Humanitarian gains as peace hopes rise

23 June (IRIN)

In this special report IRIN outlines major developments in the peace process during 2003, and looks forward to future talks. A previous web special, published in January, describes in detail the important humanitarian issues surrounding the talks and gives background on the key areas of negotiation.

For the first time in 20 years, lasting peace in Sudan could be within reach. A year of phased peace talks under the watchful gaze of the international community has led to substantive progress on some key issues, and a final accord could, if progress continues, be no more than several weeks away.

Such negotiating advances have already borne fruit for humanitarian actors on the ground as well as for the Sudanese people.

Most notably, greatly improved security conditions arising from negotiations led in May to the UN system being able to operate the first cross-line delivery of food assistance by barge along the Juba-Malakal river corridor.

In March, following separate bilateral agreements made by the UN system with the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) it became possible to deliver aid for the first time ever to Southern Blue Nile, an area which falls outside the traditional mandate of the Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) Agreement, first established in 1989.

As an additional sign of the growing will to tackle long-outstanding humanitarian issues, the Sudanese government and the SPLM/A have also agreed to set up a Humanitarian Coordination Working Group, facilitated by the UN, to address access and other operational constraints on an ongoing basis, the Office of the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator reported in its Sudan Assistance Bulletin in May.

These and other important gains add up to a general, incremental improvement in access and security conditions for aid agencies, and their ability to provide assistance to people in need across Sudan.

The key breakthrough on the humanitarian front had come in October 2002 when both the Sudanese government and the SPLM/A signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in which they agreed, among other things, to allow "unimpeded humanitarian access to all areas and for people in need, in accordance with the Operation Lifeline Sudan Agreement."

The MOU also opened the door to the resumption of peace talks that, at that time, were stalled. Crucially, it included an agreement to implement a cessation of hostilities for the duration of talks, paving the way for further agreement on humanitarian access such as the resumed barge operations.


However, some obstacles will still need to be overcome before the negotiating parties, the Sudanese government and the SPLM/A, begin to implement a six-and-a-half year transition arrangement that, as the current provisional agreement stands, would follow the signing of a final accord.

After last year's breakthroughs made at the peace talks in the Kenyan town of Machakos, recent phases of the peace process have dealt with issues such as the equitable sharing of wealth and power in a peaceful Sudan, and the administrative details of the transition period.

The Machakos Protocol, which the parties signed in July 2002, included a provision allowing for a referendum on self-determination for the south and addressed the issue of state and religion, with the SPLM/A accepting the principle of a religion-based administration in the north.

According to Cirino Hiteng, a lecturer of international studies at the United States International University (USIU) in Kenya, the talks, facilitated by the regional Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have reached a "very difficult" stage.


At the fifth session of the talks, which adjourned on 21 May 2003, chief mediator Lazarus Sumbeiywo introduced the parties to the "holistic approach", as a means of placing all outstanding issues on the same agenda in order to accelerate the negotiating process.

Previously, sessions dealt with issues individually. "When you are a driver, you will not be good enough if you continue driving in the same gear from start to finish. Otherwise, it will be monotonous," Sumbeiywo told IRIN recently. "The holistic approach is about looking at everything in totality," he added.

Muhammad Ahmad Dirdeiry, the Sudanese embassy spokesman in Nairobi, argues that the "holistic approach" is the best way to clear up all the outstanding issues in the process and help the parties move towards full agreement.

"We have made a proposal based on the holistic approach on all the controversial issues," Dirdeiry told IRIN. "We are now at least sure of our position. We have been told by the mediators that our positions are very encouraging and forthcoming.

"We feel that that is encouraging for us and it indicates to us that we have grasped the mood and taken advantage of the opportunity given to us."

Justice Africa, a London-based human rights organisation, said the "holistic approach" was a necessary means of pressing the talks towards a conclusion, but only if it incorporated "additional elements" such as greater transparency, taking into account the needs of the Sudanese people.

Hiteng is concerned by the possibility of a deal being struck without the explicit approval of the Sudanese people to whom, he says, the negotiating parties are ultimately accountable. "[SPLM/A leader John] Garang and [Sudanese President Umar Hassan] al-Bashir have no right to trade off without consulting their constituents," Hiteng argues.


Mediators have indicated that progress on the outstanding issues currently on the table might take a bit more time than originally planned, and that the original 30 June deadline for the signing of a final peace agreement is now seen as unrealistic. Sumbeiywo has now set mid-August as the target date for completing the draft agreement.

