June 2006

There is a significant risk that the Darfur Peace Agreement will collapse. The agreement does not resonate with the people of Darfur. On the contrary, on the ground, especially amongst the displaced persons, it meets more and more resistance. In my view it is a good text, an honest compromise between the extreme positions taken by the parties during the negotiations in Abuja. That is why the UN, like all international partners, has endorsed the agreement. However, in politics objective rational calculations will always be confuted by subjective emotional perceptions and aspirations. And those perceptions are that the agreement does not meet the expectations of the people in Darfur, has been forced upon them and, rather than meeting the interests of all parties somewhere halfway, only strengthens the position of the government and a minority tribe, the Zaghawa.

Discussing the Darfur Peace Agreement with the Wali of North Darfur

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Photo: Lan Feng (c)
This perception is a new political fact. Neglecting it would only reinforce the resistance and kill the agreement. It is not yet dead, but severely paralysed. How to put new life into the DPA?

Three steps are necessary. First: timely implementation of what has been agreed. So far, nothing has been done. None of the deadlines agreed in the text of the agreement have been met. The African Union is in charge, but it clearly lacks the capacity and the resourcesto lead the process of implementation. The deadlines are tight. During the talks in Abuja we warned against too tight deadlines, which could not be kept, but this was disregarded. The military positions of the parties have not yet been verified; the demilitarized zones, the buffer zones and the humanitarian routes have not yet been demarcated. As a result of this the humanitarian assistance to people in areas to which we did not have full access during he war, cannot be resumed, despite the agreement on paper. The preparations of the Darfur-Darfur dialogue have not yet started. It is no wonder that the people in Darfur get the idea that the DPA is just another text without substance, like earlier cease fire agreements, and is not meant to be kept. This only reinforces their rejection of the agreement. It is not yet too late to start implementation, but we seem to be running out of time.

In a camp for displaced people in West Darfur

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Photo's: Paula Souverijn-Eisenberg (c)
The second priority is broadening the circle of support for the peace agreement. In its present form the DPA is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for peace. The present tactic to do so by soliciting the support of splinter groups and by sanctioning those who took the political decision not to sign will not work. We need the support of Abdul Wahid and his followers, who together represent at least two third of the displaced people in the camps. His group may lose some who associate themselves with the DPA (such as some of Abdul Wahid's advisors who came to Addis and did so in a ceremony with much publicity) but at the same time it may gain support amongst people splitting off from Mini Minawi. Quite a few have done so. Minnie Minawi's position may have been strong in Abuja, it is less so in Darfur. His commanders are detaining dissenters and his forces do not refrain from human rights violations similar to those of the militia they had fought against.

Efforts to broaden the support for the DPA should not result in losing partners who have already signed. For this reason we should stick to the text of the agreement, but be willing to add a lot. This can be done in all three fields: security, power sharing and wealth sharing. Credible international security guarantees, visible disarmament of the Janjaweed, more money for compensation and a tangible reconstruction of the areas where the refugees and displaced people lived before they were chased away will have to be added soon in order to turn the present agreement into a sustainable pact.

Broadening and implementation should go hand in hand. The necessary additions and refinements should take place in the framework of the Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and in the DPA institutions, such as the Cease Fire Commission, the International Joint Committee to oversee the security arrangements, and the institutions dealing with humanitarian assistance, reconstruction and he preparation of a transitory governance system. However, this requires a fast track towards making these institutions operational. It also requires an inclusive approach. Any further delay and any further exclusion of non-signatories who so far have complied with the agreement, without signing it, would bring us back to the unfortunate situation before 5 May.

Not all international partners are in favour of an all inclusive approach. Some say that Abdul Wahidhas missed all opportunities to sign and should be penalized by exclusion from the benefits of the agreement and by sanctions. It is a reaction based on feelings of offence and annoyance. It is short-sighted and counter productive. Only one week before the agreement was reached Abdul Wahid hesitated whether he should sign while Minnie Minawi declared himself to be all out against. During that week the tables were turned. From the USA Zoellick and from the UK Hillary Benn came to the rescue of the agreement and were able to persuade Minnie Minawi that he should sign. Contrary to what some commentators have argued Minnie Minawi was not forced to do so. He took his own decision, under pressure, but in freedom, the same freedom that brought Abdul Wahid to his refusal. However, what the internationalcommunity had not understood was that the non-signing by the one party was a function of the signing by the other. Configurations within Darfur - identity considerations, tribal motives, historical grounds and power rationale - turned out to be more decisive than the relations with Khartoum. It would have been better if Abdul Wahid would have been persuaded to sign, even knowing that this would stiffen Minnie Minawi in his initial rejection.

