Nuba ceasefire to be renewed but issues remain

June 19, 2002 (IRIN)

The government of Sudan has agreed to an extension of the local ceasefire agreement in the Nuba Mountains region of south-central Sudan from Thursday, and the rebel SPLM/A is set to follow suit, but there are still problems with its scope and implementation.

The National Congress government in Khartoum has committed itself to extending the ceasefire agreement for another six months, starting from Thursday 20 June, Republic of Sudan Radio reported on Monday.

And SPLM/A spokesman Samson Kwaje confirmed to IRIN on Wednesday evening that the rebel movement would also agree to an extension of the ceasefire, though he said he did not know the duration or other details because the full results of an SPLM/A-Nuba congress on the matter were still not known.

Additional details would be available on Thursday, when the current ceasefire agreement comes up for renewal, Kwaje added.

For the government's part, foreign ministry under secretary, Mutrif Siddiq Ali Numayri, said the agreement would continue along the lines of the accord reached in January between the government and the SPLM/A-Nuba region, Sudan Radio broadcast on Monday.

Numayri said the government had agreed to extend the agreement because of its importance to the peace and stability of the Nuba Mountains region, Southern Kordofan State, and as a means of promoting its development, the report added.

The government and SPLM/A-Nuba signed the renewable six-month Nuba Mountains ceasefire agreement, covering an area of some 80,000 sq km, on 19 January this year, after six days of closed-door negotiations facilitated by the US and Swiss governments in Burgenstock, central Switzerland.

The agreement has been implemented - and generally adhered to - under the supervision of a Joint Military Commission (JMC), comprising representatives of the government, the SPLM/A and of neutral third parties.

The Nuba ceasefire had, so far, brought "mixed results" for the civilian population of the SPLM/A-controlled areas of Nuba, and needed to translate into the achievement of minimum food aid targets to avert a looming food crisis in the region, humanitarian agencies warned in late May.

On the positive side, they said, many Nuba people had welcomed remission from the threat of military attacks and aerial bombardment, and the unprecedented return of civilians from government-controlled areas.

However, bureaucratic issues and delays had contributed to a "growing erosion of confidence in the ceasefire arrangement", and it was essential to ensure unimpeded humanitarian access and to strengthen the mechanisms required for effective political pressure to be brought to bear on all actors, they added.

Due to difficulties in delivering humanitarian assistance in the Nubas, particularly to SPLM/A-controlled areas, there was "growing evidence" to suggest that the vulnerability of the population had actually increased during the life of the ceasefire, partially due to the earlier than usual exhaustion of household food reserves brought on by the need to support returnees, according to NGOs organisations active in Sudan.

The government agreed in January to "unfettered humanitarian access to Nuba" but had continued to delay and deny flights into SPLM/A-controlled areas until mid-May - just weeks before the rainy season would make airstrips inaccessible there, Roger Winter, Assistant Administrator at the US Agency for International Development (USAID), told a US Congressional hearing on Sudan on 5 June.

In addition, "the government had launched a massive dry-season offensive in the oilfields [including western Upper Nile]... aided by thousands of its forces redeployed as a result of the Nuba Mountains ceasefire," John Prendergast, co-director for Africa of the International Crisis Group told a US Congressional hearing on 5 June.

The importance of the Nuba Mountains ceasefire agreement was that it was "formal and detailed", and included the element of independent verification, which may offer "a small model to look at" for other areas of war-torn Sudan, according to humanitarian and diplomatic sources.

Also, flight clearance was being carried out by the JMC, and not the government, and people were enjoying a new freedom of movement, a start to economic revitalisation and "an overall feeling of optimism", according to Roger Winter. There was now some hope of using this successful initiative as a model for zones of tranquillity in which to assist vulnerable populations elsewhere in Sudan, he added.

Yet, John Prendergast argued at the same Congressional hearing that "well-meaning efforts to secure Days of Tranquillity and localised ceasefires was misplaced", when what was needed was "blanket access for humanitarian aid" and an end to the warring parties' veto over where relief agencies could provide people in need with assistance.

"We have legitimised the veto over and over again, most recently with the focus on the Days of Tranquillity," Prendergast complained, saying that Washington and the UN must re-focus on the fundamental objective of humanitarian diplomacy: the principle of unfettered access.