US reports progress on humanitarian access

17 December (IRIN)

The government of Sudan and the rebel Sudan people's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) have agreed on an internationally monitored cease-fire to cover the Nuba [Nubah] Mountains region, Southern Darfur, south-central Sudan, and on "military stand-downs" to implement a US-proposed initiative to eradicate polio, according to the United States government.

Roger Winter, Director of the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), told United Nations officials and donors in Switzerland that a US technical team - following up on the November mission to Sudan of American peace envoy John Danforth - had "conducted substantive negotiations with both parties and found some common ground for agreement."

"It remains to be seen whether the parties' actions will reflect the agreements... but we are encouraged by the progress that has been achieved", Winter stated.

In the course of meetings with representatives of the government and the SPLM/A from 6-13 December, the two parties "agreed to negotiate an internationally monitored cease-fire to cover the entire Nuba Mountains region, and to a relief and rehabilitation programme for all civilians in the Nuba Mountains region," according to a US statement released in Switzerland and Sudan.

Khartoum and the SPLM/Nuba "agreed to immediately observe and extend the current military stand-down and to apply it to the entire Nuba Mountains region to facilitate the negotiation of the cease-fire and the relief and rehabilitation programme," it stated.


Washington believed that "strict adherence to the military stand-down will be essential to the success of efforts in the Nuba Mountains region," it added.

The rebel movement last week accused Khartoum of violating the agreed period of tranquility in the Nuba Mountains by undertaking a military offensive.

In Friday's statement by the US, it said the Sudanese government and the SPLM/Nuba had also agreed to the immediate dispatch of a relief and rehabilitation assessment mission to the Nuba Mountains, the findings of which would serve as the basis for the development of a relief and rehabilitation programme.

Khartoum and the SPLM/Nuba have also "agreed to participate immediately in direct negotiations with third party participation to work out the details of the cease-fire," according to Friday's statement from the US. The time and location of these negotiations is to be confirmed after the Washington consults with third party participants.

Meanwhile the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations' World Food Program (WFP) are to meet separately with the Government and the SPLM/Nuba to negotiate and develop a comprehensive relief and rehabilitation programme for all civilians in the Nuba Mountains region, based on the findings of the assessment mission.

The initial four-week period of tranquility, during which WFP secured access to airdrop over 2,000 mt of food, officially ended on Sunday 9 December, though Danforth expressed hope during his Sudan mission that it would be extended indefinitely. Additional food deliveries would be needed next year, probably before April, according to WFP.

In addition to food interventions, the civilian population of the Nuba Mountains urgently needs access to non-food assistance - including medical help, shelter and educational opportunity - as well as a rehabilitation programme, the need for which was identified years ago and can only have got worse, aid workers told IRIN.

While in Sudan in mid-November, Danforth also proposed that the government and SPLM/A agree to adhere to selected periods of tranquility to allow the conduct of humanitarian operations.

Washington on Friday announced that Khartoum and the rebel movement had agreed to a US-proposed initiative to eradicate polio, and agreed to military stand-downs to facilitate this eradication effort - "including a commitment by the Government not to ban flights associated with this effort."

The parties also reacted positively to the proposals presented by Washington on dealing with Guinea Worm and rinderpest, but the government said it needed more time to review the proposals, the statement said. Khartoum and the US agreed to complete these discussions and to reach a decision by the time of a return visit by Danforth to Sudan in January.

The implementation of these three initiatives on polio, Guinea Worm and rinderpest is to involve the two warring parties, various UN agencies, the US (through USAID) and the Carter Center - a non-profit public policy institute founded by former US President Jimmy and his wife Rosalynn which seeks, among other things, to prevent and resolve conflicts.

The Carter Centre has been a key partner in an aggressive programme to tackle Guinea Worm in Sudan. The parasite gives rise, through contaminated water, to a disease which cripples victims, leaving them unable to work, attend school, care for children or harvest crops. There were some 54,000 cases reported in Sudan last year, almost three-quarters of the global total, with the highest recorded incidences in West and South Kordofan, in the midwest, and southern Blue Nile, White Nile and Sinnar in east-central Sudan.

Rinderpest is the most dreaded bovine plague - a highly infectious viral disease that can destroy entire populations of cattle and buffalo, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

In regions that depend on cattle for meat, milk products and draft power, it can and has caused famine, and has inflicted serious economic damage. Rinderpest can be prevented with vaccination but spreads easily among non-vaccinated herds through livestock trade and pastoral migrations.

"The Government [of Sudan] and the SPLM each made a clear, firm commitment to avoid all bombardment of civilian and humanitarian targets," the US stated on Friday, echoing another of Danforth's proposals to the warring parties in Sudan.

In this regard, the SPLM agreed to the proposed establishment of an internationally-supported verification mechanism to investigate and report on alleged incidents of civilian targets, though the government said that it was unable to agree to such a mechanism except in the context of a negotiated, comprehensive cease-fire.

Sudanese opposition to the idea of localised ceasefire agreements had previously been flagged, and President Umar Hasan al-Bashir said last month that any long-term cease-fire in Nuba should include the oil pipeline which crosses the mountains, and not just the areas where civilians are at risk.

"We have expressed to the American presidential envoy our reservation towards the partial cease-fire he has proposed," AFP quoted him as saying.

During last month's mission, Danforth also called for an end to slavery. In Geneva on Friday, Winter told the UN and donors that Khartoum and the SPLM had "agreed to facilitate and support the visit to Sudan of a US-led and internationally supported mission to conduct an on-the-ground investigation of means of preventing slavery, abduction and forced servitude throughout Sudan."

The government of Sudan had agreed to support such a visit even though it rejects the assertion that slavery and the slave trade exist in Sudan, according to the US statement.

Both parties had also agreed to implementation of cross-line programmes to reduce tensions in the area, including proposals to promote reconciliation between neighboring ethnic groups and proposals to provide groups in the area access to grazing areas and markets, it added.

Danforth is scheduled to return to Sudan and the region in early January to measure progress on the implementation of these commitments.

The four US proposals - on humanitarian access to the Nuba Mountains; a cessation of bombing and artillery attacks on civilians; zones of tranquility and times of tranquility in which humanitarian assistance can be offered, especially for immunisations; and, an end to the taking of slaves - were "tests of good faith" for the government and SPLM/A, Danforth said after his mission to Sudan last month.

"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 added.