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Sudan: United Nations Update

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Jan 23, 2005 (050123)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

Can the spirit of the peace agreement signed in Nairobi early this month for southern Sudan give momentum to peace in Darfur as well? Or will it be used as a cover for continued and even escalated conflict there? Even the optimists in the international community, eager to use carrots rather than sticks to pressure the Sudanese government, admit that either outcome is possible. Pessimists say that only sanctions or the credible threat of sanctions will force Khartoum to keep its word on the south and act on Darfur as well.

Sanctions are unlikely to be a live option on the Security Council agenda early next month, when it considers Sudan. Instead, it will likely be discussing the complexities of mobilizing up to 10,000 peacekeepers to help implement the peace accord in Sudan's south. In Darfur, Secretary-General Kofi Annan reported in early January, the African Union (AU) force, still at little more than a fourth of its projected strength of 4,000, "has done more than any other outside agent to improve the security situation on the ground." He said the AU, which is also responsible for convening peace talks on Darfur, "will remain, for the foreseeable future, the best mechanism for promoting peace in Darfur." [S/2005/10, full report available on]

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains the latest report to the Security Council from Jan Pronk, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan. Despite the generally optimistic tone, Mr. Pronk also stresses the urgency of action in 2005 on Darfur.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Sudan, visit

For news on Sudan from and IRIN, visit and

For extensive news and commentary on Sudan, visit

For a detailed briefing on the prospects and obstacles to peace, visit


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Statement to the Security Council by Jan Pronk, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan

11 January, 2005

I flew straight to New York from Nairobi, where I participated in the signing ceremony of the comprehensive peace agreement between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement. That was a milestone. It heralds the definitive end of nearly four decades of brutal conflict. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, four million uprooted and displaced, over half a million had to take refuge in neighboring countries. The people of Sudan can be congratulated. This peace agreement is the result of political talks at the negotiation table. A war can be ended in a different way than by winning it and defeating the enemy. A war, also a civil war, can be ended by talking your way out of it, by negotiating with former enemies and accommodating mutual concerns, by closing the book. Do not focus anymore on past divisions and splits, but on future diversity in unity and unity in diversity. That is what happened in Navaisha and two days ago was confirmed in Nairobi.

Of course, this agreement is not the end of all. An agreement at the negotiation table marks the beginning of a long and arduous process of peace building within society itself. There will be many stumbling blocks on the road ahead: former combatants will have to be disarmed and demobilized; displaced people and refugees will need to return and participate in the economy and in the society, claiming a share in the resources, including land; former battlefields will have to be de-mined, so that there are no no-go areas in a time of peace; other Southern militant groups, that did not participate in the peace talks, will have to be incorporated in new structures that were created without them; people's expectations concerning welfare, education and other social-economic needs have to be met. All these tasks are as much a risk as that they are a challenge. Failure may endanger stability and feed new conflicts. But, anyway, the first step has been set. Its importance can not be overestimated. There is no room for cynicism: an end has come to last century's longest war in Africa, with the largest number of victims. Peace has been proclaimed and now we are going to make it work: the Sudanese themselves, together with their partners in the international community.

Can such a scenario also apply to Darfur? Yes, it can. It must. We can make it work. As a matter of fact, the question is two-fold. How would further fighting in Darfur impact the implementation of the North-South peace agreement? And, second question, how can the achievement of peace between North and South Sudan be used to improve the climate for talks to end civil war in Darfur?

The first question has already been answered by many members of the Security Council in their statements at the historic meeting of the Council in Nairobi, in November last year. It is hard to imagine that the peace dividend promised by the Nairobi agreement will be reaped without an end to the suffering in Darfur. International aid will not flow and, more important, in Sudan itself the achievement will turn out to be vulnerable. As long as there is war in some part of the country, resources will be spent on weapons, not welfare. Investors will be reluctant, entrepreneurs will hesitate, young people with brains and initiative will want to leave the country, displaced people will wander around. Peace is indivisible, also in Sudan, however large and diversified the country may be.

So, after the conclusion and signing of the comprehensive peace agreement between North and South there can be no question what should be the priority task for 2005. The fighting in Darfur must be stopped, the conflict must be resolved and the people affected must be able to return to their homes.

At the beginning of this new year the security situation in Darfur is still bad. The humanitarian situation is poor. Regarding humanitarian access, the picture is mixed. And politically Darfur finds itself in a stalemate. Let me elaborate each of these dimensions of the crisis.

On security, new problems have come into focus in December. Violence, hitherto a source of fear on the fringes of IDP centers and in conflict areas, is seeping into the camps themselves and directly affecting humanitarian workers. Some national staff members of NGOs have been abducted and are still missing, others are harrassed. The IDPs continue suffering. Refugees are not returning in sufficient numbers to allow the planting of crops to sustain their families for the coming year. Restriction on freedom of movement is causing livestock to be lost on a huge scale.

