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Sudan: Peace, No Peace

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Mar 6, 2004 (040306)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

As peace talks continue in Kenya between the Sudanese government and its principal opponent, the SPLM/A, the prospects of securing a sustainable peace are increasingly threatened by other issues not on the table in this process. These include intense fighting in Darfur in western Sudan and unresolved questions of democratic participation throughout the country. The humanitarian crisis of as many as one million people displaced in Darfur and across the border in Chad, is currently rated among the worst in the world.

This issue of AfricaFocus Bulletin contains several brief statements from different sources on the current crisis. The e-mail version also contains excerpts from the latest monthly report from the Sudan Focal Point, while the web version contains the full text of that monthly report.

Other sources for updates and analysis include:
A variety of current news and statements.

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Includes a series of "Special Reports" on peace prospects as well as current news.

Sudan Tribune
Extensive portal for news & views

Sudan Information Gateway
Wide variety of reports and news links provided by UN

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Darfur Conflict Threatens Peace in Sudan

Sudan Ecumenical Forum Press Release

27th February 2004

Contact persons:

John Ashworth, Sudan Focal Point Africa, +27-82-853-3556

Marina Peter, Sudan Focal Point Europe,, +49-175-1647-413

"A new threat to peace in Sudan has emerged." This stark warning was given by South African Catholic Bishop Kevin Dowling after his recent visit to Sudan, as the conflict in Darfur continues to escalate. The armed forces and associated militia of both the Government of Sudan and the liberation movements have been responsible for gross violations of human rights, and a humanitarian tragedy is unfolding in Darfur. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and many thousands killed. To date the Government of Sudan has restricted humanitarian access, and has prevented human rights monitors from visiting Darfur.

Bishop Dowling was speaking in his capacity as Chair of the Sudan Ecumenical Forum, a coalition of Sudanese and international churches under the auspices of the World Council of Churches. Dr Sam Kobia, the Secretary- General of the World Council of Churches, added his voice, expressing concern at "the on-going conflict in the western region of Darfur that has resulted in an alarming deterioration in the humanitarian and human rights situation and threatens to unravel the gains made in the peace process."

While negotiations aimed at ending the war in southern Sudan continue under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), there are no talks in sight to end the conflict in Darfur. The Sudan Ecumenical Forum urges the international community, and particularly the African Union and the European Union, to press for meaningful internationally-supervised negotiations to end this conflict, and calls on the parties to the conflict to negotiate in good faith. At the same time, the Sudan Ecumenical Forum calls on all parties to immediately safeguard the lives and property of the citizens of the area, and to allow unimpeded international access for humanitarian aid and human rights monitoring.

Bishop Dowling made a special plea to African countries, and particularly South Africa, to engage in this issue which poses such a threat to the security and development of the region. "African countries have taken the lead in working for peace in southern Sudan through IGAD; let Africans now also stand in solidarity with their suffering sisters and brothers in Darfur."

[For additional background on Darfur see the IRIN special report most easily available at:]

Sudan: Peace process threatened by exclusivity, says think-tank

UN Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN)

3 March 2004

[This material comes via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post any item on this site, please retain this credit and disclaimer.]

NAIROBI, 3 Mar 2004 (IRIN) - The ongoing peace process between the government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) is threatened by its almost total exclusivity, necessitating a new approach from both the negotiating parties and Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) mediators, according to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) think-tank.

Whereas the first phase of the process had necessitated a narrow focus on the two main belligerents, a second phase after the signing of a bilateral peace agreement would need to radically change to involve the Sudanese public, said ISS in a report entitled: "The Sudan IGAD Peace Process: Signposts for the Way Forward".

"For IGAD it means a marked change in philosophy and direction from that of the first stage, which can be characterised as secretive, eite driven, narrowly focused and which pointedly ignored the issue of human rights, to the next stage where transparency, engaging the large mass of Sudanese, and vastly expanding the focus and direction of the peace initiative, must set the tone," it said.

Once a peace agreement was signed, a new approach taking account of the rights of all Sudan's citizens needed to be implemented, said the report. "It will be a critical test of the IGAD mediators whether they can adapt to the new demands placed upon them and carry the process forward."

