Bush Envoy Begins Peace Efforts, Targets Nuba Mountains

By Charles Cobb Jr.

Washington, D.C.
November 14, 2001

The United States' new peace envoy to Sudan, former Senator John Danforth, has presented a four-point plan to the Sudanese government, in a fresh effort to broker a peace deal between the government and southern rebel groups.

Danforth's plan calls for a one-month truce in the Nuba mountains, creation of zones and times of "tranquility" where humanitarian efforts can go forward, continuous access to the Nuba mountains for relief purposes, and cessation of bombing and military attacks on civilians and kidnapping of civilians.

Danforth said the Nuba mountains, about 600 miles south-west of Sudan's capital, Khartoum, were chosen to serve as a "test case" for a cease-fire because, "they are well-known within the United States and there is a lot of interest in the Nuba mountains....It would do a lot at least within our country to indicate that this [peace process] is moving forward."

Danforth presented the plan during meetings in Khartoum with two senior Sudanese officials, Tuesday, followed by a late meeting with Sudanese President Omar El-Bashir. Danforth said the discussions had been "positive".

He told a Khartoum press conference, Wednesday, that President Bush was "very desirous to see peace being realized" in Sudan. His proposals, which he described as a confidence-building steps, will also be presented to the SPLA leadership when he meets them later this week.

Despite Danforth's presence - welcomed by Sudan's government, which is anxious to improve relations with the United States - and the Bush Administration's desire for improved ties, the U.S.government extended sanctions against Khartoum on November 1. Officials say the U.S. still has questions about Sudan's involvement with terrorist groups and concerns about human rights violations.

Sudan's ambassador to Washington, DC, Khidir Haroun Ahmed, says Khartoum is "puzzled" by this stance, citing Sudan's support for U.S. anti-terrorist efforts. Almost immediately after September 11, Sudan began handing over names and locations of Bin Laden associates in Sudan to the CIA, U.S. officials have confirmed. Sudanese intelligence has also been coordinating with CIA and FBI operatives in Khartoum. "We expected this would reflect positively in our bilateral relationship," Ambassador Khidir told allAfrica.com. "We are not aware of anything still outstanding with respect to this issue of terrorism."

In Khartoum, the Sudanese government says the sanctions extension will not affect its dialogue with Washington.

There has been some softening of the previously tough U.S. stance on Sudan's government, however. The Administration has not opposed the lifting of sanctions on Sudan by the United Nations Security Council. Those sanctions were put into place because Sudan allegedly sheltered Islamists who attempted to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 1996. And, under Administration pressure, Congress has held up a proposed Sudan Peace Act which would have imposed sanctions on U.S. companies doing business in Sudan. The act would also make US$10m available to a Sudanese opposition group, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and imposes capital market sanctions on foreign companies operating in Sudan.

Strong advocates for taking tough measures against the Khartoum government, like Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), worry that issues of human rights and efforts for democratic government are at risk. "Although we need to continue to pursue coalition-building to combat terrorism, simultaneously, I believe, we must also continue to support pro-democracy movements, such as the opposition forces in Sudan," says Brownback.

Although the Peace Act may yet be passed, most analysts see the Bush Administration as committed to moving toward a more balanced approach in Sudan. Oil, as much as regional peace, was attracting Administration interest well before the September 11 attacks. "Those attacks, and Sudan's response, are accelerating the normalization of U.S.-Sudanese relations," notes one observer.

"We would like to see an honest broker from the United States," says Ambassador Khidir of Senator Danforth's mission: "We are hopeful he will be one. We are aware of his reputation as an honest man." Danforth, a former Republican Senator from Missouri, is also an ordained Episcopal minister.

But while the Administration is concerned to regularize its relationship with Sudan, an official warns that Danforth's mission and the anti-terror fight should not be seen as tied together. "I wouldn't try to marry the apparent cooperation we're getting [on the anti-terrorism campaign] with his mission. Danforth's mission was defined prior to September 11 and that is what is going on."

Danforth will meet representatives of southern rebel groups in Nairobi, Kenya, later this week, before travelling on to the Egyptian capital, Cairo.