12 - 18 September 2002
Issue No. 603
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Recommend this page|
A plea for helpSudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Othman Ismail tells Dina Ezzat that the Machakos Protocol will be scrapped if the Southern rebels continue their military offensive
Hopes for achieving peace in Sudan, even at the expense of its territorial integrity, seem to be fading away as the government and rebels have resumed their 19-year-old military conflict. During the past few days each of the warring sides have been making statements and moves to suggest that even if peace negotiations were to resume they could easily collapse again due to mistrust on both sides.
The resumption of fighting underlined the fragile nature of the Machakos Protocol, concluded a few weeks ago with African and American mediation. Although the protocol responded to Southern requests for self-rule, wealth and power sharing, and potential independence, the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) launched a military operation to take the town of Torit earlier this month.
Now, the Sudanese government is making preconditions for the resumption of the Kenya-hosted peace negotiations that were suspended earlier in September by the decree of Sudanese President Omar Al- Bashir.
"First of all the rebels have to get out of Torit. Second, a cease-fire has to be agreed to, or at least be in the offing, before we resume negotiations over the sharing of power and wealth," Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Othman Ismail, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Speaking to the Weekly in Cairo last week, Ismail went as far as saying that despite the many pressures that are being exercised on the Sudanese government from different capitals, particularly Washington, to resume talks with the rebels, "the Machakos Protocol will be scrapped if no agreement is reached. We can either talk peace or make war." "The rebels cannot have it both ways. They cannot seek political gains through negotiations and advance their troops on the ground through war," Ismail added.
Ismail's comments were backed by tough statements and action from the Sudanese Ministry of Defence this week. While sending hundreds of soldiers to free Torit and other cities that have been taken by the rebels, the Sudanese minister of defence, Bakri Hassan Saleh, was saying that "the return of Torit will be the first step toward the return of all areas under the control of the rebels."
So, will Sudan give up on the 'Machakos' process and resume the civil war or will it pursue peace through another mediation channel? "The Sudanese government is seeking peace and stability. It is seeking an agreement with the rebels," said Ismail.
Ismail added that the decision taken by Khartoum, earlier this month, to suspend talks with the SPLA/M did not mean that peace talks would be abandoned. Nor would mediation switch from an American and African track, under which Machakos was reached, to an Arab one. Egypt, Libya and other Arab governments took exception to the way that their mediation efforts have been overlooked in favour of Machakos.
According to Ismail, if some Arab capitals are upset about the way the Machakos Protocol was signed then they need to realise that "at a time when the [SPLA/M] was getting all kinds of military and financial support from all different capitals and quarters, the Sudanese government was being left on its own."
"The suspension of talks is a message for all," Ismail said. "First, it is a message to the rebels that they cannot tell the world they are seeking peace and unity when, in fact, they are pursuing war and perhaps even separation," he added. Indeed, Ismail stressed that it was also a message to the Sudanese people that while their government would agree to some compromises in the hope of reaching peace, it will not accept being pushed around by the rebels. "The mediators [must also know] that there is a limit to the compromises that the government will make," he added.
Ismail's tone of defiance does not come without a touch of pragmatism. As foreign minister of a country that was once bombed by the US, he knows very well that when Washington sends a message to Khartoum to express concern over the suspension of talks, the Sudanese government cannot ignore this message or even attempt to take it lightly. "We told the Americans that the road ahead should be negotiations, and that the suspension of talks should be an exception; we told them it should be an opportunity for them to convince the rebels that they have to stick to the lines of the Machakos Protocol which they have been violating both in the negotiating process and on the ground," he said.
Ismail was also concerned that during the negotiations, which were abruptly suspended earlier this month, the rebels were trying to change the frame of reference. "For example they were suggesting that certain towns and villages should be included in the borders of the south of Sudan when they were not included in the borders according to the Machakos terms of reference," he said. Disputing the borders at the negotiation table and capturing towns by resorting to military operations, argued Ismail, could only be read as a sign of bad intent on the rebel side. "It meant that they were trying to expand the territories they could put their hands on if they go for independence in six years when the interim period expires," he said.
In Cairo last week, taking part in the Arab Council for Foreign Ministers, Ismail pleaded with Arab states to offer Sudan support, particularly financial aid for the development of the south. He also asked for political support to ease the pressure exercised on Khartoum from different African and international capitals, particularly Washington, to resume talks with the rebels under any conditions. Ismail's requests were responded to positively. A resolution was adopted by the Arab foreign ministers to secure Khartoum political and financial support. "We are counting on this support to secure the unity of Sudan," said Ismail. He warned that if Arab countries let Sudan down then it might not be too long before the rebels use their means to split Sudan into two countries.
"We told those who objected to the Machakos Protocol, because it grants the rebels the right to seek independence through referendum after six years, that we had no other alternative. The rebels have practically enforced separation on the ground. At least the Machakos Protocol was making separation an option and not a fait accompli. Now is the time for opponents of the Machakos deal to come to the rescue of the Sudanese government," Ismail concluded.
Letter from the Editor
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