The Machakos Protocol, signed by both the government and the SPLM/A in July 2002, underlines the need for a democratic transformation of Sudan, referring to "democratic governance, accountability, equality, respect and justice for all citizens of Sudan", and for the Sudanese to establish "a democratic system of governance".

But so far, a number of key groups, including northern opposition groups, southern militias and the National Democratic Alliance have been pointedly excluded from peace negotiations.

The rebellion in Darfur, northwestern Sudan, which exploded in February 2003, is deemed by observers to be a direct reaction to this exclusivity and to fears that the national cake is being divided up into only two slices.

In southern Sudan, there has also been no sustained effort to bring about south-south reconciliation, despite the fact that the South Sudan Defence Forces, an umbrella of government-aligned militias, are armed, control large swathes of the region, and hold many strategic positions particularly around the oil fields.

According to ISS, a failure to win the popular support of Sudanese civil society and the country's major political players threatens the viability of the entire peace process and raises the possibility of a return to war. "However difficult the task, IGAD must play a leading role in the intimately linked objectives of an inclusive peace process and establishing a democratic Sudan," it warned.

"The building of a democratic Sudan is not a luxury, but the best - and perhaps only - insurance that the many aggrieved groups in Sudan do not take up arms," said ISS, adding that southern grievances increasingly coming to the fore represented "only the tip of the iceberg of resentment".

"Remarkably, the issue of human rights has received almost no attention thus far in the IGAD negotiations, but it cannot be ignored much longer," it added, urging a change of approach and the setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Last week, the US State Department's 2003 report for Sudan noted that the two key parties to the peace process - who will be governing Sudan once a peace agreement is signed - had poor human rights records.

The Sudanese government's record "remained extremely poor", with security forces and associated militias responsible for extrajudicial killings and disappearances, beatings, torture, rape and harassment with impunity. Similarly, the SPLM/A was accused of killings, beatings, rape, arbitrary detention, forcible military conscription of underage young men, and the manipulation of humanitarian assistance for military advantage.

[For the ISS report The Sudan IGAD Peace Process: Signposts for the Way Forward, see or visit]

Largely Ignored by International Community, Yearlong Massive Displacement and Death in Darfur Region Continues

United States Committee for Refugees (Washington, DC)

Press Release

February 26, 2004

Violence that erupted in Sudan's western Darfur region nearly one year ago and continues unrestrained today, has displaced at least 800,000 Sudanese civilians-including more than 110,000 who have fled to the remote deserts of eastern Chad-and has killed countless thousands of others. Although precise numbers are difficult to determine, it is estimated that the displacement caused by the Darfur crisis has increased the number of uprooted Sudanese from more than 4.5 million to nearly 5.5 million.

Poor security and Sudanese government-imposed travel restrictions to the Darfur region have prevented humanitarian assistance agencies from conducting adequate assessment missions to determine the extent of the crisis and the precise number and needs of displaced people in the region. Various sources suggest that an estimated more than 1,000 Darfurians are dying every week. While the true scale of the violence remains largely unknown, some international observers believe that the yearlong bloodshed has disrupted the lives and further isolated more than half of the Darfur region's estimated six million residents.

High-level peace negotiations seeking to end 20 years of civil war in Sudan between the Islamic government in Khartoum and the mainly southern Christian and animist Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) have garnered tremendous international attention, but are void of discussions surrounding the crisis in Darfur.

Roots of Conflict

Residents of Darfur's North, West, and South states-which cover approximately one-fifth of Sudan's territory-have long claimed that they inhabit one of the most neglected and underdeveloped areas of the country. The arid Darfur region also suffers from chronic drought. In addition, nomadic groups reportedly killed hundreds of civilians from pastoral and sedentary agriculture populations in the region from 2000-2002.

In early 2003, Sudanese authorities reportedly armed and provided horses to the Janjaweed, a pro-government western nomadic tribe, and tasked them with patrolling Sudan's 850-mile (1,400 km) border with Chad. The growing presence of these government-supported armed patrols raised fears among already terrified Darfurians, contributing to the growing tension between Darfur's marginalized population and the government. The tensions soon accelerated into sporadic violence and then escalated into recurrent and systemic Janjaweed raids against civilian populations. "These attacks have reportedly included burning and looting of villages, large-scale killings, and abductions," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recently reported.

