October 2006

A very positive development this week: on 14 October the Government of Sudan and the Eastern Front signed a peace agreement in Asmara. The negotiations had not taken much time: about four months, less than the talks in Abuja which led to the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) and which had lasted one and a half year. Earlier I wrote about the conflict in the East in my weblog nr 8. The parties had decided that the negotiations should not take place in the presence of international observers. They were to be facilitated by Eritrea, Sudan’s neighbor in the East. Not everybody had welcomed this. Some people felt that the absence of international observers would not help making the negotiations transparent. Others feared that Eritrea might unduly influence the talks in order to meet its own interests. However, the Darfur peace talks, which had been held under supervision of the international community, had not been all that successful. Both the Government and the Front had declared that they did not want to repeat the mistakes made during the process that had produced the DPA. In my view, with the benefit of hindsight, the international community cannot be very proud about the outcome of the talks in Abuja. So, at the beginning of the talks in Asmara I wrote “Let us give the parties a chance to reach peace in the East all by themselves” (see my weblog nr 28). That is more or less what they did.

The signing of the Eastern Sudan Peace Agreement (ESPA) brings an end to a decade old armed conflict in Eastern Sudan. The structure of the agreement is similar to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the North and the South and the Darfur Peace Agreement: a set of principles, followed by arrangements concerning the sharing of power and wealth and a chapter on security. The principles are similar to those in the other peace agreements and in accordance with the Constitution: recognition and respect of multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-lingual and multi-racial diversity; citizenship as the basis for civil and political rights; protection of human rights and freedoms; political pluralism; free elections; a federal system of government; poverty eradication and an equitable distribution of wealth; free and compulsory primary education for every citizen; free primary health care to all citizens; affirmative action to the benefit of the victims of underdevelopment and deprivation; the right of every citizen to acquire or own property, without expropriation, except by law for the public interest and with fair compensation. This is a selection of the main principles. They are impeccable and show a high ambition.

Whether these principles can be ensured in practice remains to be seen. This will depend on three conditions. First: the achievement of real peace throughout Sudan. If the war continues in Darfur, there will not be enough resources to ensure poverty eradication, free education and health care. The continuation of the war also will be an excuse to postpone the lifting of the national security laws that endanger the principles of political freedom and human rights. The second condition is a lasting political will of the ruling elite to implement the commitments made in the agreement and sufficient strength and quality of the national and regional institutions to enforce their compliance.

The first condition, peace in Darfur, has not yet been met. I have written extensively about the complications, which arose since the signing of the Agreement in Abuja, last May. Often it has the appearance of an Echternach procession: one step forward, two steps backward, and sometimes also steps aside, in order to weld a new coalition. However, this week a new step forward has been made. I traveled to North Darfur and met, amongst others, commanders belonging to the G19 (which presently prefer to be called by a new name: “SLM Classic”), closely related to the National Redemption Front. In July the latter Front had launched the first major attack since the signing of the DPA (on Hamrath al Sheikh, in North Kordofan). This was the beginning of a series of attacks and counter attacks. The authorities in Khartoum always declare - not without justification - that the NRF had initiated all this. They consider this as legitimate grounds to continue fighting the NRF and the G19. The UN had condemned the attack on Hamrath al Sheikh. In all our contacts with the parties, the Government as well as the rebels, we have called for restraint, for a halt to the escalation, for talks instead of fights. We did so mainly in bilateral contacts, because the joint institution where violations of the cease fire had to be addressed did not function. I wrote about the recent escalation in these combats last week. (see my weblog nr 35). This week I got a positive answer from the G19. In a mass meeting with them - I counted about three hundred military commanders and political officials - they promised not to attack the Sudanese Armed Forces. They declared that they would defend themselves, if attacked, but promised to stop attacking. I demanded more: stop considering AMIS, the African Union Peace Keeping Force, as you enemy. Guarantee that bandits and rogue commanders no longer harass aid workers and steal their vehicles. Start, together with all other non-signatory parties, peace talks, with both the SLA Minnie Minnawi faction and the Government of Sudan. Do not reject the Darfur Peace Agreement, but consider this text as a basis for peace, as a starting point for further talks and present proposals for further improvement.