The armed groups are re-arming and the conflict is spreading outside Darfur. Large quantities of arms have been carried into Darfur in defiance of the Security Council decision taken in July. December saw a build up of arms, attacks on positions, including air attacks, raids on small towns and villages, increased banditry, more looting. New rebel movements are emerging and launching attacks in the area of oil facilities in Western Kordofan. We may move into a period of intense violence unless swift action is taken and new approaches are considered.

This is all the more necessary in the light of the poor humanitarian situation. The volume of assistance and access has expanded over the last six months, but the number of conflict affected people increased as well, leaving many still beyond the reach of assistance, and consequently short of food, water, sanitation and shelter. The objective is to meet the international standards for humanitarian assistance per capita. for instance around 2000 calories per capita per day. In mid 2004 we were far below these standards. Towards the end of the year we were close to meeting them for food, nutrition and health services, though not for water, sanitation and shelter. At the same time the total number of persons to be helped is still increasing, due to recent displacements following the fighting in November and December. As a result of the fighting it is even more difficult to reach them than before. The fighting now affects humanitarian work more frequently and more directly than bureaucratic restrictions ever did, with fatal and tragic consequences. The road-clearing operation launched by the government in December, in order to make the road safe for traffic, including commercial traffic and transport of fuel and food for the market as well as for humanitarian purposes, did not result in more safety, but in less. The looting and pillaging continued, banditry is on the increase, trucks were stolen at gunpoint, some drivers killed.

Talks between the parties on Darfur have not yielded concrete results or much narrowing of the gap on the issues concerned. Despite regular statements to the contrary, the parties have yet to commit in practice to the implementation of the humanitarian ceasefire. The delay in reaching the agreement between Khartoum and the SPLM has also produced a stalemate in the talks on Darfur. This applied both to the implementation of the N'Djamena cease fire agreement and to the Abuja talks on the political dimension of the conflict. This stalemate at the negotiation table led to a worsening of the security situation on the ground. That, in turn, did not contribute to the willingness of the parties to engage themselves in a dialogue on the root cases of the conflict and on political objectives and reform. Standstill is regress and regress produces a vicious circle: meagre results at the negotiation table, no implementation, more insecurity, less willingness to talk, no results and so on.

From now on that can change. It ought to change. Now that in Nairobi the bridge is crossed, the road towards security and agreement in Darfur lies open. It is high time to walk on that road in earnest.

Will that be done? In the long term, the signature of the North-South Peace Agreement offers opportunity for Darfur and will improve capacity to solve the conflict. However, I do not exclude the possibility that the signature of the agreement will be followed in the short term by an intensification of violence in and around Darfur.

Among those on the ground in Darfur responsible for recent aggression, there are some who perceive the conclusion of North-South peace as providing cover for their actions, offering a brief window where they will be immune from international criticism on their behavior in Darfur. Government forces may be tempted to think that after the signature of the North-South agreement, for which they have received much praise, the international community would not dare to put the implementation of that agreement at risk. That could lead to the suggestion that now is the time to deliver a decisive blow to the enemy.

In turn, the rebel movements may perceive the North-South agreement as an indication that they have been marginalized further, or as a proof that an intensification of military activities would be the only option for them to be taken seriously as a party in political talks.

Both perceptions would be false, both reactions dangerous. Both have to be countered by pressure, reason and the offering of an alternative.

The Comprehensive Agreement will remove some of the stumbling blocks and pave the way for an approach that can help the parties break through the vicious circle. The parties must be persuaded, by a combination of pressure and assurances from influential member states, that it is truly in their interests to respect the ceasefire and pursue a settlement through peaceful means.

Let me offer some suggestions for such an approach:

  • De-link the talks on the political future of Darfur from those on security and humanitarian access. Concentrate the Abuja talks on the future political configuration of Darfur, including questions of sharing of power and wealth. Pursue these talks whether the cease fire is kept or not. Concentrate the latter in the AU Cease Fire Commission and in the Joint Commission.
  • Empower the Darfur ceasefire institutions in the same way as the North-South ceasefire institutions. That means: make the assessment whether or not the ceasefire has been breached independent from the parties, and enable these institutions to make binding recommendations, that should be implemented unconditionally.
  • Both the Government and the rebel movements should from now on exercise full restraint: no attacks, no retaliations. The Government should not only refrain from bombing, which it had already declared to do, but also from military flights above rebel held positions. The Government should also refrain from further so-called road clearing operations. The rebel movements, in turn, should refrain from attacks on the police as well as on towns and infrastructure. The AU could assist by patrolling on roads and by clearing flights, before they take off in the direction of rebel hold areas. This would result in both more protection and less suspicion.
  • In order to show their goodwill the Government and the rebel movements should all withdraw behind reasonable and well-defined lines, such as those prevailing on 8 December, before the commencement of the road clearing operation by the Government. Each should give up the positions taken, declare that they will not occupy the positions given up by the other party. Thereafter the AU could move in and protect the areas concerned. This would be the beginning of a demilitarization of parts of Darfur. Parties should also communicate full details of their troop locations to the AU Cease Fire Commission and declare their willingness to agree on a plan of separation of forces, drawn up by that commission.
  • The parties must identify practical means to ensure that their forces' basic survival needs are met, including supplies of food to the combatants, without violating the ceasefire. That would stabilize the situation, diminish the urge to steal, loot and kill. It would also make the rendering of relief assistance to people without weapons less dangerous than it has become during the last months.
  • The Government should make a new start with the disarmament of the Popular Defense Forces, as announced in August last year. It should present names and numbers of the disarmed to the AU and store weapons in safe locations with AU oversight.
  • The rebel movements should commit themselves not to block or disrupt peaceful seasonal movement of nomadic tribes and their cattle. Such actions deprive the tribes from their usual source of livelihood and provoke tribal militia to attack the civilian population. The Government, in turn, should control and restrain these militia, either with force or through tribal reconciliation. In addition, joint action, involving both the Government, SLA and the African Union should be planned in order to stop banditry and the bandits.
  • The Government should make haste with the arrest of those who have been responsible for major violations of human rights and crimes against international humanitarian law. It should do so whether these perpetrators are Janjaweed or not. The Government has often declared that this could not be done easily overnight. That is to be granted. However, it is not credible to wait half a year after the commitment to the Secretary General of the United Nations in the Joint Communique of early July. The Government would be wise not to wait for the publication of the report of the Commission of Inquiry and show that not only the international community, but also the government itself wants to seriously address the crimes, maintain human rights and make an end to impunity.