This situation cannot be reversed. The miscalculation of Abuja cannot be undone by another mistake: exchanging Minnie Minawi for Abdul Wahid. It would result in the resumption of hostilities, civilian deaths, displacement, and human rights violations. This is no option. However, sticking to the position of Abuja, for which international mediators, facilitators and observers share the responsibility with the parties, is no option either. The flaw which has been built in the agreement has to be mended.

It is high time. In Darfur the people who are the victims of the war are turning against the DPA. Those who are on the side of the government and of the tribes and militia which were responsible for the killings and the atrocities welcome the DPA. If the constituency of Abdul Wahid is not being brought behind the DPA, and if the UN is seen as working together with the government and with Minnie Minawi only, the UN risks to be seen as favoring the wrong side of the conflict.

A transition towards a UN peace keeping force is the third priority in a strategy to save the DPA. Without an effective UN peace force the security of the displaced people and other victims of the war cannot be guaranteed. The AU peace force has done a good job but it is too weak. Without such a transition the government will continue to set the conditions for the implementation of the DPA on the ground. A transition towards a UN peace force will only be successful if it can reverse the present conditions of non-implementation and exclusion. That would require a unified approach and a unified command in the humanitarian, civilian, military as well as political sphere.

As I said: it is high time. However, we do need also some time to reflect in order to choose the right approach and to get consensus. A couple of days ago we were given some time. We did not ask for it. On the contrary, we got it against our wish. An official joint high level delegation of the UN and the AU which had come to Khartoum in order to discuss the role of the two organisations in the implementation of the DPA was told by President Bashir that he would not agree with a transition towards a UN peace keeping force in Darfur. “This is final”, he said and he repeated these words several times. It is a set back for the people in Darfur. But I do not believe that it is final. What is final will be dictated by the situation on the ground.

How to approach the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)? The movement has made many, many victims during a period of more than twenty years. It has its base in north Uganda, fighting against the Ugandan Defense Force (UDF).. LRA combatants, led by Joseph Kony and Vincent Otty, are responsible for bestial cruelties against the people of North Uganda. Kony claimed to be inspired by the Lord and got the aura of an invincible. His followers are believers, in him. He has been ruthless towards dissidents. No wonder that in October last year, the International Criminal Court, issued an indictment against Kony and Otti and three of their commanders for crimes against humanity. At last.

As a matter of fact the indictment had taken place several months earlier, in July. In October the warrants were unsealed and transmitted to the governments of Uganda and Sudan. All signatories to the ICC have the obligation to cooperate on the execution of the warrants. The unsealing of the warrants took place the week after I had pleaded, during an informal session of the UN Security Council, to try to find a political solution for the conflict in North Uganda. Since a decade the LRA had also fought in Sudan, first only to seek refuge, later also with the support of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) against the SPLA. Now that a peace agreement had been reached between North and South Sudan there was no reason anymore for President Beshir to continue to support the LRA. In Juba a Southern government had been established. This had changed the scenario, I argued. So far, a military solution had not been found. The LRA had not been defeated and there was no reason to assume that this would be possible in the near future. I proposed to try again to find a political solution. The LRA had never developed a political agenda, so that it would be difficult to negotiate. However, in an earlier stage Kony had made clear to Betty Bigombe, a former Ugandese minister who had been tasked with the facilitation of some contacts with the LRA (all by phone), that he did not reject to talk. However, he had expressed the fear that any effort to establish a physical contact would be nothing else than a trap. In my view the new political situation in Southern Sudan warranted a new effort to find a solution through talking. Kony would understand that his support base in Sudan had altered drastically. He might now be more interested in a negotiation, provided that the international community would guarantee his personal safety during the talks. Like in many other situations, justice could be found after the establishment of peace. At the same time the SPLA, in cooperation with the SAF and the UDF, could strengthen their military force to deter the LRA from attacking villages and killing civilians. This might even further Kony’s inclination to negotiate, because other options would become less and less attractive to him.

My proposal fell flat. The Security Council did not react. The indictment by the ICC, one week later, blocked any possible political effort. Authorities and troops of all countries signatories to the ICC are obliged to arrest Kony cs, when and where they find or meet him. Ocampo, the Prosecutor of the ICC, told me that in his view a political solution was out of the question. Previous efforts had failed, any new effort would fail likewise. I felt that it was not the task of the ICC to give a political judgment, but it was Ocampo’s right and duty to use all instruments of international criminal law within his authority against perpetrators of crimes against humanity. Without a shade of doubt Kony is a criminal.

Ocampo had not informed us in advance, let alone consulted us. He was not obliged to do so. On the contrary, the ICC should be able to function without any political influence from outside. But it did create a problem. Kony reacted to the indictment - and to the labeling of the LRA as a terrorist movement by some Western countries - by increasing his attacks in South Sudan. Quite a few villagers were killed and also three international humanitarian workers. We had to declare a large part of Southern Sudan to the south and west of Juba a no go area. Kony brought part of his combatants to neighboring Congo, where they tried to find refuge in the Garamba Park. Over there in a battle with the UN forces in Congo eight UN peacekeepers, all from Guatamala, died.

