Protocol for peace reached in Sudan

LONDON, Jul 20, 2002 (UPI)

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's prediction two weeks ago that an initial peace accord would be reached on July 20th to end the bloodshed in Sudan became a reality Saturday.

A protocol of understanding was signed Saturday in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army, SPLA, which has led a rebellion against Khartoum for more than 19 years. The two sides said they hoped to sign a comprehensive peace deal after more talks in August.

During a visit earlier this month to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, Annan predicted that an initial peace accord between the warring factions would be reached July 20th.

The peace agreement contains compromises made by the government and the SPLA, led by John Garang. It recognizes self-determination to southern Sudan in return for the rebel movement's agreement to extend the interim period to six years.

During the transitional period, it allows the people in the region to decide on remaining united with the north with greater autonomy in the south, or self-determination with independence from the north.

In an apparent move to resolve the differences over the relationship between state and religion, the SPLA agreed that Islamic Shari (laws)-- which today govern Sudan -- to be one source of legislation in the Constitution.

The agreement, expected to be officially announced by Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi on Sunday, represents the most dramatic breakthrough since negotiations between the warring parties started seven years ago.

But it faces obstacles in implementation due to the lack of details in the proposed settlement, particularly concerning sharing of authority and resources, as well as defining the borders of the south, which the SPLA insists on including the "marginalized regions" south of the Blue Nile and the Nubian Mountains.

An important factor that made this agreement possible at this time was the exhaustion facing the warring parties after almost two decades of fierce fighting.

Another has been the intensified foreign mediation led by the United States in cooperation with Britain and Norway, as well as a major role played by Kenya in coordination with Egypt.

The Kenyan president is preparing to leave the political arena with a desire to see peace in Sudan, and apparently requested U.S. assistance in this mission.

Washington welcomed his invitation, placed pressure on the rebel movement and pushed Egypt to coordinate with Kenya toward this end.

International relief agencies also seemed to have grown weary of their operations, which Sudan has been financing for the past 20 years.

The role of foreign parties was not confined only to mediation, but also pressures on the rebel movements that have depended on western diplomatic, financial and media support.

Western pressure was also exerted on the Sudanese government, which wants to see its name removed from the list of countries that allegedly support terrorism and the Western economic sanctions against it lifted.

The peace initiative proposed by EGAD (East African countries) -- which had focused on self-determination as the basis of the agreement -- was countered by another joint initiative from Kenya and Egypt, which had downplayed the issue of self-determination and highlighted the inclusion of all political forces.

After the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, Egypt gave priority to achieving peace in neighboring Sudan to ease extremism in the country.

The peace accord came as President George W. Bush's special envoy to Sudan, former Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., prepares to make his third visit to the African country.

It will be Danforth's first visit after the implementation of the cease-fire between government and rebel forces in the Nubian Mountains. He is expected to press for extending the cease-fire for another six months, especially now that relief operations have been flowing smoothly into the region.

Danforth had said that if military operations ceased and peace was achieved, Sudan was expected to be among the world's leading oil producers.

Sudan, which produces 240,000 barrels per day, could significantly increase its production output if military threats ceased, particularly in the southern state of Wihda, where the main oil fields are located.

The Swedish Linden Company, which last year discovered an important oil well in Sudan, recently announced it would not resume its work in some of the oil fields until peace was achieved.

Linden was due to begin oil production in the first quarter of this year, but said it was suspending its work due to the military conflict.

(Reported by Alsir Sid Ahmad in London)