neighbor Ethiopia. It will want a guarantee that Khartoum no longer supports Eritrean opposition on Sudanese soil. Will the Eastern Front have confidence enough in the impartiality of the facilitator to accept the outcome of the talks? If not, the hostilities might resume. That could easily result in civil war and in human rights violations.

SPLA has left the East. Its function as a possible countervailing force checking the balance in the region no longer exists. The UN cannot function as a monitor of events either. We will have to leave the East soon. The mandate of our peace keeping troops has been limited to the monitoring of the withdrawal of the SPLA from the East. That has been completed and we have to go. Last week I went to Kassala and announced that we consider our task as completed and that we will redeploy our peace keeping force soon.

In December last year I had suggested in informal meetings of the Security Council that the UN peace keeping force could stay longer, to monitor the aftermath of the withdrawal of the SPLA, in particular because of the unrest in the East itself. We could stay until peace talks between the Government and the Eastern Front would have produced a result. The Security Council did not respond to this suggestion, nor to similar proposals laid down in regular reports to the Council this year. Maybe that a few months ago it would have been possible to take such a decision in consultation with the Government and the SPLA, the parties that had invited us to come. The SPLA was still on the ground; the political climate around a possible extension of our force into Darfur had not yet deteriorated and it was uncertain whether peace talks with the Eastern Front would actually start. That opportunity does not exist anymore. On several occasions the Government has already made clear that it expects the UNMIS to leave the East as soon as possible. In itself that is right. When seen in the light of our mandate we have completed our job in the East. Presently, suggestions to stay longer would feed the Sudanese suspicion that the presence of the UN serves the hidden agenda of some of the member states. Of course this is not the case. However, as I argued in my weblog last week, it is important to prove this time and again.

So, everything will depend on the talks themselves. The United Nations have not been invited to participate as observers. Nor have others been invited. All of us received an invitation for the official opening ceremony earlier this month, but the negotiating parties and the facilitator have not considered it necessary to extend the invitations to the talks themselves. The presence of international partners will be restricted to the corridors.

I have mixed feelings about this. The presence of international observers guarantees transparency and can help checking manipulation of weak parties by the strong ones. However, the presence of many international observers, all of them with their own interests, can also complicate matters. The Darfur talks in N'Djamena and Abuja are an example in this respect. So, let us give the parties a chance to reach peace in East Sudan fully by themselves.

Last weekend UN Radio Miraya (Mirror) FM 101 started to broadcast in Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, and in a circle around the city with a diameter of about two hundred kilometers. President Salva Kiir inaugurated the radio station by cutting a ribbon, revealing a beautiful mural painting of a rural scenery with people listening to the radio. In that picture the radio does not have a central position, like in well-known advertisements in the 1930s, showing families gathering around the new miracle, captivated by its message. On the contrary, in the picture unveiled at the opening ceremony life continues: people are working, children are playing, and somewhere in a corner a radio sends its tunes and messages. That is how it will be in South Sudan: people doing their things, while at the same time hearing music, news, information, entertainment, commentaries and discussions about the life they are living and about the social and political environment of their daily existence.

Mural painting, UN radio Miraya, Juba

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Photo's: Jean-Luc Mootoosamy, Fondation Hirondelle (c)
In his opening speech President Kiir committed himself to press freedom. He promised that his government would be accessible to the press. He gave a good example during the press conference following the inauguration - the first press conference in Southern Sudan ever broadcast life - , answering all questions thoroughly, without exception. Journalists from both North and South Sudan used the opportunity well, asking questions about sensitive actual themes, such as the rejection by President Beshir of a United Nations peace keeping force in Darfur and the dismissal of the Governor of Western Equatoria. Far from a window-dressing in an opening ceremony, the press conference was a real event.