Is it wise to continue the military option? In Southern Sudan the UN peace keeping force has no mandate to attack them, only to defend itself and civilians in the near vicinity, if attacked by LRA. A number of countries call the LRA a threat to the regional security in Africa, making it an issue of the UN Security Council. They want to give a stronger mandate to the UN to fight the LRA. Our force is presently not equipped for a targeted military operation. It would have to be strengthened. How much? That would depend on the strength of the LRA. How strong is the LRA? We can only guess. Intelligence is poor. The lowest figure I ever heard was 300, the highest 5000. It will be difficult to defeat them. The bush in Southern Sudan provides a sanctuary. Moreover, LRA still seems to get support from unknown Sudanese forces. The SPLM accuses Khartoum to continue delivering arms and ammunition and a hide-out. Khartoum denies this, of course, but military experts have assured me that without outside support LRA would not have been able to remain alive and active.

One of the options which we considered was to weaken the LRA by promoting defection, promising the fighters amnesty and re-integration into the society, if they would lay down their arms. The leaders then could either be taken captive or be persuaded to surrender and brought to The Hague where they be promised a fair trial. This too raised many questions. How to ensure the cooperation of all countries? Who is entitled to promise amnesty to whom? What would be the reaction of the victims of the LRA and their relatives? Would Kony cs prefer the inevitability of a relatively comfortable jail after the trial or would he choose for a relatively uncomfortable freedom in the bush, permanently being hunted?

To our surprise Kony himself took the initiative. Last month he sent his deputy Otti to Juba with the request to the Government of Southern Sudan to facilitate talks with the Government of Uganda. It was his response to an earlier warning issued by President Kiir that the LRA had only three options: to accept mediation, to leave Southern Sudan or to be thrown out. Vice President Riek Machar, authorized by President Kiir, made clear that he wanted to get this request from Kony in person and that the LRA should stop all attacks. Thereupon Kony came himself, with a remarkable plea for peace. The LRA had indeed stopped its attacks. Many attacks had been made in order to loot in order to survive and steal weapons. In order to ensure that no further attacks would take place Riek Machar offered food and 20,000 dollar. That was a mistake. To give food under the condition that no further plunder would take place might perhaps have been accepted by the people in the South, but the picture of Riek Machar handing over a check to a wanted mass criminal has wrecked popular support for this possible road to peace.

President Museveni of Uganda had promised President Kiir that he would be willing to consider mediation. A delegation of the LRA has arrived in Juba. It consists mainly of Northern Ugandese refugees, living in the diaspora in Europe and the USA. Globalization has guaranteed that any rebel movement, wherever fighting, has a diaspora somewhere else in the world, providing financial and political support. However, talks have not yet started. Uganda has set an ultimatum: no attacks until 31 July. However, it is still considering whether to send a delegation. Kampala has announced that it first wants to consult other countries and also the ICC in order to see whether it is possible to meet LRA.

The dilemma is clear. It goes beyond the question whether to prefer a political or a military solution. There are many other questions. What comes first: justice or peace? Which route should be chosen: the right path or a bended track? Can amnesty help to bring an end to impunity? Should we go after all perpetrators of crimes or only after the instigators? How many more victims are we willing to sacrifice in order to achieve a final solution? Who has the right to take such decisions: the people in the region or their not so democratic leaders. Or should it be the international community? These and other questions are not only relevant in our search for a solution for North Uganda and Southern Sudan. They will very soon also haunt the agenda on Darfur.

Darfur enjoys much international attention, so much that North–South issues in Sudan tend to be neglected. It is nearly one year ago that the Government of National Unity was established, comprised of the (Northern) National Congress Party and the (Southern) Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement. Have they been able to make the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) more sustainable and inclusive? Many people doubt that this has been the case. There is still much distrust at the grassroots. It cannot be denied that the peace process is slowing down. Quite a few of the institutions which had provided for in the peace agreement hardly function. Amongst them the oil commission, the commission which has to demarcate the border between North and South and the commission that should deal with the incorporation of the so-called Other Armed Groups into the regular armies of North and South are the most prominent. As yet no decision has been taken about the borders, the citizenship and the governmental regime of Abyei, one of the three areas (the other are South Kordofan and Blue Nile State) with a special status. The formation of the Joint Integrated Units of the armies of North and South has not yet started. In the South there is increasing suspicion that Khartoum is riding rough-shod over the agreement and even undermines the peace process.

