Danforth heads back to Sudan on peace mission; ex-senator leads push for talks to resolve civil war

St. Louis Post - Dispatch
January 10, 2002

Special envoy John C. Danforth leaves today on his second trip to Sudan, still looking for proof that opposing sides in that country's 18-year-old civil war are serious about seeking peace.

The schedule for the eight-day trip also includes stops in Nairobi and Cairo. Danforth says he intends to press Kenyan President Daniel Moi and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to follow through on pledges they gave him in November to work together on peace in Sudan.

Danforth, from St. Louis, is a former U.S. senator from Missouri.

In an interview Wednesday, he said there had been solid progress on three of the preconditions for comprehensive peace talks that he laid down during his first trip to Sudan in November. Still unresolved: Danforth's demand that Sudan's government halt its aerial bombardment of civilian areas.

"It doesn't seem to be that much to ask for," Danforth said, adding that Sudan signed to the Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians during times of war.

Danforth said Sudan's Muslim-dominated government and its leading rebel opponents had made solid progress on the three additional tests he had set: A cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains region of central Sudan. Guaranteed access for humanitarian relief and immunization programs in other war zones. Appointment of an international commission to assess claims that Sudan's government has tolerated or encouraged slavery.

Danforth will meet during his trip with top officials of Sudan's government and also with leaders of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement. The rebel group controls much of Sudan's southern third, an area that includes many Christians as well as practitioners of traditional African religions.

Kenya and Egypt are key stops for Danforth because those countries have backed rival peace plans for neighboring Sudan. Danforth and State Department officials have pressed for a common initiative, both from Sudan's African neighbors and from European countries.

Danforth rallied support for a joint initiative during a mid- December swing through Europe, which included stops in London, Oslo and Brussels as well as meetings with Roman Catholic and Anglican church officials at the Vatican and in London.

"Everyone in Europe is pretty much in synch," Danforth said, pointing out that top humanitarian-relief officials from the United Kingdom and Norway have both traveled to Sudan this week to press for peace.

Danforth said he thought that the leaders of Egypt and Kenya were on board as well. At meetings in November, each expressed interest in working together. Danforth said he had relayed their statements to President George W. Bush, who followed up with direct appeals of his own.

"As far as I know, nothing has happened since," Danforth said. "I don't know what the problem is."

Danforth's trip comes at a moment when both sides in Sudan are reaching out for new alliances.

The government is hosting a conference this week of seven east African nations that is focused on fighting terrorism - notwithstanding the fact that Sudan remains on the State Department's short list of governments that sponsor terrorism.

The meeting marks the first visit in seven years by President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, long hostile to Sudan. Kenya's energy minister, also touring Sudan this week, announced an oil-purchase plan despite charges that Sudan is using its new oil wealth to ratchet up the civil war.

On the rebel side, meanwhile, John Garang, leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, announced on Monday that he was joining forces with rival rebel Riek Machar. The two split a decade ago, setting off fighting between the Dinka and Nuer tribal groups they lead that produced civilian casualties on the same scale as attacks from the Muslim north.

Robert Oakley, a veteran diplomat tapped by Danforth as his top aide, called the rapprochement between the old rivals a signal that "Garang is trying to reach out to others, that he's no longer trying to be so exclusive.

"It suggests that he's trying to strengthen the southern position," Oakley said. "For war - or for peace."

Danforth was appointed special envoy by Bush last September, a few days before the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The attacks gave new prominence to Sudan, a country that gave refuge to Osama bin Laden from 1991 to 1996.

The draft of a new report for the Center for Strategic and International Studies calls Danforth's mission to Sudan "the highest- level initiative aimed at addressing the Sudanese civil war ever undertaken by an American administration."

A briefing paper this week by the London-based advocacy organization Justice Africa goes even further.

Danforth has "succeeded in positioning himself at the center of the processes in a skillful manner," the group says. "(If) there is a peace settlement to be achieved, he has the clout to engineer it.

"What happens during his meetings over the next week or so, Justice Africa concludes, "will be the crucial determinant of the prospects for peace in Sudan."