The G19/SlM Classic/NRF promised me to sit together and send me the answer to all this in writing. In anticipation of a full answer, they reaffirmed that they would not launch further attacks. I informed the official authorities in Khartoum and Al Fashr and requested them to consider this as a positive gesture, which could be the beginning of a new approach: talks that are not accompanied by violations of earlier agreements. There is still a long way to go. However, if all parties are reasonable and able to control internal forces that continue to seek a military solution, some light at the end of the tunnel could emerge..

Let me return to the East. As I wrote above, peace in Darfur, or at least some progress towards peace in Darfur, is a first condition to be met in order to ensure sustained peace in the East, on the basis of the new Eastern Sudan Peace Agreement. A second condition is that the ruling elite in Sudan have the political will to fully implement this new agreement and that the national and regional institutions are strong enough to enforce the principles underlying the agreement. The regional institutions that will be established on the basis of this agreement cannot be considered as a victory of the Eastern Front, but they certainly will have the capacity to ensure a more equitable sharing of power. The Eastern Front had demanded that a separate Eastern region would be established, with powers to deal with regional affairs. The Government had rejected this, fearing the splitting up of the state of Sudan into more or less autonomous regions, not only the South – its rights have been enshrined in the CPA – but also Darfur, the East and, later, the North. Instead an Eastern Sudan States’ Coordinating Council will be established, with a fair representation of the Eastern Front. Moreover, the agreement calls for a nationwide conference to revise the administrative structure of Sudan - “without prejudice to the status of Southern Sudan as enshrined in the Constitution” - to be held in 2007, before the elections.

At the national level a Presidential Assistant ad a Presidential Adviser will be appointed from a list of nominees to be provided by the Eastern Front. The Front will also get a number of other ministerial positions, seats in the National Assembly, representatives in the Courts as well as the posts of Deputy Governor of two of the three states in the East: Kassala and Gedaref State. A special Eastern Sudan Reconstruction and Development Fund will be established, with official financial transfers from Khartoum.

The security arrangements in the agreement include the establishment of a number of institutions with the task to ensure the ceasefire, the assembling of Front combatants in camps and the categorization of these combatants into groups to be integrated into the armed forces and others, who will return to civilian life. Unlike the DPA, which was contested right from the beginning, there is presently no reason to expect that the ceasefire in the East will not hold.

Many elements of the Eastern Sudan Peace Agreement resemble those in the Darfur Peace Agreement. It is up to the parties to the latter agreement, in particular those who have refused to sign, to compare the two agreements and to judge whether their refusal was justified. They claim that the DPA does not meet their expectations. Would they have been able to reach a very different agreement under other circumstances, such as facilitation by Eritrea or another country as chair, without international observers? The ESPA may well become the norm. In one respect it is the norm already: the Eastern Front has been able to stay united. That is a precondition for success at the negotiations table.

President Al-Bashir of Sudan, President Salve Kiir of Southern Sudan, Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki and the Chairman of the Eastern Front, Mustapha Osman Ismail, were present during the signing of the agreement. So were many other leaders from this part of Africa. Government spokesmen have said the Sudanese delegation, led by former Minister of Foreign Affairs Mustafa Osman Ismail, has made substantial concessions in order to achieve a sustainable peace. There is no reason to doubt that the negotiators were sincere. A lot still has to be done. However, the Sudanese people and their leaders can be congratulated.
The rebel movements in Darfur are utterly divided amongst themselves. A month or two ago (weblog nr 32) I described how a number of rebel movements had emerged as splinter factions of those who started the war in 2003. The Abuja talks began with two movements: the Sudanese Liberation Front (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). At the end of the talks there were three, because the SLM had split into two factions, one of them led by Minnie Minawi, who had signed the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) and the other by Abdul Wahid, who had refused to do so. Five months after the signing of the DPA we can count at least eight movements. Abdul Wahids faction split further into four: the SLM Free Will, which associated itself with the DPA; the SLM Classic, led by Abdul Shafei, who rejects the agreement, but seems to be more pragmatic; the G19 who revolted against Abdul Wahid in Abuja, and the remainder of the original SLM, still led by Abdul Wahid.