Responding, in part, to the lack of government protection against increasingly frequent raids and indiscriminate killings, Darfurian residents organized and armed themselves. Two main groups, the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), eventually emerged as formidable forces in the Darfur region. Initially, the Sudanese government and the SLA sought to peacefully resolve the burgeoning conflict through dialogue. Halting talks failed to produce meaningful resolution, however.

Massive Internal Displacement

In late April 2003, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir declared that, "Khartoum will not negotiate with those who raised arms in Darfur." Immediately after President al-Bashir's statement, targeted attacks against civilians intensified. SLA assaults on government administrative and military sites also increased. The violence surrounding the massive displacement began in earnest in June 2003 and slowed briefly during a tentative agreement between the Sudanese government and the SLA to end hostilities in September before resuming and expanding in late 2003.

Intensified and sustained Janjaweed raids, Sudanese government aerial bombings, and alleged joint Chadian military and Sudanese government-aligned militia offensives on Darfurian civilian populations have decimated and emptied hundreds of towns, villages, and other populated areas throughout the Darfur region. SLA and JEM retaliatory attacks have added to the massive displacement and destruction.

Nearly 400,000 Darfurians remain sheltered in some 20 displacement camps scattered throughout the Darfur states, including nearly 10 camps with more than 50,000 residents each. An estimated additional 300,000 internally displaced Darfurians remain disbursed in remote mountains, in the desert near the Sudan-Chad border, and with relatives and others in host communities.

A UN Rapid Response Team visited Nyala, El Geneina, and El Fasher, the three capitals of the Darfur states, to assess humanitarian needs last week, while UN agencies began to pre-position food and other supplies for 250,000 displaced persons. Poor security prohibited the team-the first of its kind to access the region since the outbreak of violence in early 2003-from visiting surrounding villages, where most of the population remains displaced. "This assistance is long overdue," stated a member of the UN team. "However, we are still not reaching the majority of those in need."

Refugee Flows

The situation in and around sites hosting refugees immediately across the border in neighboring Chad, where militia incursions and aerial bombardments have reportedly occurred, is as troublesome as the internal displacement in Sudan.

Many of the more than 110,000 Sudanese refugees who fled to neighboring Chad during the past 10 months remain strewn along a 375-mile (600 km) stretch of border and are struggling to survive under difficult humanitarian and climatic conditions. Chadian villagers provided already scarce food and water to refugees upon their arrival last year. The sizeable Sudanese influx, however, quickly exhausted meager local resources.

Sudanese refugees continue to battle harsh weather in eastern Chad, where international humanitarian assistance has been slow to arrive. Tens of thousands of refugees, many who fled with minimal personal belongings, are living in the open and enduring sandstorms and temperatures that exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Centigrade) during the day and fall below freezing during the night. They are also susceptible to cross border Sudanese government and militia attacks.

In late January, Sudanese-government military aircraft dropped bombs that killed at least three Sudanese refugees, including a 28-year-old man and his two-year-old child, and injured some 15 others near the Chadian border town of Tine. The incident prompted the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to accelerate its efforts to relocate refugees to safer sites further inland. Sudanese refugees who have recently arrived in Chad, including several with shrapnel, burn, and other injuries, have reported similar aerial bombings and militia ground attacks in several western Sudanese border villages.

During the past three weeks, UNHCR has transferred more than 4,000 Sudanese refugees away from the volatile border to three newly constructed camps at least 25 miles (40 km) inside Chad. UNHCR has relocated approximately 1,600 refugees huddled in and around Tine, in the north of the 375-mile (600 km) affected border area, to Touloum camp. UNHCR also relocated nearly 1,700 refugees living near the village of Birak, in the center of the affected border area, to Farchana camp, and several hundred refugees scattered further south of Birak to Kounoungo camp. "But we've still along way to go, with tens of thousands of refugees still needing relocation - possibly as many as 80,000," a UNHCR spokesman announced last week.

UNHCR has begun airlifting 265 tons of relief supplies to the border region and has identified three additional sites to construct camps. International donors have provided the agency with approximately $1 million, or one-tenth of what UNHCR estimates is needed to continue and expand its relocation and humanitarian assistance operations.

