Nuba ceasefire experience suggests points to ponder

IRIN Webspecial on the Sudan Peace Process

The Nuba Mountains cease-fire agreement has enabled WHO to conduct a Polio immunization campaign reaching 45,000 children under five years of age for the first time.

The January 2002 Nuba Mountains ceasefire between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) survived its first year and, despite some tense moments, was renewed by the parties in January 2003 for a further six months.

Shortly before the agreement was signed, the achievement was scarcely imaginable, considering that the war in the Nuba area of Southern Kordofan, south-central Sudan, had been sealed off from the outside world and that, for over 15 years, humanitarian access to SPLM/A-controlled areas of the mountain region had been denied for long periods.

The Nuba ceasefire, brokered by the US and Swiss governments, is being managed and monitored by a Joint Military Commission (JMC), comprising representatives from both the government and the SPLM/A and an international monitoring presence, including military and civilian staff.

In light of the improved prospects for peace in Sudan as a result of the Machakos Protocol, signed at the July 2002 round of the IGAD talks, IRIN spoke to analyst Paul Murphy about the lessons that may be learned from this year's Nuba Mountains ceasefire.

Murphy is a development worker with considerable experience in Sudan, especially in peace and civic education programmes, and grass-roots strategising for peace. He was also consultant to the IGAD Partners' Forum, helping to develop the 'Planning for Peace' framework.

In particular, IRIN sought to explore what experiences from the Nuba negotiations and ceasefire-monitoring mechanism may have greatest relevance if a countrywide comprehensive ceasefire arrangement emerges in the future.

Nuba ceasefire successes

Murphy maintains that any appraisal must acknowledge the successes of the Nuba ceasefire arrangement, which diplomatic and humanitarian observers had thought would either not happen or not last.

Among these successes, he includes: establishment of an international presence in such a politically sensitive area; cessation of hostilities and a reduction in violence; removal of the long-standing humanitarian blockade; and arrest of the alarming decline of the food security situation in SPLM/A-controlled parts of the mountain region.

The Nuba ceasefire experience, he says, also brought about the formulation of a novel framework to guide humanitarian and development actors responding to the new conditions.

This integrated programme design, the Nuba Mountains Programme Advancing Conflict Transformation (NMPACT), has moved beyond the parameters of the Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) tripartite agreement for humanitarian access - between the government, the SPLM/A and the United Nations - by introducing a 'peace building' approach and addressing issues across the lines of conflict from both sides.

Reported weaknesses in the ceasefire arrangements

But even with these overall accomplishments, a number of actors engaged in the Nuba Mountains have drawn attention to some shortcomings that they claim could undermine the agreement.

Murphy cited a number of the main issues raised in the past as being:

-inadequate explanation of the ceasefire to the wider Nuba community throughout Sudan, since the government portrayed it as a peace agreement and the SPLM/A as a humanitarian settlement;
-incomplete deployment of military forces in the Nuba Mountains, according to the terms of the agreement;
-excessive government armed police presence (making the local population nervous) and controversial attempts by the JMC to integrate the police from both sides under an ambiguous legal framework;
-incidents of civilian harassment and impeded movement;
-unclear administrative procedures for civilians in demilitarised zones of separation;
-dissatisfaction with the manner in which violations are addressed through the JMC mechanism.

Moreover, disagreement over these issues was not confined to differences between the government and the SPLM/A on the meaning and significance of the ceasefire, according to Murphy. There was also "lack of consensus when assessing the ceasefire between the JMC, diplomatic missions supporting the initiative and aid agencies working in the area", he said, citing an international relief worker working in the Nuba Mountains.

One broadly shared criticism, which appears to underlie many of the shortcomings, has been the lack of routine and persuasive political oversight by the countries that sponsor the ceasefire agreement: the Friends of Nuba, Murphy told IRIN.

Without an active "watchdog" function at the political level, the JMC and humanitarian organisations cannot be expected to succeed in such a sensitive environment, he quoted experienced Sudan observers as saying.

Learning from experience

Before any clear lessons can be drawn for a future (interim) peacetime scenario throughout Sudan, there are a number of other points about the recent Nuba experience that have to be addressed, Murphy told IRIN.

First, the Nuba ceasefire was brokered outside a peace-making framework: it was agreed first on humanitarian grounds, but also as a confidence-building measure, in the absence of a comprehensive peace agreement.

That makes Nuba an important test case, but not necessarily a model for peace-making or -keeping throughout Sudan, he said.

Second, the region covered by the Nuba agreement lies within the disputed zone between northern and southern Sudan, giving rise to contentious claims over boundaries and national-ethnic identities specific to the Nuba people.

However, current thinking on an overall peace agreement assumes that constitutional arrangements will be established, borders demarcated, and any ceasefire arrangement will be rooted in a process to bring about an enduring peace in Sudan.

Bearing these points in mind, a number of insights can nonetheless be gleaned from the Nuba experience, especially on the monitoring of disputed border areas that may come under intense scrutiny during an interim peace period, according to Murphy.

In the first place, he said, the apparent lack of shared analysis, and the type of issues under contention (for example, integrating a police force) reveal that different actors, including international ones, are operating under different assumptions about the purpose and intended effects of the ceasefire.

This would suggest that it is important to be clear about the purpose and scope of a ceasefire agreement, and the monitoring mission to oversee it, otherwise, there will be misunderstandings harmful to the ceasefire.

According to Murphy, the recent Nuba experience also suggests that it is important to define clearly the functions of, and relationships, between different actors (military, civilian or humanitarian), and to have accessible channels of communication between them.

This should ensure that the work of humanitarian and reconstruction agencies, and that of peace monitoring and peacekeeping, is positively and equitably reinforcing a commonly held objective.

In addition, he says, any future international monitoring mechanism must be accountable to a recognised independent body that has the capacity to actively oversee the ceasefire agreement and the impact of the monitoring tools.

The 2002 Nuba Mountains ceasefire experience also indicates that it is important to ensure that ceasefire monitors are familiar with the culture, context, and the history and dynamics of the conflict situation, nationally and within the areas under inspection, according to Murphy.

For him, the Nuba situation reinforces that security extends beyond the monitoring of regular military forces, and involves: bringing non-regular armies and militias into the monitoring framework; paying close attention to procedures governing land access and tenure; and ensuring that a ceasefire protects the freedom of movement of civilians

It is important to define mechanisms to deal with ceasefire violations in advance of the ceasefire agreement; and to ensure that civilians have access to accurate information surrounding the purpose and management of the ceasefire arrangement, according to Murphy.

These, he says, are some tentative and selective lessons derived from recent experience with the Nuba Mountains ceasefire in south-central Sudan.

"Many more deserve disclosure and should emerge for debate at this critical time, when there is some real hope that a comprehensive ceasefire agreement may emerge from the IGAD-sponsored peace negotiations," Murphy adds.

© 2003, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. All rights reserved.