Many of these steps require active adequate third party involvement: patrolling roads, clearing flights, protecting demilitarized areas. That third party is the African Union.

The strengthening of the AU force on the ground has proved to be effective not only in performing monitoring tasks, but also, and that is even more important, in protecting the civilian population by a combination of deterrence, mediation and good offices. The AU force, presently itself under threat of attack, has done more than any other outside agent to improve the security situation on the ground, by its presence and its actions to mediate and forestall violent actions. The AU has not been able to put in as many forces as originally hoped, and they need help from the international community to make it happen. We need to do whatever is required to accelerate the rate of deployment and ensure that we have more AU troops on the ground, in order to ensure parties? commitment to agreements and to dissuade attacks. These third party troops have to be everywhere were violence may erupt, in the locations that I mentioned earlier - demilitarized areas and unsafe roads - but also in and around all displaced people's camps, in all towns and villages under threat, in all areas where refugees and displaced people would want to return, in order to protect both people and their land. It is an enormous task, but the recent history of Darfur shows that, without such an independent and neutral protection force, women and children, elder people, returnees, unarmed persons belonging to an adversary tribe, would not be safe.

In the longer run security, safety, peace and stability should be home grown. They should be sustained without outside help. But it is clear that it will take quite some time before that will be a reality. And it will require serious political talks between the Government and the rebel movements, more serious than thus far. They will have to agree on a Declaration of Principles that addresses the core issues of power and wealth sharing. Moreover, it is time to prepare a national conference including all political opponents, in order to reach a consensus about the modalities of a peaceful future of the country, thereby integrating the Darfur peace talks into the wider process of peace making in the Sudan and make peace in Darfur sustainable.

However, the Darfur talks themselves should not wait until such a national conference would be feasible. On the contrary, while the current negotiation process between the Government and the SLM/JEM should proceed, it would be useful to start thinking of including tribal leaders in finding political solutions, even before reconciliation has taken place. That may include tribes that so far were beyond the control by the Government or by the rebel movements and were fighting to protect their own interests. Peace in Darfur requires a broad and strong support from all. Parallel to these broadened talks reconciliation efforts will have to be continued, broadened and intensified. The international community would do wise in supporting these efforts, also with material assistance on an experimental basis, in order to make clear that home grown reconciliation is valued, even if it takes place differently than elsewhere in the world. But it is also clear that such a reconciliation will have to include those who refused to take up arms and, last but not least, the victims of war and violence.

Can all this be done? The time is ripe to renew and redouble our efforts. The climate is improving. There is the North-South comprehensive peace agreement. We witness positive reactions both in Rumbek and in Khartoum. We also see positive reactions amongst the people in both the North and the South, albeit sometimes mixed with hesitation based on skepticism and earlier experience. We see that parties exercise a certain restraint. Contrary to many people's expectations SLA has not launched an attack on the day of the signing of the peace agreement. From Christmas to that particular day it has been relatively calm in Darfur, on all fronts. Last week, despite earlier breaches of the ceasefire, all parties declared to respect days of tranquility to vaccinate all children below five against polio. This weekend the Government declared to be willing to reconsider some of its previous hard-line positions, thereby reaching out to the rebel movements. Yesterday the Government followed this up by declaring before the meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council in Libreville, that it is willing to withdraw its force to their pre 8 December positions.

All this is positive. It is not yet much or definitive, it can easily fade away, but it is a sign that it is justified to hope and expect that the spirit of Nairobi will affect Darfur. The political momentum is there. It is fragile and can easily be spoiled. Grasping that momentum requires innovative action, consensus between all international actors, steady cooperation, perseverance and a well-defined common strategy.

The second stage of the war between North and South Sudan lasted two decades. Why should we allow the war in Darfur to last more than two years?

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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