The U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) is a public information and advocacy program of Immigration and Refugee Services of America (IRSA), a nongovernmental, non-profit organization. Since 1958, USCR has defended the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons worldwide.

A View of Sudan from Africa

Sudan Focal Point Africa, Pretoria

Monthly Briefing February 2004

24th February 2004

[For more information about the Monthly Briefings and other information from Sudan Focal Point - Africa, contact John Ashworth at]

The Peace Process

Peace talks under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have resumed in Naivasha, Kenya, after a break to allow members of the Government of Sudan (GoS) delegation to complete the hajj. For many years it was in the interest of GoS to delay the talks. Then from about 2002 GoS colluded with US attempts at a "quick fix", which would be a broad framework rather than a detailed peace agreement and would allow GoS to manipulate the detailed negotiations later, when the international spotlight had lifted. When this tactic failed, as the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) insisted on negotiating all the details before signing anything, and when it became clear that the mediators expected GoS to make significant concessions, it again became in their interest to procrastinate. Thus, whilst avoiding artificial externally imposed deadlines based on the US election timetable, and while giving both parties the time they need to negotiate thoroughly and to ensure ownership within their constituencies, international pressure must nevertheless be maintained to prevent undue delay.

The first item of business is the "contested areas" of the Nuba Mountains, the Funj Region (also known as southern Blue Nile), and Abyei, which are technically in the north according to the 1956 colonial boundaries but which are culturally, ethnically, politically and militarily closer to the south. A tentative agreement is believed to have been reached on the first two, but Abyei remains a major stumbling block. GoS appears unwilling to offer even the limited concessions which it made on the other two areas. Once agreement has been reached, the talks will move on to the issue of power-sharing.

Much of the discussion on power-sharing will be relatively easy. There will be haggling over the percentages of southerners in key positions such as the cabinet and the civil service, and discussion of safeguards such as a bi-cameral legislature to prevent the north from using its automatic majority to force through legislation detrimental to the south or in contravention of the peace agreement. SPLM/A will probably drop its demand for a rotating presidency in return for assurances of a strong collegiate presidency with a northern president and southern vice-president who can only make key decisions by consensus.

More controversial and less easily solved is the status of the national capital. For GoS, it is in the north, the majority of its citizens are Muslims (this partially explains why GoS brutally transported internally displaced southerners from the outskirts of Khartoum into camps in the desert - there was a real danger that the more than two million southerners resident there would change the electoral balance within the capital), and therefore Islamic shari'a should be the source of law. For southerners, the national capital must be equally accessible to all Sudanese who might be based there as cabinet ministers, members of parliament, civil servants, other government officials or employees, or simply citizens accessing their national government, and therefore its law should not be that of only one section of the community. Thus southerners seek at least an enclave within the national capital which is free of shari'a. This is an issue which challenges GoS as to what are its real priorities - the territorial integrity of Sudan or the primacy of Islam. It cannot have both.

Another difficulty is the future role of the current vice-president, Ali Osman Taha. He is a powerful figure and is unlikely to fade away when he loses this position. Some within the SPLM/A leadership feel that he should be offered some other meaningful post, on the basis that in practice he will remain a power-broker whatever happens and so it is better to have him in a recognisable position rather than operating from the shadows. However this would be extremely unpopular with southerners in general, who would view this as undermining the role of the new southern vice-president.

Once these issues have all been agreed, the next stage is to discuss the implementation of the peace agreement, and this opens up a new range of pitfalls and potential disagreements. Nobody trusts GoS to implement the agreement without reneging, based on southerners' bitter experience of agreements with the north since 1947, and most agree that strong guarantees must be built into the implementation process. In particular a robust peace-keeping force is needed, preferably under Chapter VII (peace-keeping) rather than Chapter VI (monitoring), although the latter looks more likely at the moment. The USA has estimated that up to 10,000 troops could be needed. SPLM/A has welcomed the prospect of foreign troops, saying that Sudan needs not only monitors but also peace-keepers on the ground to ensure that both parties fully implement the terms of the peace accord during the interim period. GoS is completely opposed. "What are they afraid of? They are worried because they want to violate the peace agreement and sabotage the transitional period," according to SPLM/A's Dr Samson Kwaje.

