Now to Darfur
With relative peace in southern Sudan, the world's attention is now squarely focussed on Darfur, writes Gamal Nkrumah
In a flurry of diplomatic activity, the Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Beshir dispatched his deputy to Cairo and a number of other Arab capitals. The purpose of the two- day visit to Cairo by Sudanese Vice President Ali Othman Mohamed Taha was to brief President Hosni Mubarak and the Egyptian government about the joint declaration on the final phase of Sudanese peace talks signed by Taha and the leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), John Garang, in the Kenyan capital Nairobi last week.
Taha briefed Mubarak on specific aspects of the six protocols. Taha also outlined prospects for development in southern Sudan and the reconstruction of the war-ravaged Sudanese economy. Also featuring prominently on Taha's agenda was the deplorable situation in Darfur, described by the United Nations as the world's gravest humanitarian crisis. Cairo was the first stop in a tour by Taha of Arab countries, highlighting the importance with which the Sudanese government regards Egyptian input in the Sudanese peace process.
Even though Egypt was not party to the Sudanese peace talks in Kenya, the Sudanese government has been very keen to involve the Egyptian and other Arab governments. The Sudanese peace talks have been taking place under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD), a regional organisation which groups seven East African countries, including Sudan.
The 21-year-old Sudanese Civil War, which cost the lives of two million people, ignited Egyptian fears that Sudan would be split into two states; northern and southern. Egypt regards such a split as a dangerous development that might negatively impact the flow of Nile water to Egypt from the Great Lakes region. Egypt has long expressed the hope that Sudan will maintain its unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Taha met leading members of the Sudanese opposition groups including those of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the umbrella opposition organisation grouping the SPLA. Taha's visit to Cairo also included extensive meetings with leaders of Sudanese opposition groups based in Egypt. Taha met with Cairo-based Mohamed Othman Al-Mirghani, the head of the NDA. Taha also met with Farouk Abu Eissa, the former head of the Cairo-based Arab Lawyers Union and official spokesman for the NDA. "Time was not on our side, we only spoke for half an hour. We talked about the political future of Sudan and democratic reform in Sudan. But the conflict in Darfur topped the agenda," Abu Eissa told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Much of Taha's talks with the Sudanese opposition leaders centred on curbing the influence of the most powerful armed opposition group in Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), not to be confused with the southern-based Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) headed by John Garang, a member of the NDA. The SLA has a close working relationship with the SPLA.
"Taha wanted the NDA to apprehend the SLA and encourage the armed opposition group to lay down arms," Abu Eissa said. The SLA joined the NDA last year and is to participate at a meeting of the NDA in Egypt in which the SLA President Abdul-Wahid Mohamed Nour Moussa and SPLA leader John Garang are expected to attend.
Abu Eissa refuted reports claiming that a power struggle within the SLA now threatens to destroy the movement. There was much speculation that the SLA President Abdul-Wahid Mohamed Nour Moussa and SLA Secretary-General Mani Minawi were at loggerheads and that the power struggle threatened to rip the movement apart. "These rumours are fabricated by the Sudanese government," Abu Eissa said. He said that the leaders of the SLA would visit Cairo soon to meet with Egyptian officials and members of Cairo-based Sudanese opposition groups. The president and the secretary-general of the SLA are still holding their posts.
"We are not in a position to disarm the SLA or to force them to lay down their arms. The SLA is a fully-fledged member of the NDA," Abu Eissa explained. The SLA has threatened to end the cease-fire truce it signed with the Sudanese government in April.
Abu Eissa, however, expressed cautious optimism about Sudan's political future. "Multi-party democracy is the only way forward for Sudan. The people of Darfur must participate in the political life of Sudan, must be part of the decision-making process," Abu Eissa stressed. "But," he cautioned, "I did not detect a seriousness of purpose. I believe the Sudanese government is not sincere in its determination to implement radical political reform in Sudan," he said. "The Darfur crisis will only be resolved by greater democratisation," he said.
According to Abu Eissa, the democratisation process will only get underway once the principals agreed upon in the Machakos and Naivasha protocols are scrupulously adhered to and thoroughly implemented.
SPLA leader Garang is also scheduled to visit Egypt later in June to meet with President Mubarak and others for consultations with other political forces of the NDA. Discussions pertaining to the situation in Darfur with Egyptian officials and members of the Sudanese opposition parties are underway. The other major Darfur group, the Movement for Justice and Equality (JEM), is not a member of the NDA. It remains to be seen what role it will be afforded.
The military campaigns carried out by the armed Arab militias, better known as the Janjaweed, have alarmed international observers. The Janjaweed enjoy Sudanese government air cover support. The European Union, the United States and the United Nations have urged the Sudanese government to rein in the Janjaweed. Indeed, amid growing international condemnation of the Sudanese government's handling of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur the UN Security Council, last Friday, passed a resolution giving the green light for a UN peace-keeping operation in Sudan to contain the growing humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur and oversee the situation in southern Sudan.
The UN resolution came days before the visit by Carol Bellamy, director of the UN children's fund UNICEF. At the end of Bellamy's visit she described the situation in Darfur as "grim".