U.S.-brokered ceasefire raises hope, suspicion in Sudan

By Albino Okeny
Khartoum, Jan 30, 2002 (dpa)

The Nuba Mountains region in central Sudan is one of the most fiercely contested spots in the civil war between the Islamic Khartoum government and rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

However, a ceasefire came into effect in the region on Monday January 21 following an agreement between the government and the SPLA brokered in Switzerland by the United States.

War-weary Sudanese have welcomed the ceasefire although they are surprised at the apparent "ease" with which the U.S. managed to get the agreement signed within such a short time knowing that previous attempts to solve a conflict that has so far claimed an estimated two million lives had failed miserably.

Whereas ordinary Sudanese have declared that they accept any move that will restore peace to the country, they are suspicious that there is something about this particular deal that they still have not grasped.

The Switzerland agreement stipulates that there will be a ceasefire in the region for a period of six months subject to renewal. During the ceasefire, landmines will be cleared and roads opened so that relief supplies will reach all the needy districts of the region. The truce will be monitored by foreigners.

The question that Sudanese are asking is, "what will follow the ceasefire?" So far there is no clearcut answer to the question. The government explains that if the deal in the Nuba Mountains succeeds, it will be used as a model in the other areas of conflict in the Sudan so that there will be a piece meal approach to resolve the civil war.

Areas that are likely to benefit from this model are the Southern Blue Nile in eastern Sudan and the Abyei province in central Sudan both of which are waging armed struggle against the government.

If this happens, a kind of a buffer zone will have been created between Southern Sudan and Northern Sudan. This scenario and the prospect of foreign involvements in the Sudanese conflict have prompted opposition to the ceasefire agreement from some northern Sudanese.

A Muslim Brotherhood Movement leader, Sheikh Sadik Abdalla Abdel Mageed said in a statement to Al-Sahafa newspaper that he was against foreign interferences in the internal affairs of Sudan. According to him, the U.S. will never bring peace to Sudan.

He told the paper that the acceptance of the U.S. role in Sudan was the beginning of the end of the Sudanese government, people and land.

However, the Presidential Peace Advisor, Dr Ghazi Salah-Eddin, has dispelled the fear of U.S. influence in the region, saying that the ceasefire monitoring group would have only two Americans in it. He also pointed out that the monitors did not have any power apart from reporting violations if any. He added that such a report would be submitted to the government, not to any foreign government or institution.

Dr Salah-Eddin also tried to assure the critics of the foreign involvement that the government would not allow hostile countries to serve as monitors. He said there would be sisterly countries like Egypt on the ceasefire monitoring committee. But press reports say the SPLA has rejected the participation of Egypt on the committee.

Commenting on the worry of some Sudanese about the internationalization of the Sudanese conflict, the former vice president, Abel Alier, said it was the duty of Sudanese to find a political solution to their conflict.

But he warned that the more Sudanese dragged their feet in resolving their problems, the more involved foreigners would get in the conflict.

Interpreting the government motive in signing the Switzerland ceasefire accord, a member of the Umma party political bureau, Ibrahim Kluona who hails from the Nuba Mountains, was quoted by the Khartoum Monitor daily as saying that the ceasefire would reduce the military pressure on the government so that it would then concentrate its war effort in the south.

The mobilisation of the Popular Defence Force (PDF) to form a battalion to go to the war zones in mid February tends to reinforce this interpretation of the motive behind the agreement acceptance of the ceasefire in the Nuba Mountains.

But the Commander of the PDF, Brigadier Ahmed Abbas said in a press statement that the creation of the battalion to support the army in the war zones had nothing to do with the ceasefire agreement. He said the mobilisation was to show that the PDF was always in support of the government whether in time of peace or war.

Before the ceasefire the government was reporting that the people of the Nuba Mountains were abandoning the SPLA and defecting to the government held areas in big numbers. The factors that led the government to accept the ceasefire in this region while its policy of syphoning the people from the rebel areas was succeeding are still not understood.