It is convenient to speak of "pragmatists" and "hard-liners" within the ruling regime, but it is unlikely that the National Islamic Front has really changed. For some years it has been willing to make superficial (and usually reversible) changes as part of a "charm offensive" to regain international respectability. Since September 2001 it has succumbed to international pressure, the US "war on terror", which has forced it to the negotiating table and has allowed the peace talks to reach the current advanced stage. But few believe that a leopard can change its spots. Its radical expansionist Islamic agenda may be on the back burner for a while but has not gone away. And southerners have also yet to be convinced that the north in general has changed. After all, it was not the current regime that reneged on treaties and promises from 1947 to 1989 - it was the northern political elite of all parties.

However the biggest threat to the peace process at the moment comes from outside the south. The escalating conflict in Darfur poses an imminent and concrete threat, while the ongoing conflict in northern Uganda presents a less immediate but no less real threat to peace and stability in the south.


Conflicts in Darfur between settled farmers and nomads moving south in search of water and pastures have been commonplace for centuries. During the 1980s and '90s these conflicts intensified, aggravated by drought, the influx of arms from wars in neighbouring countries, and the policy pursued by GoS of arming "Arab" tribesmen. Low-intensity conflict continued until early 2003, when a number of interacting factors including ethnic conflict, an increase in armed robberies and a perception of Darfur marginalisation, led to the formation of two political and military resistance movements, the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). They have formulated and articulated political demands and have indicated their willingness to negotiate. The GoS response, however, has been to call the rebels a gang of bandits, ignore their political agenda and to reject international efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis. Unless serious negotiations are initiated, the most likely scenario is an escalation of the Darfur crisis resulting in further displacement of people and serious hampering of humanitarian interventions.

Darfur means "homeland of the Fur", but is inhabited by 5-7 million people of various ethnic groups. The region has three distinct ecological zones. The central belt includes the fertile Jebel Marra massif, which is inhabited by "African" sedentary farmers, including the Fur, Berti, Bargu, Bergid, Tama and Tunjur. Camel nomads roam the northern zone of Darfur, which is part of the Sahara. The main ethnic groups in this part of the region are the Zayadia, Zaghawa and Bedeyat, all "non-Arab", and the "Arab" Mahariya, Irayqat, Mahamid and Beni Hussein. The northern zone, the most ecologically fragile, is often affected by drought. The eastern and southern zones are home to nomadic "Arab" cattle herders, mainly from the Rezeigat, Misseriya, Habbaniya, Beni Halba, Taaisha and Maaliyya. These zones are less subject to drought, although still prone to fluctuations in rainfall and less ecologically stable than the central part of Darfur.

Until 1916, when it was incorporated into the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium, Darfur was an independent Sultanate. Darfur did not integrate easily into the larger political entity which had absorbed it. In both the condominium and post-independence periods, under-development generated strong feelings of regional discrimination amongst all the peoples of Darfur. Popular resentment against regional marginalisation was articulated politically in the 1960s by various groups, but they did not resort to violence. It remained one region within Sudan until it was divided into three states in 1989. Each state has an assembly and a Governor (wali), who is appointed by the central government. The population is predominantly Sunni Muslim.

Nomads, semi-nomadic groups and farmers have long co-existed in social and economic interdependence. When disputes arose over scarce grazing land and water, localised armed conflict was usually settled by traditional means. The early 1980s witnessed the first outbreak of conflict along ethnic lines. Conflicts initially occurred between Fur cultivators and nomads moving south in search of pastures. The ecological devastation and its consequences for the population is one of the root causes of the current situation besides the ethnic factor and the political situation. Darfur used to be the stronghold of the Umma party. It was Sadiq al Mahdi who began the arming of Arabised groups in Darfur (and also in Kordofan), predominantly nomads known as murahiliin, composed of mainly ethnic Baggara and Rizeigat, in order to use them to fight the southerners. More arms came into the region as a fall-out of the war in Chad in the late 1980s. Illicit arms trade from the Central African Republic, Libya and southern Sudan added to the problem. After 1989, the new military regime continued arming groups of Arabised people in Darfur mainly to keep on fighting the southerners but now also to break the stronghold of the Umma party. Throughout the 1990s, there were reports of armed militias known as janjawid (men on horses) raiding villages of "African" tribes in Darfur. Even then this caused thousands of people to cross the border into Chad.

