Focus on US efforts to be ''a catalyst for peace''

Nov 21, 2001 (IRIN)

The rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) on Tuesday said it "supports the provision of uninterrupted relief to the Nuba [Nubah] Mountains", and will cooperate for the easy delivery of humanitarian assistance there, including ongoing emergency airdrops of food.

In a response to SPLM/A chairman John Garang's meeting with US special envoy for Sudan, former Senator John [Jack] Danforth, the rebel movement said it would also support any other initiative aimed at alleviating the enormous suffering of the people in the Nuba Mountains, and called for the extension of an agreement on humanitarian access to other areas such as Buoth, Nhial Dieu, Boaw, Wichok, Nguop and southern Blue Nile.

In relation to the confidence-building measures proposed by Danforth during his first official visit to Sudan last week, Garang pledged the rebels' commitment to a "cessation of hostilities in war-affected areas to enable polio vaccination to proceed smoothly".

He also and backed US calls for a cessation of bombing attacks on civilians, and an end to the taking of slaves [by government-aligned militias].

After his trip to Sudan - where he visited Khartoum and the Nuba Mountains, as well as crossing the conflict line to visit rebel-controlled Rumbek, Wancuei and Turali in the south - Danforth told the press in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on Saturday that it was more apparent than ever that peace was long overdue.

In southern Sudan and in the Nuba Mountains, as the first official US delegation to visit the latter, he and his team had spoken to people with first-hand experience of bombing, slavery and the agony of war, Danforth said.

"We feel that if there is anything the US can do to be a catalyst for peace, that's what we want to be - recognising that peace depends on the parties more than anybody from the outside," he added.

During his mission, Danforth presented four "specific, action-oriented and verifiable" proposals to the warring parties in an effort to secure tangible gains for the civilian population, while building trust and confidence between the government and SPLM/A.

In a press conference in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on Saturday, he said these proposals included:

- Access to the Nuba Mountains, not just for four weeks but for the indefinite future, and a cessation of hostilities in the Nuba to make available food and medicine;

- A cessation of bombing, artillery attacks and so on - helicopter gunship attacks - on innocent people, on civilians;

- Zones of tranquillity and times of tranquillity - the notion being to create places and times in which humanitarian assistance can be offered, especially immunisations, without people being the targets of military hostility; and,

- An end to the taking of slaves.

The Sudanese government has repeatedly stated that no slavery is practised in the country, while admitting that there is a problem of some tribal militias abducting civilians. This is a practice which it is trying to tackle, it adds. Khartoum also contends that it does not target civilians in bombing raids and artillery bombardments, but that mistakes sometimes happen in the course of war.

Danforth said he had made his four, specific proposals in light of the "tremendous amount of distrust" between the warring parties, and the belief that, in a peace process, you have to start somewhere.

US delegations are expected in Sudan within a week to work on the finer details with the government and SPLM/A. "The two sides have agreed to a four-week suspension of hostilities so that food can be delivered to the Nuba Mountains," Danforth told journalists in Nairobi.

After years of UN negotiations for humanitarian access to Nuba [Nubah], which has been the site of serious fighting between government and rebel forces, strong political leverage from the US in recent months and weeks secured this initial four-week period of tranquillity, humanitarian sources told IRIN last week.

"It is my clear understanding that that means that the four distribution sites, the four drop sites [Kauda or Kawdah, Karkar, Julud and Saraf Jamus], will all be available during the entire four-week period," Danforth said on Saturday.

This did not mean a week's access for each of the four sites, but access to all for the entire period, he added.

American officials said the Sudanese government had responded coolly to Danforth's proposals, yet its allowing him to visit rebel-held areas in southern Sudan [from the north] was an about-face in itself for a government that has repeatedly objected to past American delegations in the south, according to a New York Times reporter who accompanied the mission.

Some rebel leaders had asked for US military support against the Sudanese government, the same paper reported on Monday.

US officials said Garang was "cagey" in his meeting with Danforth, the Washington Post reported, despite the envoy demanding more of the government side than of the SPLM/A.

