Sudan’s people will pay a high price for ‘peace’

GERARD PRUNIER – The Financial Times

In Soba Aradi, just south of the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, land has become quite valuable for residential housing. At dawn on May 18, police cordoned off the squatter area and tried to remove 26,000 internally displaced refugees living in miserable shelters. The people fought back with sticks and knives and grabbed some police weapons. At 9.40am, the police opened fire, killing at least 20 people.
This was not a chance happening. Graft and violence have long marked the Sudanese government’s political attitude and its signing of a so-called “comprehensive peace agreement” in January in Nairobi with a carefully chosen segment of the political opposition has not changed much. The agreement was the result of sustained US arm-twisting and vigorous lobbying by the Bush administration’s fundamentalist Christian constituency. It has worked in terms of cowing the US Congress into shelving or reducing its proposed anti-Khartoum legislation. This new mood of clemency towards a regime that sheltered Osama bin Laden – thereby boosting his campaign of global terrorism – appears to stem from the view that “peace” in southern Sudan meant stopping the killing of Christian black Africans. Despite the violence now engulfing people of various ethnic origins there – who are mostly Muslims – this impression of “progress” helped attract foreign aid pledges amounting to Dollars 4.5bn (Euros 3.5bn) in Oslo last month.
Today, Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, is in Addis Ababa to co-chair with the African Union Commission president a donors’ meeting on Sudan’s “other civil war”, in the western region of Darfur. This move totally separates the Darfur crisis from problems in southern Sudan and the stalled implementation phase of the peace agreement. The track record of the agreement’s signatories, particularly of Khartoum, shows that virtually none of its provisions, constitutional, civil and military, have been implemented.
The constitutional committee that should be in full swing has only just started discussions, military disengagement measures have not been implemented and selection of the new integrated administration has not even begun. The government insists these steps will soon be carried out, but nearly five months into the agree ment’s six-month “pre-interim” period, time is running out. John Garang, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and its political wing, has not yet set foot in the Sudanese capital where he is supposed to assume the position of vice-president. People are being assured he will come in July. But Khartoum has also been talking with its southern militia allies who fought Colonel Garang’s guerrillas and, given the rampant violence in the capital, the SPLM leader may be understandably concerned for his safety. Other signs of newfound “peace” are hardly encouraging. Demonstrations, for example, seem to be unacceptable: 30 people were killed and 40 wounded when they tried to march in Port Sudan in January. In April, the Sudanese government closed down the offices of the Umma party, northern Sudan’s largest Muslim opposition party, after it publicly supported UN Resolution 1593, which calls for international judgment of the perpetrators of mass killings in Darfur. The message was that, under the Khartoum regime, support for a UN resolution on war crimes is a crime in itself.
All the while, violence and starvation continue unabated in Darfur. A recent UN report warned that “militia attacks” intensified there in April, and it is now accepted that the Janjaweed, the most notorious militia group, acts largely at the government’s bidding. The UN recently admitted fatality figures of unprecedented magnitude in the Darfur region, bringing the recognised death toll since February 2003 to at least 300,000 and perhaps as much as 400,000. Meanwhile, despite promises to the contrary, Khartoum has done nothing to rein in its violent proxies. So in Addis Ababa, Mr Annan will have to display a selective blindness in order to save the peace agreement signed after so much effort. The bloodshed in Darfur should not interfere with disbursing Dollars 4.5bn of “conscience money” to fund aid projects in the south. Brussels, New York and Washington appear ready to pay that price. But the Sudanese public has not been asked its opinion; the implicit message is to keep suffering in silence while the rest of the world decides its future.
The writer, a senior researcher with Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, is author of the forthcoming Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide (Hurst & Co)

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