The situation in Darfur, like in the other regions in Sudan except for Khartoum and the rich El-Gezira region can be described as one of political marginalisation and severe underdevelopment. Lack of infrastructure, lack of investment in both physical and human resources, absence of basic services, rare employment opportunities, and the proliferation of small arms are characteristics of this situation. The continuous raids and looting by militia have encouraged banditry and acts of armed robbery, and led to a situation of general insecurity.

Since 2001, Darfur has been governed under central government decree, with special courts to try people suspected of illegal possession or smuggling of weapons, murder and armed robbery. But the security forces have misused these powers for arbitrary and indefinite detention of people. Anyone suspected of criticising the government can be and often is arrested without charge for months. 2003 saw the emergence of the two movements, SLM/A and JEM (a third group, the Sudan Federal Alliance, had already been formed in the late 1980s but never attracted much support). These movements seem to be separate. The SLM/A has got more Fur members while the JEM is dominated by Zaghawa. However, operating separately for the time being might only be a tactical move both share the same political aims and values. SLM/A leaders are more military minded, while JEM aims at becoming a political party and is perceived as being close to Dr Hassan al Turabi's Popular National Congress, although the JEM strongly denies any current links. These groups are not calling for self-determination but are unionists espousing a "New Sudan", a completely new political system based on a strong federal arrangement, to abolish minority rule once and for all. In this they are very close to the "New Sudan" ideological concept of the SPLM/A, which has almost certainly also supported them militarily.

There is overwhelming evidence that the GoS is now using the same tactics against these new movements which it applied fighting the SPLM/A and the people in the south. The GoS is in the first place using the Arabised janjawid to fight the people in Darfur, supported by GoS regular forces. Reports by Amnesty International clearly shows the government's responsibility for the severe escalation of violence in Darfur.

The new Darfur movements should not be underestimated. The history of their leaders, their contacts, the very fact that the Zaghawa in particular are very well organised and have economic power, makes them a political factor to reckon with. And the Darfur people do have a cause. They will certainly not just lay down their arms and keep silent as long as they feel excluded from power. In a worstcase scenario (and evidently forming a severe obstacle to any peace arrangement in the south), they might aim at forming an alliance reaching from Darfur via Kordofan, perhaps northern Upper Nile, the Funj Region, up to the East, perhaps even supported by al Turabi and his party. They already have an agreement in writing with the Beja in the east.

Another factor should also not be underestimated: the "Africanisation" of these conflicts. Like the Nuba, the southerners, the Beja and the people of Funj, behind the scenes both JEM and SLM/A refer to their African origin. In the long run they might claim "Sudan for the Africans". With that objective they concur with some "unionist" leaders in the south, and might strike a chord with other parts of Africa.

The devastating escalation in Darfur could have been prevented. For years many analysts have described the roots of the armed conflicts in Sudan as being not merely a "South North" or a "Christian Muslim" problem, but a systemic problem of the entire country, characterised by bad governance, gross injustice, denial of basic human security, systematic violation of human rights, ethnic and religious discrimination, attempts to impose a particular cultural identity on a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural society, and political, social and economic marginalisation of large parts of the population. For at least the last three years, substantial information has been available about developments and events in Darfur, enough to take the conflict in Darfur seriously and not to downplay it as merely "armed robbery" or "minor tribal clashes about water and land" as the GoS has apparently successfully portrayed it. The current situation in Darfur is another classic case of failed "early warning". It once again proves that early warning mechanisms are useless as long as there is no political will to take effective "early action". This must be urgently addressed by the international community at al levels, including the UN, AU, EU, and national governments.