The JEM split into two. One of them, the JEM Peace Wing, together with the SLM Free Will, has associated itself with the DPA. The other one, still led by Khalil, remains the hard-core ideological opponent, co-financing the armed struggle by those movements which not only refused to sign, but are also willing to fight, despite the fact that their mother movements had signed more than one cease fire agreement.

Finally there is the National Redemption Front (NRF), a cluster of groups with quite some armed strength on the ground. They were the first to start a new battle against the Government, initially in West Kordofan, but since end July also continuously in North Darfur. The front was originated by the JEM, with armed support from the G19. In particular since the emergence of the NRF we have seen various Renversements des Alliances. Some of these were proclaimed by rebel leaders in the diaspora, including Khalil in Paris and Abdul Wahid in Asmara. Others are based on rumors. Both proclamations and rumors are frequently denounced. But there is also pragmatic cooperation between rebel groups in case of attacks by militia or by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). Commanders of the SLA/Abdul Shafei told me, during my visit to the Jebel Mara last week, that they had been able to withstand an offensive by the SAF with the help of the NRF, which had directly responded to their request for assistance. Presently in the western part of North Darfur, close to the Chadian border, there is much fighting between the SAF and a combination of the G19, the JEM and the NRF. But it seems to be a rather loose coalition, because not all three components participate in all fights.

The pattern is not clear. However, some trends emerge.

First, the SAF has lost two major battles, last month in Umm Sidir and this week in Karakaya. The losses seem to have been very high. Reports speak about hundreds of casualties in each of the two battles with many wounded and many taken as prisoner. The morale in the Government army in North Darfur has gone down. Some generals have been sacked; soldiers have refused to fight. The Government has responded by directing more troops and equipment from elsewhere to the region and by mobilizing Arab militia. This is a dangerous development. Security Council Resolutions which forbid armed mobilization are being violated. The use of militia with ties with the Janjaweed recalls the events in 2003 and 2004. During that period of the conflict systematic militia attacks, supported or at least allowed by the SAF, led to atrocious crimes. Moreover, a confrontation with Chad is not impossible. It seems that SAF is receiving support from Chadian rebels on Sudanese soil, while the NRF/JEM/G19 coalition is supported by Chadian authorities.

Second, the fighting amongst rebel groups has decreased. It started soon after the signing of the DPA, in particular between SLA/Minnie Minnawi and SLA/Abdul Wahid, and also with the G19. Presently the SLA/Minnie Minnawi seems to restrict itself to a defensive posture. His forces even withdraw if there is a risk of being attacked. However, this may be only a temporary phenomenon. Further splits within the movements are bound to result in internal fights. Commanders on the ground get disconnected from each other and from the leadership of their movement. During my recent visit to the Jebel Mara I was struck by the total distrust between commanders of SLA/Abdul Wahid and SLA/Minnie Minnawi, accusing each other to take sides with ‘enemies’, including even the Government. To us, having regular and intensive contacts with all of them, this seems preposterous, but rumors are easily believed in Darfur.

Third, the Government has benefited from this rather chaotic pattern in various ways. It has been able to bar rebel groups that did not sign the DPA, including those who had given up fighting, from participating in the DPA institutions, in particular the Cease Fire Commission (CFC). In this way the Sudanese Armed Forces, together with Arab militia, can continue to attack non-signatory parties, without risking that such a violation of the DPA will be raised in the CFC, let alone condemned and sanctioned. The Government has also made use of the general confusion by making secret overtures to some of these groups, irrespective of their stance. It is also trying to persuade prominent individual members of these groups, is it intellectuals or commanders, to associate themselves with the DPA through the Government. This provides these individuals with some status – and promises. However, the result is that these people get marginalized and are regarded as enemies by the movements to which they used to belong. All this adds to the chaotic pattern at the political front.

