Shuttle diplomacy before peace talks restart

1 October (IRIN)

Both the government and rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) group are engaging in shuttle diplomacy this week to brief their constituents and supporters about breakthroughs in the peace process.

SPLA Chairman John Garang has returned to southern Sudan to brief his commanders, and was welcomed by thousands of cheering and ululating people in Rumbek on Tuesday. "The road to peace is irreversible," he told them, but warned that unity was needed among southerners in order to implement a final agreement.

He stressed that the security deal signed last week by the government and the SPLM/A differed from a previous peace agreement in 1972 - which was followed by a resurgence of war in 1983 - because this time around the SPLA would retain its own army during the interim period.

Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Taha, who was also welcomed by thousands of people at the airport when he returned to Sudan, met the main political parties in Khartoum on Tuesday to brief them on developments.

Taha had observed "widespread support" for the deal on security arrangements among the political parties, Sudan's deputy ambassador to Kenya Muhammad Ahmad Dirdeiry told IRIN.

On Wednesday, Taha set out on a four-day mission to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar on Wednesday to brief their respective leaders.

Meanwhile at home, Sudanese media have reportedly stopped referring to Garang as a "rebel leader" and started giving him titles such as "Chairman
of the SPLM/A".

Since the deal was clinched last Thursday, there have been mixed reactions to the agreement.

An SPLA commander, Barri Ngangara Wanji said on Kenyan television at the weekend that the agreement had been "forced" on the Sudanese by the US and Britain. "We are rejecting that agreement because the bulk and majority of the SPLA is on my side," he said. "I would like to assure our brothers and sisters in Kenya that the war is not over."

Regional analysts have also warned about the lack of inclusiveness in the security deal, which excludes all armed groups apart from the Sudanese
army and the SPLA. If ownership of the peace and post-conflict political process is not widened to include other groups - such as the many non-SPLA southern militias - large number of Sudanese interests will not feel represented, and the deal will not be sustainable, they say.

Garang and Taha are expected to return to Kenya on 15 October to resume peace talks, while a committee to discuss the disputed areas of Abyei,
Southern Blue Nile and the Nuba mountains will start negotiations a week earlier.

Key issues of wealth and power sharing, Shari'ah law or secularism in Khartoum, and the transitional presidency still have to be agreed upon.