The crisis in Darfur has reached a dimension which can no longer be ignored. It is a serious threat to the ongoing southern peace process, and itself has the potential for continued warfare and systematic, massive violation of human rights. It is also a regional threat, encompassing not only countries to the west of Sudan but also Eritrea, which has been accused by GoS of supporting the liberation movements in Darfur. The Chadian government, as well as attempting to mediate, has openly supplied troops to the Sudanese army in Darfur, while different ethnic groups in Chad may also be supplying both the SLA and JEM, as well as the militias aligned with GoS, with manpower. As many as 16 ethnic groups straddle the border.

The GoS must be held responsible for the denial of humanitarian access to those in need. This tactic is well known from the war in the south. The international community must demand full, guaranteed humanitarian access (and closely monitor whether GoS complies), must condemn the severe human rights abuses, and must demand accountability. It must support the request of the acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for an immediately halt to the violence, respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, and ensuring the safety and personal security of civilians, and must vote for a new mandate for a Special UN Rapporteur on Human Rights in Sudan. Finally, the international community must not only be aware that any anticipated peace agreement between GoS and SPLM/A can only work if conflicts in other parts of the country are also resolved peacefully, but also act accordingly to ensure meaningful, internationally-supervised peace negotiations.

Northern Uganda

The conflict in northern Uganda could be said to have begun in August 1986 and has continued for eighteen years with no end in sight. Whereas it was originally part of a wider range of guerrilla activities in the eastern and north-western parts of Uganda, most of which have now died down, in Acholiland it has continued unabated and has assumed a regional dimension across the Sudanese border. The conflict has undergone so much transformation that Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) can no longer be considered as "remnants" of old armies. It has reached a level of human rights violations which is difficult to comprehend. It has again began to spread to the east of the country: indeed there are new fears that what at first appeared to be an Acholi war is assuming a Uganda-wide dimension. The government of Uganda seems intent on a military solution to the conflict, but has so far failed to achieve this. The scale of human suffering in both northern Uganda and southern Sudan has been immense.

At times it seems impossible to understand the conflict, particularly as the LRA appears to have no coherent political policy. It is therefore important to examine the underlying causes.

At the forefront of these are the deeply embedded divisions brought about by the unbalanced development of Uganda during and after the colonial era, by a colonial policy of "divide and rule", and by the consequent politicisation of ethnicity by the Ugandan political elite. Many would argue that the ruling regime is driven by a determination to maintain power at any cost. Uganda is not the only country in the world where war has helped a government to remain in power. An increased democratisation of governance in Uganda might contribute to the ending of the war.

Events in the Luwero Triangle play a key role, although there are differing opinions on exactly what that role is. Most would argue that the Ugandan government has pursued oppressive policies in the north as a result of the atrocities that were committed in the Luwero Triangle by northern (perceived as predominantly Acholi) soldiers. Others argue rather that these same atrocities were the consequence of an ethnic war that was initiated by the National Resistance Movement/Army (NRM/A) against the "northerners". In this scenario the NRM/A leadership believed that Uganda's politics had, since independence, been dominated by northerners as a result of their supposed domination of the armed forces.

Kony's ideology, such as it is, draws from (and corrupts) various sources, including Islamic, Christian and African traditional spiritual elements, but is full of contradictions. He claims to have been traditionally blessed to fight the war and yet wages war against those same traditions. He claims to have inherited Alice Auma's "Lakwena" ("messenger") spirit but at the same time commits atrocities against the people. Whereas volunteers followed Alice due to her charisma and initial military success, Kony's forces are made up largely of abducted villagers, particularly children. These abductees have been used as soldiers, porters, labourers, and in the case of girls, as sexual slaves. The LRA has cut off the hands, ears or lips of many villagers. Kony claims to be fighting for a system of governance based on the Ten Commandments, yet his actions are diametrically opposed to the Commandments. These contradictions may explain why the LRA has not enjoyed the same enthusiastic support among the Acholi grassroots as they gave to Alice and her movement. However some argue that Alice could play a role in bringing an end to the conflict, "ideologically" engaging Kony since he claims to have inherited the spirit of "Lakwena" from her.