A series of initiatives to organize a conference in order to bring the various rebel movements together is the fourth phenomenon. The SLM/Abdul Shafei wing intends to organize such a conference in the Jebel Mara, in order to re-unite the SLM and to elect a new leadership. However, Abdul Wahid refuses to participate and Minnie Minnawi will not be invited. Some Western countries try to organize a similar conference, but only for non-signatories who have not taken up arms. Western countries were the first to label non-signatories as ‘outlaws’ that should be punished for their refusal to sign. They also insisted on the exclusion of these movements from the Cease Fire Commission. This attitude may turn out to be a handicap, but this can be overcome by diplomacy and guarantees. A greater handicap, however, will be an exclusion of the still fighting parties. These parties are the core of a third effort, this time made by the Government of Eritrea. Eritrea is trying to unite all movements behind the NRF. It aims at a central role in the next stage of the peace process, like it presently is playing in the negotiations, in Asmara, about East Sudan. To many parties as well as to the Government, this initiative lacks credibility.

These are the main initiatives. As said above, the Government is taking some initiatives itself. But these seem more oriented at a strengthening of its own position by means of a divide and rule policy than by the wish to have a strong and fully representative partner in negotiations that should lead to a sustainable solution, undisputed by a third party.

In my talks in with rebel leaders and with commanders in Darfur I have stressed that the UN can only associate itself with an initiative that is fully inclusive and wholly oriented towards peace. One might aim at talks and conferences in stages, but any deal from which parties are excluded would be flawed. Any exclusion of a movement is sowing the seeds for a renewed outbreak of violence. Any conference that has as its main objective to build a stronger warring coalition, in order to expand zones under control of the movements, will only result in wrecking the DPA. It may be necessary to make a new beginning with the peace talks, in order to renovate the peace agreement and instill confidence amongst the people of Darfur, but that cannot be done starting from a wreck.

It is important to keep what has been achieved, rather than throw out the child with the bathwater. The rebel movements seem to underestimate how far the DPA, if implemented, would restrict the Government of Sudan in a possible further abuse of its power. The agreed principles and institutions of the peace agreement would also provide a credible basis for a sustainable solution of the tribal conflicts in Darfur. These are still rampant. As a matter of fact they became more violent when the tribes discovered that DPA institutions like the Cease Fire Commission, the Darfur Darfur Dialogue and the reconstruction program were lame bodies. Since June this year most of the fighting in North Darfur and the Jebel Mara took place between the movements, the SAF and militia. In South Darfur, however, the fights were mainly of a tribal character. These too led to hundreds of people killed. Many serious efforts to reconcile the tribes with the help of traditional justice systems have been initiated by the Government of South Darfur. However, as long as there is not a sustainable peace at the political front, these reconciliations are not effective. The tribal conflicts are politically motivated and the political conflict has acquired tribal dimensions, in particular since the fragmentation of the rebel movements. Tribes try to settle their accounts or to finish a job, by putting to flight the last people of other tribes who are living in an area which they claim as their homeland. Rebel factions try to strengthen their weakened position on the ground by suppressing the population. The result is new tribal conflict, because the rebels and large parts of the population do belong to different tribes. All this has led to new tragedies in Gereida (where the mainly Zaghawa oriented SLM/Minnawi forces have clashed with parts of the Massaliet), in Buram.(where the Habanya, supported by the Falata, cleansed their homeland from the Zaghawa, which had come to this region in the 1970s, after the drought in North Darfur), in Sheria (where the Zaghawa had been driven out of the town and are still denied access, despite the peace between the Government and the Zaghawa based SLA/Minnie Minawi) and in Muhajeria, where the fighting continues and nobody knows who is fighting whom and for what reason.