Two weeks ago the two political parties held a joint conference in Khartoum to bridge the confidence gap and to iron out their differences with regard to the implementation of the CPA. Both President Bashir and Vice-President Kiir spoke at the official opening. Kiir was quite specific and mentioned his priorities: implementation of the report of the Abyei Boundaries (arbitration) Commission of June last year; redeployment of the (Northern) Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) from the South; demarcation of the 1956 borders between the North and the South; formation of the joint integrated units of both armies; bringing the still prevailing laws (such as the national security laws) in accordance with the new Constitution; and ending SAF support to armed rebel groups still operating in the South. He warned that the spirit of partnership would diminish and hostilities would erupt if agreements would not be honored.

The discussions were heated. At the end of the conference both parties reaffirmed their commitment to the CPA and their pledge never to return to war. However, they did not reach consensus on any of the main issues. Most of the contentious issues were referred back to the Presidency for decision. That formula had been chosen earlier, in particular with regard to those issues that could not be agreed upon when the peace talks in Nairobi drew near to the deadline of 31 December 2004. However, gradually the agenda of the Presidency takes after the Bermuda triangle: once an issue is put there, it stays and the solution passes from sight.

As a matter of fact that is in particular true for the dispute concerning Abyei. The conference again referred the matter back to the Presidency, this time to consider four options: reaching a political agreement; calling on the experts who had written the report to clarify their recommendations; referring the matter to the Constitutional Court; or seeking arbitration by a third party. This makes sense. As a matter of facts we had proposed some of these options already a year ago. But to no avail. There is no reason to expect that presently the parties are more amenable to either of these options. On the contrary. Rumor has it that the President is not prepared to move one inch, while the Vice-President would have declared that “without implementation there is no agreement and without agreement there is no peace”.

For both of them it will be difficult to move. The respective Misherya and Dinka constituencies seem to be determined not to compromise. They are quite vocal. There were demonstrations during the parties’ conference and also during the visit of a delegation of the UN Security Council, last week. The Council members were told in unmistakable terms by members of the parliament in Juba that for them Abyei was the major yardstick for the sincerity of Khartoum.
So far the dispute has not resulted in violent clashes, neither between the parties nor between the tribes. There were threats, but UN peace keeping efforts have resulted in a containment of the dispute on the ground. Time will bring counsel, we thought a year ago. It did not and presently we keep our fingers crossed. Parties should understand that they should not bend the bow till it breaks.

In other parts of Southern Sudan violence is increasing. There are conflicts between nomads and settlers, between cattle raiders and herders, between shepherds and farmers, between returnees and the local population. Disgruntled soldiers, for long not having been paid, start looting. Crime is on the rise. Some Other Armed Groups, not having been part of the SPLA, but loosely associated with the former rival liberation movement SSDF, refuse to follow their leader Paulino Matiep, who has decided to join the SPLA. Instead they continue fighting. In Jonglei a civilian militia, the White Army, refuses to lay down arms. People living around the oil fields are being harassed or even evicted from their land. In many Southern states tribal conflicts explode into violent clashes. In the deep South the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is attacking villages.

Many people believe that these clashes are fed by arms and ammunition delivered by the government in Khartoum, or at least by powerful Northern forces who still do not accept the relative autonomy of the South. This is not only the conviction of common people in the South, but also of leading politicians openly accusing the government in Khartoum of undermining the peace process. Kiir said so in his opening speech to the NCP/SPLM conference. Parliamentarians referred to this in the discussion with the Security Council delegation. In the official Cease Fire Joint Military Commission the SPLA accuses SAF of continued support to the LRA and the Other Armed Groups. Paulino Matiep told me that in his view the conflict in Jonglei was neither tribal (between the Dinka and the Nuer Lou), neither a battle for resources, nor a reaction to the forced disarmament campaign launched by the government in Juba, but the result of government sponsored actions by Gordon Kong and other commanders of Other Armed Groups.

It is difficult to ascertain the truth. The Khartoum government denies the accusations, of course. They say that in the past such support had been given during the civil war against the SPLA, but that after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement there is no reason whatsoever to continue this. They claim that instructions to the contrary have been given, but admit that they cannot guarantee that every military or para-military commander is obeying these instructions. So, accusations continue and the suspicion increases.

Our role as peace keepers is to mediate, build confidence, contain the conflicts and prevent that they escalate into violent clashes, which reproduce themselves. In Southern Sudan we have been relatively successful, using all the resources we have: military (a peace keeping force of 10.000 men and women), police, civilian, humanitarian, our political good offices and some reconciliation and reconstruction assistance. But it is tight.

Chances are that we will get a second peace keeping task in Darfur. Presently we are preparing ourselves for this challenge. It could very well be more difficult than the task in the South. In Darfur there at least as many other armed groups as in the South and the Darfur Peace Agreement is more disputed than the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South. But whoever might think that we could build a peace keeping force in Darfur by cannibalizing the forces in the South and redeploying some of these towards another part of Sudan would be mistaken. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is no solution. In the South we need all the forces we have, because peace is yet far from sustained.