Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
16 - 22 September 1999
Issue No. 447
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

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In pursuit of a Sudan settlement

By Dina Ezzat

All the indications are that the joint Egyptian-Libyan scheme for a national reconciliation in Sudan is making progress.

Throughout the past two weeks, Cairo and Tripoli have been engaged in a series of consultations, to promote their package deal to resolve the outstanding disputes between the Khartoum government and its opposition, both in the south and the north.

A good deal of this work focused on those who have had reservations, one way or another, regarding the initiative.

Cairo has spoken at length about the joint effort with the United States, which recently nominated an envoy for southern Sudan.

While in Tripoli last week for a summit of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), Foreign Minister Amr Moussa held talks with officials of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), whose initiative has failed to make progress toward a resolution of the conflict between the Sudanese government and its armed opposition in the south. IGAD has been rather apprehensive about the Egyptian-Libyan effort.

Speaking after his talks with Moussa in Tripoli, Bonaya Godana, the foreign minister of Kenya -- a leading IGAD member -- said, "I wouldn't say that the two initiatives are contradictory because, so far, I don't really know the elements of the Egyptian-Libyan proposal or initiative." Godana was quick to add that the IGAD initiative "is very clear. It has been on for a while. It is the basis of mediation between the government in Khartoum and the SPLMA [Sudan Popular Liberation Movement/Army]... The Khartoum government and the SPLMA have told us that they do not see or accept the [Egyptian-Libyan initiative] as an alternative to the IGAD initiative, in which they still have confidence."

In the talks with his Kenyan counterpart, Moussa promised to send Nairobi an ample résumé of the Egyptian-Libyan initiative. He also promised to offer ideas on how to coordinate the Egyptian-Libyan initiative with that of the IGAD.

Meanwhile, both Moussa and the Libyan minister for African affairs, Ali Al-Treiki, have held talks with Sudan's Foreign Minister Mustafa Othman Ismail. In the lengthy meeting, Sudan, which is a full-fledged IGAD member, promised to work on dispelling any IGAD concerns regarding the Egyptian-Libyan initiative.

Also on the fringe of the OAU summit last week, Egyptian and Libyan officials held talks with John Garang, leader of the SPLMA. Garang's position on the Egyptian-Libyan effort has wavered. "But he now seems to be comfortable with this initiative -- at least, that is what he is saying," commented an informed Egyptian source. The source added that while Garang's position may continue to fluctuate between "yes" and "no", both Egypt and Libya are going to continue to talk to him to make sure that it is the "yes" that he ultimately sticks to.

Obviously, some Sudanese sources say, Garang's final position may depend to a great extent on what the United States is going to do. Therefore, argued one Sudanese official, it is very important to convince Washington to completely and irrevocably abandon all plans for separating Sudan into northern and southern states in order to persuade Garang to be more enthusiastic about mending fences with the Khartoum government. Shortly before coming to Libya for these meetings, Garang was in Cairo where he was received by top Egyptian officials, including Foreign Minister Moussa. Further meetings with the SPLMA leader -- whose original agenda called for secession -- are being planned.

The Egyptian-Libyan initiative has been gaining momentum, said Ismail on Monday, after follow-up talks with Moussa in Cairo. According to Ismail, Khartoum believes that this initiative is widely accepted by the various Sudanese factions and can easily complement the IGAD initiative.

Is there any chance that the two initiatives can be merged in one plan of action that may get the green light from all concerned regional and international powers, including the US? The answer is "yes". Attempts in this connection are under way.

In fact, Sudanese sources say that adjustments have been introduced to the Egyptian-Libyan initiative following the talks that Cairo and Tripoli held with Garang. Additional fine-tuning may be necessary to make the initiative more compatible for integration with that of the IGAD. "But the guidelines of the strategy behind this mediation effort are not going to be altered," said one diplomatic source. According to Al-Treiki, "when all is said and done, the Egyptian-Libyan initiative is as comprehensive and serious as can be, and it has been fully accepted by the Sudanese government and opposition, and this is why it is going to work."

As Egyptian and Sudanese officials hold more talks on the issue of reconciliation in Sudan, they find themselves in a better position to deal with their bilateral differences. And, this is also the case for Libya. Actually, after making some progress on the Sudan front, Cairo and Tripoli -- who have some mutual disappointments -- may soon be starting a new phase of policy coordination. Somalia may be the next target. Egyptian and Libyan officials are currently considering the possibility of establishing a joint committee to work on integrating the diplomatic efforts of both countries to get the Somali warring factions to agree to a peaceful settlement.

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