During my last visit to South Darfur I saw some consequences: new displacements of people, desperate, because they did not know where their future lies; growing mistrust amongst the population in authorities, in rebel commanders as well as in the African Union. They feel totally unprotected. Khartoum seems blind to these developments. The standard reflex is to deny that a battle took place, to dismiss news about tribal clashes, to discredit the messenger, to belittle the number of casualties, to sketch a rosy picture of the implementation of the peace agreement, and to blame the international community for everything that goes wrong. .
The Darfur Peace Agreement is in coma. It is not dead, but it is dying. There is no intensive care. The life support system does not function.

Could a transition from the present African Union peace force to a United Nations force fulfill that function? Yes, of course, but up to a point. The African Union peace keepers have done a very good job, but presently they are much less effective than they used to be. They are too small and they lack resources. Promises from Western countries to support them have not been fully kept. There is not enough money to pay the soldiers, nor to feed them or to buy fuel for the military equipment. The AU each time has to beg around to get money for another month or two. This has been the practice throughout this year. It has demoralized the troops. A United Nations force can do a better job already for the reason that its presence would be guaranteed for a longer period. Its financial basis would be guaranteed, because all countries are obliged to contribute to the UN budget concerned. Peace keeping can not be done on a shoe string.

However, a robust peace keeping force is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. The predicament of Darfur requires a political solution. Military presence in order to keep the peace is a condition, not a solution in itself. Military presence is required to keep a cease fire and to protect the people against attacks from all sides. Peace keeping by military has to go hand in hand with political efforts to tackle the root causes of the conflict. That may take years and for that reason we need a peace keeping force that can stay many years.

End August the United Nations Security Council passed a new resolution (nr 1706) aiming at the transition from an AU force to a UN force. It contains some paragraphs acting under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, enabling the force, if and when established, to prevent disruption of the implementation of the DPA, to protect civilians, to prevent attacks and to seize arms. This is rather strong language, very welcome. However, the establishment of the peace force itself can only take place with the consent of the Sudanese Government. In essence it is a Chapter 6 resolution. In paragraph 1 of the resolution the Security Council “invites the consent of the Government of National Unity for this deployment”.

So far the Government of Sudan has not accepted the invitation. Since February this year it has refused to let a UN force come to Darfur. The new resolution has not brought the Government to change its position. On the contrary, the Government has stated that the various resolutions are inspired by a hostile attitude against Sudan. The Defense Minister of Sudan said that a deployment of UN troops to Darfur would amount to a declaration of war. In his view targeting Sudan was part of a Western plan to re-colonize Arab land in the whole of the Middle East. His country, he said, was ready for a general mobilization to face up to the eventuality of a foreign occupation.

The statement by the Defense Minister is only one in a long series. All cabinet members belonging to the ruling party, the NCP, have made similar statements. Even Vice President Taha, often considered to be more nuanced, has stated in no unclear terms to reject a UN peace keeping force. It has brought him more close to the position of President Beshir, who had declared more that once, in meetings with foreign delegations, that he and his government had decided against the transition to a UN force. In such meetings President Beshir is polite, rather soft spoken, but firm, leaving no room for doubt. In his public appearances he is eloquent, using harsh language. He too accuses the UN of a hidden agenda and the Western countries of having a plan to occupy the country. All such statements incite the people.

Of course, good reading of the text of the Resolution of the Security Council and good listening to statements made by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan would reveal that there is no such plan. There will be no deployment against the consent of the Government. The Security Council could decide to launch a peace keeping force based on Chapter 7 of the Charter of the United Nations, allowing an intervention against the will of a sovereign state. However, it has refrained from doing so and invited the Government to give its consent. Moreover, a Chapter 7 decision would require unanimity in the Council amongst the permanent members, the US, the UK, France, Russia and China. It is very unlikely that such a consensus would emerge.

Resolutions of the Security Council ought to be implemented. This also refers to resolution 1706. However, the paragraph inviting the Government to give its consent is as vital an element of this resolution as all other paragraphs. The question is what to do if the Government continues to decline this invitation.

Last week I asked this question to the members of the Security Council, when I briefed the Council on the situation in Sudan and in particular Darfur. The full text of my address can be found on my website. It was a pretty gloomy address. The situation in Darfur has deteriorated since the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement in May this year. I wrote about this earlier, amongst others in my web log nr 26 and 31. We seem to be in a complete deadlock. For this reason I spoke in the Council about a peace agreement in coma.

