U.S. resuming peace effort in Sudan; envoy heads to Khartoum for discussions

By GEORGE GEDDA, Associated Press Writer
Jan 11, 2002 (AP)

The United States administration is resuming its effort to achieve a peace breakthrough in Sudan through a series of confidence building measures designed to ease suffering caused by the country's civil war.

Former Sen. John Danforth, who is leading the effort on behalf of President George W. Bush, outlined the proposals to Sudanese and rebel leaders in November and is returning to Khartoum on Saturday for further discussions.

Danforth has said that if the forthcoming visit fails to yield progress, he will end his effort.

The proposals call for access to Sudan's Nuba Mountains for humanitarian agencies, a cessation of fighting in the mountains, a halt to the bombing of civilians and the creation of "zones of tranquility" to allow aid to be delivered to conflict areas.

State Department officials say Sudan has been receptive to each point except for the halt to aerial bombardment. This has made the officials more optimistic about a successful outcome.

Since 1983, more than 2 million Sudanese have lost their lives, mainly through war-induced famine. A series of diplomatic efforts over the years to end the north vs. south war have failed, partly because neither the Khartoum government nor the Sudan People's Liberation Army rebels are entirely uncomfortable with the status quo, the officials said.

As an example, the SPLA has been unable to disrupt profitable oil flows from Khartoum-controlled oil fields in the south. Also, elites in Khartoum have been untouched by the war, which is being fought mostly in the south.

The main pillar of support for the government of President Omar el-Bashir is the military. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said key officers are reluctant to halt aerial bombing because it is the one tangible advantage it has over the south.

One inducement for Sudan to go along with Danforth's proposals is uncertainty about how the United States would react to a rejection. As the example of Afghanistan shows, the United States has demonstrated a willingness to use military force against radical Islamic states.

Sudan itself was a target in 1998 when President Bill Clinton ordered cruise missile strikes against a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum suspected of making chemical weapons components.

Religion is a key element of the war, with the predominantly Islamic north matched against a southern population that, for the most part, is either Christian or adheres to traditional animist religions.

Danforth, 65, is a Missouri Republican who spent three terms in the Senate, stepping down in 1995.

He hopes the proposed humanitarian measures will lead to a more rapid understanding between the two sides if and when talks begin on a final settlement.

As officials see it, the Sudanese government wants assurances of a unified state and will allow a degree of autonomy for the south. They said it is not clear whether the SPLA is holding out for autonomy within Sudan or outright independence.