In recent months, discussions have taken place on a number of issues, including wealth-sharing and monetary arrangements during the proposed transition period.

Regarding wealth-sharing issues, the SPLM/A has said that, since the south had been devastated by many years of war, it would require a large share of the national oil wealth to catch up with the north. "If you go to southern Sudan, you will not believe that people are still in that stage in the 21st century," SPLM/A spokesman George Garang told IRIN. "The south must be made to catch up with the north."

Both sides are now backing a mandate given to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to draft "acceptable" modalities of wealth distribution in the country. "We are not talking about percentages any more. That has proved to be a non-starter," Dirdeiry said. "The real formulation is now based on the needs to develop the south as well as the needs of the government to carry out its activities. And this format is really acceptable,"

Another important negotiating issue has been that of the three disputed regions of Abyei, the Nuba Mountains, and Southern Blue Nile, all of which have been part of north Sudan for administrative purposes since 1956, and have not been included in the main IGAD negotiating process. Negotiations on the three areas have been dealt with separately from the main IGAD negotiating process. [For more background to this issue go to:].

However, some important issues are still to be finally resolved, including the location of the national capital and security arrangements during the transition period.

A high-profile final push could lead to final agreement. Many observers anticipate that, in the not too distant future, the mediators will propose a draft final agreement that represents a degree of compromise from both sides. "The fear among the mediators is that the pressure will slacken and the momentum will die if the negotiations drag on into the final quarter of the year," Justice Africa said in a statement it issued on 27 May.


Sudanese groups outside of the government and SPLM/A have begun to raise their profile during the most recent, fifth session of talks. Several Sudanese opposition parties met after the fifth session to discuss progress on the Sudanese peace process, and to seek a broader consensus on widening the scope of the talks beyond government-SPLM/A negotiations, to the broader national level.

The outcome of the meeting, the "Cairo Declaration", spelled out proposals that were designed to emphasise the unity of Sudan while also supporting the Machakos peace process. The future involvement of all Sudanese political forces in building a post-conflict Sudan has also been spelled out in the Machakos framework, to allow their involvement in a Constitutional Drafting Commission, which is to be in charge of producing the legal framework to be used within the interim period.

"In the Machakos framework, there is a provision for inclusivity," Sumbeiywo told IRIN. "There is no point in signing an agreement, only to start another war because some people were left out. All parties to the conflict should be included at some point," he said.


The United States government's engagement in the peace process has been seen by many as key in furthering efforts to end Sudan's 20-year civil war.

Dirdeiry said the US role in the process had been "remarkable". "The involvement of the United States government in the peace process is an advantage, in assisting parties to develop confidence between them. I believe the US still has a role to play in post-conflict Sudan," he told IRIN.

Analysts like Hiteng think that it would be in the interest of the negotiating parties to secure a peace agreement by 21 October, when US President George Bush is expected to report back to the Congress on progress at the talks.

A slowing down of progress by that date could prompt the US government to bring into effect punitive provisions contained within the "Sudan Peace Act". The Act, signed into law in October 2002, requires the US administration to certify to Congress every six months that both the government and the SPLM/A are negotiating in good faith.

If the government were found not to be negotiating in good faith then a number of provisions of the Act would come into effect, including the opposition of loans and grants to Khartoum, and the downgrading of diplomatic relations. If the SPLM/A were also found not to be negotiating in good faith then no punitive measures would be implemented against Khartoum. "I don't think they will allow the US to activate the Sudan Peace Act because it is not in their interest," Hiteng told IRIN.


As with peace processes in other areas of the globe, the building of trust between formerly warring Sudanese groups is likely to be big factor in securing a lasting peace.

With this in mind, mediators and international partners have already helped establish verification and monitoring teams in Sudan to help implement agreements on civilian protection as well as cessation of hostilities.

However, the SPLM/A has indicated that it still has lingering fears over the robustness of any new agreements. "There is no agreement which the north has not dishonoured since independence. We have been at war since that time because of continuous violations of agreements by Khartoum," Garang told IRIN. "The issue of whether any agreement can last in Sudan is really questionable."

The government sees 2003 as the year of peace in Sudan. "We are left with very little time now, and we can't afford to waste any time," Dirdeiry told IRIN. "The government is ready".

Meanwhile, Sudanese people across the country are watching and hoping for an end to be brought, once and for all, to 20 years of brutal conflict.