I did not get an answer to my question. This is understandable from a political point of view. Pressure on the Government of Sudan is needed and has to be increased. An open debate on alternatives would diminish that pressure. However, as I stated in the public discussion with members of the Security Council, following my briefing, as long as the alternative of a full Chapter 7 operation is impossible, it would be necessary to make it attractive to the Government of Sudan to accept the invitation. To threaten a Government that feels itself quite strong, without being capable to execute threat is counterproductive. To exert pressure by making loud statements does not help. Such statements only provoke the Sudanese authorities to make loud counterstatements. The result is an exchange of incriminations for home consumption mainly. We need mature diplomacy. We may even need to negotiate a package, whether we like it or not, consisting of give and take: Sudan could be offered, for instance, the lifting of trade sanctions, debt relief, the normalization of diplomatic relations (all due since the signing of the Nairobi peace agreement between North and South) and cooperation in the field of security.

In my statement I argued that, in order to break through the stalemate, all parties should get off the present collision course. We can not afford to lose time anymore. We lost already too much time this year.

End August the Government of Sudan told the African Union to leave the country if the AU only wished to stay in order to prepare the transition to a UN force. The mandate of the African Union ran until 30 September. The Government underlined this ultimatum by telling the AU that there should be no further troop rotations. Intense diplomatic deliberations and pressure have resulted in a withdrawal of the ultimatum. Thereupon the African Union has decided to prolong its mandate until the end of this calendar year, provided that adequate resources will be made available by the donor countries. As I indicated above, this is highly necessary. Presently the resources and the morale of the troops are so low that they function far below their capacity. In the meantime the UN has been requested to provide assistance to the AU. The Government of Sudan has agreed to such assistance, which is a sign that pressure and diplomacy can function. However, much more will be needed in order to change the ideological rejection of a full transition. Anyway, we have bought some time until 31 December this year.

We will have to use this time not only to enhance the capacity of the AU troops and to get an agreement concerning the transition. As I wrote above: these are necessary but not sufficient conditions. They are necessary: the African Union troops should stay until the deployment of UN troops. Presently that is foreseen for 31 December. If the AU troops would leave the road to the camps is open for attacks. It would result in a bloodbath.

However, this deployment of AU troops followed by UN troops is not sufficient to bring peace. In the short run we need to do everything to put life into the Darfur Peace Agreement and to save the peace. If there is no peace, it can not be kept. If there is no intensive care around the patient in coma he will die. A life support system would have to consist of more than a robust peace keeping force. It should also contain a political mechanism.

In my address to the Security Council I presented a 'five points, three months' plan for the period until the end of this year, in order to install a workable life support system for peace. First: bring all parties on board of the peace agreement. Do not exclude parties that so far did not sign the agreement from the peace process by demanding that they should first sign in order to allowed talking. Second: establish a truce between the parties that continue to fight despite the official cease fire. Third: reform the Cease Fire Commission. It should become fully representative and authoritative. It should address all violations of the cease fire. It should begin the process of zoning and demarcating the areas under control of the various parties. It should discuss the plan to stop and disarm the Janjaweed. Fourth: resume the discussion about the content of the Darfur Peace Agreement itself. Legally it is a good agreement; politically it has failed. The majority of the people in Darfur have lost faith in the agreement as it stands today. Without fully reopening the negotiations it should be possible to improve the text through consultations with in particular the Fur and with the displaced people.

My fifth point was the one I mentioned above: get off the collision course, both within Sudan as well as in the international debate. Use the Ramadan as a month of tranquility. Use the coming three months to reach a full consensus between the international community and Sudan by means of constructive talks rather than an exchange of accusations.

There is not much time left. The displaced people in the camps, the refugees across the border, the people living in no go areas that can not be reached by our relief workers, the villagers who continue to live in fear for renewed attacks by militia, Janjaweed, robbers as well as by government gun ships can not wait much longer.