Al-Ahram Weekly Online   30 November - 6 December 2006
Issue No. 822
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Old dogs, new tricks

The Sudanese government continues to resist UN involvement in their country, while infighting between warring factions continues, writes Gamal Nkrumah

African Union chief envoy to Sudan Salim Ahmed Salim

Tragically, the procedural complexity of implementing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) has reared its ugly head once again this week. The CPA was signed in January 2005 in the Nigerian capital Abuja under the auspices of the African Union (AU), Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). Fighting erupted between the South Sudanese Defence Forces (SSDF) and the SPLA in the vicinity of the southern Sudanese garrison town of Malakal. The SPLA accuses the government of supporting the SSDF, even though the latter has refused to join the government of national unity.

The Sudanese government has come under scrutiny for allegedly inflaming tensions in both southern and western Sudan. The SPLA, the major southern-based opposition organisation that waged a 22-year armed struggle against the Sudanese government, is now the main coalition partner of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) of Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Beshir.

"The Sudanese government plans to make the south, currently administered by the SPLA, ungovernable," Alfred Taban, editor- in-chief of the Khartoum Monitor told Al-Ahram Weekly. Taban is a distinguished human rights activist who has been imprisoned in the past for anti-government activities. His paper is the only independent English language paper in Sudan. "The government is playing dirty games, fomenting trouble in southern Sudan," he added.

This week the AU dispatched Salim Ahmed Salim to the region. Salim is former chairman of the Organisation of African Unity and currently the chief AU mediator for Sudan. "We are very encouraged that Salim Ahmed Salim is visiting. His return is very good news: he helped us a great deal in May to advance the chances of the Darfur peace process. He is now coming back to complete the job," Taban said.

"It is important to boost the morale of the people of Darfur. They need to know that their cause is not forgotten," he explained. He added that he did not have much faith in the initiatives of Eritrea and Libya because these countries have their own "hidden agendas". He said that they are of "no great help to the people of Darfur".

The United Nations, working in conjunction with the AU, hopes to implement a similar peace deal to the CPA in Darfur. The Sudanese authorities, on the one hand, see the Darfur crisis as the greatest exigency to appear for years. This monster, Sudanese officials insist, is the artificial creation of the United States and its Western allies. Sudan is still under pressure from the Western powers to drop its insistence on not allowing Western troops in Darfur.

Looking back, it is astounding how much of the political debate concerning African countries is still conditioned by the colonial legacy. "UN troops are colonial troops. They have never had a positive role in Africa," Al-Beshir said in an internationally televised interview. He reiterated his opposition to the deployment of UN troops in Darfur. The armed opposition groups of Darfur demur on this point.

The UN Security Council passed Resolution 1706 on 31 August which urged the deployment of up to 22,500 blue-helmeted troops and police officers.

In response, the Sudanese government rejected Resolution 1706 and instead vowed to dispatch more than 10,500 Sudanese government forces to Darfur. The two Darfur groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army, under the leadership of Abdul-Wahid Mohamed Al-Nour, had formed a pact named the National Redemption Front (NRF). Al-Nour, the leader of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), rejects the 5 May Darfur Peace Agreement signed between the Sudanese government and his rival Arko Minni Minnawi, leader of the SLA Minnawi faction. Minnawi is now special presidential advisor to Al-Bashir. The Darfur armed opposition groups accuse the Sudanese government of instigating tribal conflicts in Darfur. Not only are they arming nomadic Arab tribes and the Janjaweed militias accused by the UN of carrying out massacres, mass rape and other gross human rights abuses, but of also trying to manipulate tribal politics in Darfur -- especially between the ethnic non-Arab Fur, Zaghawa and Masaleet peoples.

Minnawi, an ethnic Zaghawa, is opposed by Al-Nour, an ethnic Fur -- the largest ethnic group in Darfur. Khaled Ibrahim, the leader of the Justice and Equality Movement is closely affiliated with Sheikh Hassan Al-Turabi, Sudan's chief Islamist ideologue and the leader of the Popular Congress Party. Turabi's PCP also opposes the 5 May Darfur Peace Agreement.

Given the political impasse, the UN has stepped up efforts to resolve the Darfur crisis. The Sudanese government began to take a more conciliatory stance. "The UN Secretary General's position is a positive step, but we have reservations on a joint force and on its command structure," stated Al-Beshir. However, the Sudanese president was adamant that the humanitarian organisations, Western nations and the UN exaggerate the extent of the fighting in Darfur.

"The figure of 200,000 dead is false and the number of dead is not even 9,000," the Sudanese president said. "Any talk of a deterioration of the situation in Darfur is false," Al-Beshir stressed.

Sudan wants UN support, and not US intervention, he added. "The Sudanese government is escalating the conflict in Darfur because of its abysmal human rights record," Al-Turabi told the Weekly.

"The Sudanese authorities don't want the UN troops in because they want to hide the evidence of gross human rights violations."

The leaders of the Darfur armed opposition groups concur. "We insist on having a say in the decision-making process," Al-Nour, leader of the SLA faction, told the Weekly.

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