U.S. and other Western officials expressed growing concern Friday over the fate of the peace accord signed five years ago this week by Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
"[T]ime is limited, the stakes are high, and there is much work yet to be done to secure a lasting peace and prevent the resurgence of deadly war," warned the White House in a statement released Friday.
"Recent setbacks, including violent clashes in the South, the Khartoum government’s passage of a repressive National Security Act, the government’s violent suppression of peaceful protests, and the failure of the two sides to come to an agreement on critical issues such as border demarcation, do not bode well for the region or for the people of Sudan," the statement said.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which was negotiated between the two sides with the help of the U.S., Britain, Norway, and Sudan’s neighbors, set up a six-year process that is to culminate in the country’s first nationwide elections since 1986 next year followed by a referendum on the South’s independence in 2011.
But the CPA’s full implementation appears increasingly threatened by, among other things, escalating inter-ethnic violence and competition for natural resources in the drought-stricken South, according to a report released Thursday by 10 non-governmental aid groups, including Oxfam, Christian Aid, and Save the Children.
The 36-page report, entitled "Rescuing the Peace in Southern Sudan" [.pdf], found that more than 2,500 people were killed and another 350,000 displaced from their homes during 2009, which the NGOs called an "extremely violent year for southerners."
Indeed, the death toll in the South, where more than 2 million people died during the civil war that raged from 1983 until the CPA was signed, was higher in 2009 than in the western region of Darfur, which has captured far more media attention in recent years.
"With landmark elections and a referendum on the horizon, the peace deal is fragile and the violence likely to escalate even further unless there is urgent international engagement," the report warned.
Indeed, some 140 people were killed Saturday in an attack by members of the Nuer ethnic group on a Dinka settlement in Warrap state, according to published reports.
The NGO report as well as the deteriorating situation that it documented appeared to draw an immediate response from Washington.
In addition to the White House announcement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the foreign ministers of Britain and Norway issued their own "joint statement" congratulating Sudan on the CPA’s fifth anniversary and pledging their governments’ "active commitment to support efforts for peace and stability in Sudan."
"We call on all parties in Sudan to rise to the challenge with political will and vision," the three ministers said. "There is much to be done. Dialogue, cooperation, and political leadership are vital, but time is short."
"While progress has been made, all sides must redouble their efforts in 2010," they added.
Compromises have been worked out between the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Khartoum and the SPLM on voter registration, the implementation of next year’s elections, and on a referendum for the residents of the border town of Abyei, which 18 months ago was devastated by fighting between the two sides.
But the parties have yet to agree on longer-term issues, including the demarcation of the border between North and South, the sharing of revenues from the country’s booming oil industry, security issues, and, in the event that southerners vote for independence in the 2011 referendum, how citizenship will be determined.
The SPLM, which has made little secret of its belief that the Khartoum government is secretly arming dissident groups in the South and encouraging inter-ethnic violence, also objects strongly to recent national-security legislation that have been used to detain SPLM officials and demonstrators in the capital.
In her remarks Friday, Clinton appeared to take the SPLM’s side on the latter question, demanding that the NCP, "as the dominant political party must use its executive order to suspend elements of the national security and public order laws that are incompatible with free and fair elections."
Clinton’s remarks were given qualified praise by activists who nonetheless voiced strong skepticism about the NCP’s good faith.
"It’s important that Secretary Clinton acknowledged that basic freedoms necessary for fair elections do not exist in Sudan," said Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition, a network of more than 180 U.S. faith-based and human rights groups.
"But she and the U.S. government need to accept the implication of that with only about 90 days until they occur, the elections simply can’t be credible. It’s clear that the ruling NCP is hoping that fraudulent elections will legitimize its rule," he said. "The U.S. must not let that happen."
John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project at the Center for American Progress, also blamed Khartoum for the recent escalation in violence in the South.
"It is of particular concern that the administration appears to not be willing to see the upsurge in violence in southern Sudan as partially a product of new arms being delivered to ethnic-based militias," he said.
"These actions need to be condemned, and planning needs to begin for multilateral consequences for stealing an election and pursuing a one-way path to renewed national war," he said.
Both the Coalition and Enough have been outspokenly critical of President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Sudan, retired Gen. Scott Gration, who they charge with being too lenient toward Khartoum.
Appearing with Clinton, Gration said he will be consulting about Sudan with leaders of the African Union later this month before returning to Sudan in February. He said it was "important" to ensure the election take place in April before the rainy season which, he added, "will keep people from being able to get to the polling places."
Southern Sudan, where per capita incomes are among the lowest in the world, has only 50 km of tarmac roads, most of them centered around Juba, the capital.
According to the NGO report, improving the region’s infrastructure in addition to greater cooperation between Khartoum and the SPLM-led government of South Sudan and greater emergency funding would enhance stability in the region.
(Inter Press Service)