George Bush in talks to avert Sudan civil war

By Mike Pflanz in Khartoum
15 November, 2007 (The Daily Telegraph)

President George W Bush will seek to avert a new conflict in the Horn of Africa when he meets southern Sudanese leaders amid fears that they will declare war on Khartoum.

The prospect of Africa's longest running civil war resuming has loomed over the region since southern leaders pulled out of the national unity government in September.

Any new conflict would deepen the instability of east Africa and threaten dire humanitarian consequences that could match those already seen in western Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region.

Mr Bush will meet the southern leader Salva Kiir in Washington to discuss a fragile and unravelling peace agreement which when signed in 2005 ended 22 years of conflict between the Arab-dominated Khartoum government and the predominantly black African south.

Mr Kiir is vice president of Sudan's national unity government. But his former guerrilla movement, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), severed co-operation with Khartoum insisting that the terms of the peace deal had not been fully implemented.

Khartoum has failed to demobilise its forces in the South or disclose its oil revenues.

President Omar al-Bashir's regime has also failed to demarcate the border between north and south, fearing that drawing the line would force it to relinquish key oil-fields.

In a stark warning ahead of the talks, one of Mr Kiir's senior colleagues in the SPLM said that if Khartoum fails to satisfy the south it could ally with the Darfur rebels and launch a joint assault on the national government.

"We are ready to gather all political movements in Sudan to form an alliance to bring down the illegitimate authority currently in power in Khartoum," said Pagan Amum, secretary general of the SPLM.

"Our patience is running out for these people to act as gentlemen and honour the agreements they made."

If war between north and south resumes, all hope of peace in Darfur may also be dashed.

More than two million people died and four million fled their homes in the north-south war, which dwarfed the impact of the separate but similar conflict raging in Darfur.

The north-south war officially ended with a peace deal signed in Kenya. The resulting government comprised both the SPLM and President Bashir's National Congress Party.

Talks between the two sides have been on-off ever since the September split and the SPLM has threatened to organise a wave of popular protests unless there are concrete signs of progress by Jan 9, the third anniversary of the peace deal.

"We will start with civil disobedience and we know we can mobilise millions to that cause. But we know that the government will react to that with force," said Mr Amum.

"There is no way our people will not feel the need to fight back. This will be the fault of the NCP, we do not want war, but that is what can come."

A Western diplomat said: "There are real problems here. Don't think that this is just sabre-rattling by the SPLM."


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