Danforth stressed that while the US was interested in doing whatever it could to be a catalyst for peace, it would depend ultimately on the two sides [government and SPLM/A} and on the ongoing interest of countries in the region who were really concerned about Sudan, and really concerned that "chaos where it exists - anywhere - cannot be contained".

The US envoy said he was not so much interested in what the parties said, because talk was cheap and both sides had made repeated statements on which they had failed to deliver, but in what they did between now and January, when he would report to President George W. Bush on whether or not the US could be "a catalyst for peace" in Sudan.

"They [the government and SPLM/A] have made agreements, they've signed paper and it's turned into waste paper," Danforth said. "So show me [action], and show me quickly," he asked of the two parties. "Don't drag this out and don't engage in word-smithing. And don't tell me that four weeks means one week."

The US would not persist "month after month, year after year, on a wild-goose chase" if the two parties were to engage in dragging things out and constant quibbling over words, Danforth said. In that event, he would go back to the US to tell Bush that whichever side was responsible, "they are the ones to blame, they are the ones responsible for prolonging this misery".

He said there was no new US peace plan, and no need for a new initiative in addition to those being undertaken by the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Libya and Egypt (jointly) and Nigeria.

"It's mind-numbing to work out all the proposals. I don't think we need new proposals, I think when we get to peace talks - we're talking about just four ideas, interim steps, right now - there are plenty of ideas that have already been put out there," he added.

In that regard, the SPLM/A stated on Tuesday that it was committed to the IGAD peace process "as the only credible process", and to IGAD's Declaration of Principles [signed by the government], the most important points of which were: the right to self-determination of southern Sudan, including Abyei, Southern Kordofan and southern Blue Nile, and the constitutional separation of state and religion.

In its response to Garang's meeting with Danforth in Nairobi at the weekend, the SPLM/A said the way forward was to acknowledge "the fundamental and irreconcilable difference" between it and the Khartoum government on the issue of Shari'ah law, and work out an "Interim Arrangement" based on that fact.

This "Interim Arrangement" should include, it said: a confederate arrangement between the north and south; a transitional government that includes all parties; a comprehensive cease-fire that includes mutual disengagement and withdrawal of forces behind agreed lines; and a referendum on self-determination after an interim period, followed by general elections, in the context of the outcome of the referendum.

Oil revenue was now fuelling the war in Sudan, said the rebel movement, which borrowed Danforth's language of confidence-building steps in calling for "a halt to oil exploration, development and export until a final peace settlement is achieved".

The government was buying new military hardware with oil-derived income [oil began flowing in 1998] and "can win the war with the oil revenue", it added.

In a separate development, Kenya's special envoy to IGAD for the Sudan peace process, Lazarus Sumbeiywo, arrived in Khartoum on Tuesday for a two-day visit "to review the obstacles which hindered the process of peace talks under IGAD", according to a Sudanese government official quoted by Reuters.

Sumbeiywo is expected to propose a date for the next round of IGAD talks and review its position on Khartoum's recent proposals for boosting the effectiveness of the IGAD process, Sudanese official radio reported on Wednesday. At one point, it was said that the latest round of IGAD talks were scheduled to take place in Kenya from Wednesday, but this never transpired.

"There is a need for positive action in specific steps, and that's why we've put forward our four specific ideas," according to Danforth. "I think that if there's forward motion on those ideas, and both sides comply with those ideas, then there is the basis for working on the bigger questions proposed in these various plans."

Meanwhile, he added, his hope was that all the interested parties - "including the IGAD countries [Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and Somalia], the Egyptians, the Europeans and the Americans" - could be brought to speak with one voice "so that it won't just be a cacophony of noise out there".

If there was no progress by January, then the US [diplomatic] mission was over, Danforth stated. These proposals are "tests of good faith" for the government and SPLM/A, according to Danforth. "If they don't want peace, they will tell us by inaction, or by sabotage of these ideas, or by saying one thing and doing another - which is as bad," Danforth told journalists.

"And if that is what happens, and it's clear to me by mid-January that that is what has happened, I'm simply going to report to the president [George W. Bush] that we tried, we did our best, and there's no further useful role that the US can play," he concluded.