Cautious welcome for Nuba cease-fire accord

Jan 21, 2002 (IRIN)

The government of Sudan and the rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Movement/Army from the Nuba Mountains (SPLM/A-Nuba) on Saturday signed a renewable six-month cease-fire agreement for the area in Southern Kordofan, south-central Sudan.

The agreement is due to enter into force 72 hours after signature, and to be applied in the Nuba region of some 80,000 square kilometres, under the supervision of a Joint Military Commission, according to a press statement from the Swiss government.

The signing of the agreement followed six days of closed-door negotiations in Burgenstock, central Switzerland, between the two parties, with the joint mediation of the Swiss and US governments.

The Nuba cease-fire agreement was negotiated at the initiative of the US, which launched a new initiative for humanitarian access and peace in Sudan following the appointment of the US special peace envoy, John Danforth, in early September 2001.

The negotiations were co-chaired by a Swiss delegation led by Ambassador Josef Bucher, who has been charged by the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs with seeking negotiated solutions in several regions affected by conflict, including Sudan.

"This cease-fire agreement is our baby, and we shall nurse it until it matures into a comprehensive and lasting peace," the Associated Press agency (AP) quoted Mutrif Siddiq Ali Nimeiri (Numayri), head of the Sudanese government delegation in Switzerland, as saying.

"This agreement will make it possible for the Nuba people to receive international [humanitarian] assistance, but until and unless a comprehensive political settlement of the conflict in the Sudan is reached, the conflict in the Nuba Mountains is far from resolved," Commander Abdulaziz Adam Elhilu (Abd al-Aziz Adam al-Hulw), head of the SPLM/A-Nuba delegation, told AP in Switzerland.

The importance of the Burgenstock document was that it was a "formal and detailed cease-fire agreement" for one particular area, which might help the larger situation in Sudan as a confidence-building measure and as "a small model to look at" in terms what could be achieved in other areas, diplomatic sources told IRIN.

International monitoring of an extended Nuba cease-fire was previously agreed with Danforth by the government and SPLM/A, but the mechanism involved and the identity of the "interested and able countries" to provide third-party support would be interesting for the future, they added.

The agreement was welcomed, though with certain caveats, by the government in Khartoum and the SPLM/A.

"It is a step towards normalising life, and facilitating relief and rehabilitation operations in the Nuba Mountains, and creating an atmosphere conducive to reaching peace," AFP quoted the Sudanese presidential peace adviser, Ghazi Salah al-Din al-Atabani, as saying on Omdurman state radio.

The Egyptian-based SPLM/A spokesman, Yasir Arman, had welcomed the agreement as a first, tentative step towards ending the Sudanese civil war, AFP reported.

The agreement provided for the establishment of a cease-fire mechanism comprising representatives of the government and SPLA, and those of a third party or group acceptable to both sides, Atabani said.

The Burgenstock agreement also provided for civilians' freedom of movement, the opening and maintenance of roads, and the clearance of land mines, according to Atabani, who said he hoped it would "silence the voices calling for war".

Nonetheless, the government had set some conditions in relation to the cease-fire, the most important of which was that the "third party" involved in the monitoring mechanism could not have an aggressive record towards Sudan, or be "suspected of taking sides in the current conflict", Atabani told journalists in Khartoum on Sunday.

Also, the "international observation" referred to in the accord "does not mean an international body like the United Nations, or a peacekeeping force that maintains a foothold in Sudan", AFP quoted him as saying.

The deal also provides for the establishment of an International Monitoring Unit comprising 10 to 15 military and civilian personnel from western Europe and North America, and allows for humanitarian assistance to be sent into the Nuba region by air, according to news agency reports.

However, the Swiss and US representatives emphasised that they could not enforce the agreement, and that, ultimately, it was up to the parties concerned to make the cease-fire work, they added.

The government has repeatedly called for a comprehensive cease-fire throughout Sudan, but the SPLM/A is firmly opposed to creeping cease-fire agreements countrywide outside the context of a comprehensive political settlement to end the Sudanese civil war, according to regional observers.