BRUSSELS – The European Union restored ties with Sudan Tuesday and offered 50 million euros ($65 million) in aid to help boost a peace agreement after the end of one of Africa’s longest-ever civil wars.
Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, and Louis Michel, EU commissioner for development signed the accord with Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, and Nhial Deng Nhi, commissioner for external relations of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A).
The European Commission, the European Union (EU) executive, said it would launch an immediate aid package of half the money for the northern region and the rest for the south of the country.
Michel said the 25-nation bloc was immediately extending the aid to the north and the south "to show the people of Sudan … that there is a dividend to peace."
However, the bloc made the resumption of assistance conditional on progress in the separate conflict in the western Darfur region, where it has called for "additional efforts" to bring about peace.
The Commission said if progress is made to resolve the crisis there, the aid package will be used to safeguard the delivery of food aid, for education, to support internal refugees and to build up Sudanese administrative institutions.
"This meeting is the starting point of normal relations between the European Union and Sudan. This is a first step, but it is a very important step," Michel told media representatives Tuesday after signing the country strategy paper.
The EU, the world’s leading aid donor, suspended cooperation with Sudan during the war in 1990. It resumed political dialogue with Khartoum in 1999 but did not resume cooperation.
The Commission says it is now ready to provide financial aid over the next three years to Sudan, following the 14-year period in which EU aid for the country was halted.
The warming of relations between Khartoum and Brussels will mean that Sudan now also has access to a 400-million-euro ($518-million) development aid package from the Commission, but the EU stressed that the accord was conditional.
"This does not mean that we are today giving 450 million euros," Michel’s spokesman Amadeu Altafaj said. "We are just at the beginning of this cooperation process. The money is available for the future, provided there is progress in implementation of the north-south peace agreement and to an improvement of the situation in Darfur."
Javier Solana, the bloc’s foreign policy chief who had held talks with Taha earlier Tuesday, also stressed the conditions of the aid package.
"Mr. Solana pointed out that the full resumption of cooperation must go hand in hand with the effective implementation of the peace agreement and tangible progress toward a solution to other conflicts in Sudan, in particular in Darfur," Cristina Gallach, Javier Solana’s spokeswoman told IPS.
Rebels from the south of Sudan and the Khartoum government signed a peace deal Jan. 9, ending 21 years of north-south war.
Under that deal, the government and the rebels have agreed to come together to decentralize power from Khartoum and to increase the powers of local administrations.
The Khartoum-SPLA/M conflict, which is believed to have killed more than 2 million people – mostly civilians since 1983, pitted an Arab and Muslim-dominated government against an African population consisting mainly of Christians and animists.
The war, which began after the government decreed that Islamic law should apply to the entire government, centered in areas where Khartoum has sold oil concessions to foreign companies.
Taha pledged to implement the peace pact, which he said could help end the bloody Darfur conflict.
"The peace agreement has provided clearly for a number of concepts and principles that govern the issue of power-sharing and wealth-sharing, not only between north and south but for the whole of the country," he said.
"We are committed to use the same drive and to draw from our experience in resolving the conflict in southern Sudan to bring a prompt and fair answer to the conflict in Darfur," he added.
The Darfur conflict has pitted the government and Arab militias called the Janjaweed against two rebel groups consisting mainly of three African ethnic groups who are also Muslim.
Between 70,000 and 300,000 African Darfurese are estimated to have been killed and 1.5 million others made homeless in attacks by government-backed militias.
Michel said the EU would "stay committed for all the efforts for peace that have to be made."