There are economic factors which may encourage top military commanders of both the Ugandan People's Defence Force (UPDF) and the LRA to continue a war from which they make substantial financial and material gains. The war may have become an incomegenerating project for some. There are serious concerns at the UPDF's lack of effectiveness in providing security to the people of the area, as well as its behaviour. The UPDF has operated inside Sudan since March 2002 with the consent of GoS, but this Operation Iron Fist was spectacularly unsuccessful and only increased the suffering of the people on both sides of the border. The formation of local militias by arming civilians and former soldiers in the community may provide improved short-term security but is ominous in the long-term. Despite some clashes between SPLM/A and LRA, many question why the SPLM/A has been unable (or unwilling?) to protect the people of southern Sudan's Eastern Equatoria region from the ravages of the LRA.

Apart from internal factors, it is clear that the conflict in northern Uganda has been fuelled by external support. Clearly GoS has been supporting LRA (and almost certainly still is, despite denials) while the Ugandan government supports the SPLM/A. The US "war on terror" has added another dimension to the Acholi conflict in that the US administration has designated the LRA a "foreign terrorist organisation." This makes mediation more difficult (as the prevailing wisdom is that one is not allowed to talk to "terrorists") and apparently contradicts amnesty measures. Acholi traditional and religious leaders were involved in talks with the LRA leadership, with peak periods when the LRA expressed a wish for talks but appeared to lose interest when their own military fortunes were going well, and when the government of Uganda reemphasised the military option. And incongruously, the abducted children who make up the overwhelming bulk of the LRA are now regarded as international terrorists. A leading children's NGO recently warned that the children in northern Uganda may suffer most if the International Criminal Court decides to prosecute LRA rebels for war crimes, unless questions of child protection are raised before it proceeds to investigate the rebels. Since "children are by far the main witnesses (and victims)" of war crimes committed by the LRA, the LRA leadership "might apply even more strict discipline to prevent witnesses from escaping".

The spread of the conflict to the Teso and Karamajong areas is significant in that it makes the conflict more of a national issue rather than a local one and undermines claims that the LRA is an Acholi rebellion. However insecurity amongst the Teso and Karamajong cannot be de-linked from cattle rustling. One consequence is that in Teso, the fighters of the LRA are not seen as "our abducted and abused children" as is the case amongst the Acholi, and thus the community is more in favour of the military option leading to elimination and military victory. Sudanese villagers have also proved very hostile to abducted children trying to escape from LRA.

The complexity of the conflict is thus increasing due to economic, social, cultural, and political factors, metaphysics, arms trafficking, and external factors which include Sudan and the "war on terror". The possibility of a peace agreement in southern Sudan may have a positive impact on the conflict in northern Uganda, as GoS may feel it no longer has an interest in supporting LRA. But there is another scenario that the peace agreement in southern Sudan may be destabilised by the ongoing war in Uganda, and that a GoS which is looking for ways to undermine the agreement may still see the LRA as a useful tool.

It is difficult to map a way forward in such a brutal and confusing conflict. Most advocacy concentrates on measures to stop human rights abuses and alleviate the humanitarian disaster, both clearly priorities which must be addressed urgently. But the international community must take an interest in the resolution of the conflict, a conflict which has regional dimensions as well as being a terrible human tragedy within northern Uganda and parts of southern Sudan. At the same time the Ugandan government must be challenged to address the causes of the conflict and to recreate a climate where negotiations can take place. Despite the horrific atrocities committed by the LRA, the difficulty in understanding what its political demands are, and the consequent tendency to reject negotiations with a movement that behaves in such an abhorrent and apparently meaningless manner, nevertheless the conflict will not be ended by military means alone and talks must restart. Ways of reconciliation must be explored, and the re-integration of the brutalised abducted child soldiers and sex slaves into family and community will present a major challenge.

The civil society leaders of the area, traditional and religious, are probably best placed to do this. "We think we have demonstrated that pressure must be put on the rebels of the LRA and above all the Ugandan army to renounce any military solution, and to show readiness for dialogue and sincere desire to put an end to this terrible war," according to Acholi religious leaders. Any attempts to doctor Uganda's amnesty law so that it excludes the rebel leaders would be a disaster for peace in northern Uganda. "Without an amnesty for instigators of rebellion, it will be impossible for those of us still engaged in luring the LRA leadership into peace talks with the government to do so. It will close the door to [talks], as has been the case in most conflicts worldwide."

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