Peace Process is Vulnerable, Say Analysts

By Moyiga Nduru
Feb 6 (IPS)

Sudan's peace process will collapse if Khartoum and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army refuse to involve others in the talks that are underway in Kenya, political commentators have warned.

”There are 36 militia and political groups in the south. If they are not handled well, there will be trouble,” said John Yor, a political science lecturer at the University of South Africa (UNISA). He told a meeting held in Pretoria, Thursday, that the four major political parties in northern Sudan had also taken something of a back seat in the peace process.

At present, these parties are represented in the talks by the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). Both the parties and the SPLA belong to the National Democratic Alliance, an umbrella body for southern and northern opposition groups.

Yor, himself a Sudanese, said a 1972 peace accord which ended 17 years of conflict between north and south, failed largely because Sudan's major political parties were not involved in the agreement.

”Northern political parties made it clear that the agreement was something between (former) President Gaafar Nimeiri and the south - and that they had nothing to do with it,” Yor said.

More than two million people, most of them civilians, have died in Sudan since the latest fighting between southern rebels and the Islamic government in the north resumed in May 1983.

The SPLA, which draws its members mostly from Christian communities or followers of traditional African religions, has been seeking autonomy or independence from Khartoum since 1955. The war was also driven by competition over oil and mineral resources.

An important step towards peace was taken in early January when government and rebel leaders agreed on a wealth-sharing arrangement, and talks about outstanding issues will get underway on Feb. 17. However, a major threat to peace has emerged in the Darfur region of western Sudan where a full-fledged conflict erupted last year.

The rebels in Darfur, a region annexed to Sudan in 1917, have criticised Khartoum for excluding them from the peace talks with the SPLA in Kenya.

They say agreements reached only address north-south disputes, and do little to solve other grievances. As a result, there are growing fears that the turmoil in Darfur could spill over into surrounding areas - and derail the gains achieved in Kenya.

”(The Kenya talks) are not genuine peace talks,” said a former resident of western Sudan who wished to be identified simply as Mahdi. ”It is a peace arrangement between the present Sudanese regime and the south.”

But, a number of south Sudanese who are living in South Africa expressed impatience with the Darfur conflict.

”When people are coming home from the war, the people of Darfur are going to war. We don't know whether they have been sleeping or daydreaming,” said Taban lo Liyong, Professor of African Studies at the University of Venda in South Africa.

Barnabas Marial Benjamin, the SPLA representative in Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands, has ruled out fears about the southern militia groups referred to by Yor. Most of these groups are allied to the government.

”There exists a clause in the security arrangement we have signed with the government, to incorporate all the militias into our respective forces after signing the final agreement,” he told IPS.

The SPLA will retain all its forces during a six-year interim period which is expected to follow the final deal. ”All the southern militias who are fit and qualified will be absorbed into the SPLA army, the police or prison wardens,” Benjamin said.

”We are also involved in south-south dialogue to reconcile our people. We want to keep our backyard clean,” he added.

Tabitha Seii, Kenya's ambassador to South Africa, said: ”Given the history of animosity between the north and the south, what was achieved in Kenya is commendable.”

A number of thorny issues still have to be resolved. ”The issue of power sharing is still on the table. So is the issue of the disputed territories of the Nuba Mountains, the Blue Nile province and Abyei,” Seii told this week's gathering, which was organised by the Africa Institute of South Africa.

”It's clear that there is going to be a peace agreement in the next few weeks or months. But peace is different from a peace agreement. Peace will come after six years following the interim period,” said John Ashworth, coordinator of Sudan Focal Point-Africa, a religious grouping. He returned from Sudan last week.

After the six-year transitional period southerners will vote in an internationally-supervised referendum to decide whether they want to secede or remain part of the Sudan.