Freedom of the media is crucial in a society striving for democracy. For peace to become sustainable democratization is essential. A country can only be characterized as a true and meaningful democracy if all people have an equal opportunity to participate in the society, no one excluded. Violence, oppression, violation of human rights, discrimination, poverty and ignorance exclude people from participation. So, democratization requires liberation, not only from violence, but also from under-development and other forms of exclusion. Media such as radio can play an important role to liberate the people from ignorance, providing education, knowledge, information and a link with the world beyond their own direct environment, their own culture, their own traditions and their own political beliefs. Amongst these media radio is the most easily accessible. Radio can be an important vehicle in that process, provided that it not only brings information to the people, but also functions as a platform for discussion.

In my opening speech I emphasized that the media are a two way street: listening to the people is as important as sending messages to them. A democracy is a society in which the government is not afraid for the people, while at the same time the people do not have to be afraid for their government.

Southern Sudan is not yet a full democracy. There is tribal strife, blatant poverty and illiteracy. Many conflicts result in violence. But in the one year of its existence as an a distinct entity, important steps forward have been made in Southern Sudan. There is a general commitment to constitutional principles. The parliamentary assembly in Juba takes an independent stance and holds ministers accountable. There is freedom of speech. The media still have a limited scope but there is some expansion - witness radio Miraya - and their freedom is ensured.

The situation in the North is different. North Sudan has a high degree of development, good schools and universities, a well educated elite and a broad middle class. Like the South it has a constitution and a parliamentary system. Politicians and other opinion leaders can speak out. The judiciary demonstrates a certain degree of independence. But North Sudan is no full democracy either. Considerations of national security prevail and they limit the exercise of freedoms. Elections are far from transparent. Human rights reports speak about arbitrary arrests and detention, denial of rights and even torture of prisoners.

In North Sudan press freedom has improved a lot after the lifting of censorship last year. There are many media and they can be quite critical in their commentaries. However, there is not much independent news gathering. In particular about the war and the atrocities in Darfur information in the Sudanese press has been very limited. Until mid last year this was due to censorship. After the lifting of the censorship the information hardly improved, mainly because the media lack the necessary means of communication. They have been able to publish about the peace talks and to give information about the different political views, but not about the situation on the ground.

The United Nations has not yet been given a license to broadcast in North Sudan. It is part of the mandate given to us by the Security Council, like in other peace keeping missions, but we have not been able to start broadcasting. In the so-called Status of the Forces Agreement, which was reached between the UN and the Government, it has been mentioned explicitly that we would have the right to do so, but the exercise of this right in practice has met all kinds of difficulties.

One of the tasks mandated to us is to give information about the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the North and the South. Amongst the people of Sudan, in both the North and the South, knowledge about the peace agreement is still deficient. We also have the duty to picture unity of Sudan as “the attractive option”. For both objectives radio can be a good platform. Since the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement radio could also help to present a true picture of the content of that agreement. It would be no luxury, because there are many interest groups in Sudan sketching a distorted picture about what has been agreed. As a result this agreement is meeting much more resistance than perhaps might be warranted in in the view of some, after a good reading. However, even though the Government and the African Union have said that it is highly necessary to counter the false stories told to the displaced people in the camps with true facts, UN radio has not been given the permission to do so.

It is not a matter of national sovereignty. As I said above, according to the agreement signed by the government itself, we have the right to start radio broadcasting. It is clearly a matter of distrust. In North Sudan the United Nations are being seen by many as not their own international organization, with a charter agreed and signed also by Sudan, acting as a buffer and guarantee against the ambitions of other countries, and with a capacity to neutralize the hidden agenda of those countries. On the contrary, many people in Sudan see the UN as an alien entity, as an instrument in the hands of the big powers, not to be trusted.

That this is a wrong perception we have to prove each and every day again. To prove that the UN can be trusted is a daily challenge. We can provide this proof in the way we exercise our peace keeping tasks, carry out our diplomacy, and behave ourselves on the ground. This challenge keeps us alert. We can also prove this with the help of UN radio: impartial, based on world wide agreed principles and values, with due respect for the culture and the traditions of the Sudanese people, giving them an opportunity to be heard.

Radio Miraya has started to broadcast in this spirit. I hope that policy makers in the North will listen and become convinced that the people in the North deserve the same opportunity to look in the mirror as those in the South.