Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1308, (18 -24 August 2016)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1308, (18 -24 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Sudan: Negotiations fail

Talks have collapsed between the Khartoum government and armed opposition groups in Darfur, the South Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, Haitham Nouri reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

Negotiations in Sudan collapsed just days after the talks began on two tracks, between the Khartoum government and its armed opponents in Darfur and between the government and its opponents in the South Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, where a civil war has been raging for years.

The African Union High Implementation Panel (AUHIP), led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki, announced that talks on the South Blue Nile and South Kordofan had been indefinitely suspended. The AUHIP announcement came after the parties to the talks on the two regions — the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North — failed to reach an understanding on the cessation of hostilities and the delivery of humanitarian assistance to affected civilians.

The parties to the talks each held the other responsible for the failure. The head of the government delegation, Ibrahim Mahmoud, said: “The People’s Movement wants to prolong the war and wants planes to come to Juba with aid.”

He added: “The movement aimed to frustrate the roadmap. It only signed it under pressure from the international community.”

The opposition Sudan Call coalition, both its political and armed wings, signed a roadmap proposed by AUHIP to resolve the Sudanese crisis and bring coalition forces into a national dialogue process. Just weeks before, Sudan Call forces had refused to sign the roadmap when the Khartoum government signed it unilaterally.

Sudanese journalist and writer Mohamed Youssef Wardi says that international pressure brought parties to the negotiating table despite the deep-seated legacy of mistrust between them.

Only two days after the opposition coalition signed the roadmap, the SPLM-North, which has been fighting the government for four years in the South Blue Nile and South Kordofan, started talks, led by its Secretary-General Yasser Arman. The talks were scheduled to end Friday, but the AUHIP said it would extend them “if it felt a consensus on major issues between the two parties,” according to the African Union representative in Khartoum, Mahmoud Khan.

Despite the lack of any real signs of a breakthrough in negotiations, the AUHIP extended the talks another two days, in which no notable progress was made.

“All indications were that the talks would stumble at the outset,” Wardi says.

From the first session, the SPLM delegation insisted on the framework agreement that both parties had previously approved without signing, but the government rejected the document as a basis for negotiations. Nevertheless, at the end of the first day, the spokesman for the government delegation announced that negotiations would resume on the basis of the framework agreement, after it was brought into line with the roadmap and made binding.

The parties agreed on the formation of two teams to reconcile the framework agreement and the roadmap.

Wardi said that the basis of negotiations was not the sole point of disagreement. The two parties also disagreed on aid paths, with the government rejecting assistance from outside the country. The SPLM proposed 80 per cent of humanitarian assistance coming from Khartoum and the rest from foreign outlets (South Sudan and Ethiopia). But the government ultimately rejected the proposal after several hours of negotiations.

The two parties also failed to agree on whether they should adhere to a cessation of hostilities to allow humanitarian assistance and trust building or should reach an understanding on final security arrangements.

With the government insisting on final security arrangements, the SPLM put forth its vision for the restructuring of army, police and security forces to make them “professional, non-politicised, and representative of Sudan with its diverse composition and interests,” according to an SPLM statement issued after four days of talks.

The SPLM security proposal did not end there. It also demanded the dissolution of militias used by the government throughout its existence, such as the popular army, the popular police and the rapid-support forces (former Janjaweed, according to several observers), in exchange for disarmament of the SPLM’s popular army.

Speaking on his official Twitter account, Yasser Arman said: “The National Congress is the biggest armed party in Sudan, and it now wants us to lay down our weapons and for it to keep its weapons. This is unacceptable. We will lay down our weapons when the National Congress lays its weapons down.”

A few hours before negotiations failed, the ruling National Congress in Khartoum announced via its political secretary, Hamed Mumtaz, that it rejected the dissolution of the rapid-support forces and the popular army.

“The rapid-support forces are facing a difficult position in South Kordofan,” Wardi said. “If they are defeated, it could be a major blow to all government military organisations in Sudan.”

Talks on Darfur began a day after negotiations on the other track. The two movements in talks with the government — the Justice and Equality Movement led by Jibril Ibrahim and the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Minni Minnawi — announced the failure of this round of talks, while the head of the government delegation, Amin Hassan Omar, said that talks “were not up for extension and have not collapsed.”

“This is just sophistry,” Wardi said. “The talks failed before they began. The government has nearly beaten the armed movements in Darfur so it will not offer any concessions.”

Wardi continued: “What worries the government is the disintegration of the Arab camp loyal to it in Darfur after victory.”

“They were expecting major gains after this war, which they waged on Khartoum’s behalf, but they discovered that the gains were not as big as they hoped,” Wardi says.

With little chance of peace in Sudan, at least for the moment, the Saihun, or Wanderers, an Islamist group with members who took part in the civil war and broke with the ruling party, said that it had received pledges from the SPLM and the Sudanese government for a prisoner exchange through the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The Secretary-General of the Saihun, Fath Al-Alim Abdel-Hayy, said that the parties had pledged to go through with the prisoner exchange whatever the outcome of talks. After a meeting with SPLM leaders in Addis Ababa, Abdel-Hayy added that the movement had pledged to complete the exchange through Red Cross points.

“If an agreement on prisoners is signed, the People’s Movement promised to turn over prisoners in the Kauda region of South Kordofan or Yaboos in South Blue Nile and bring them through these areas to turn them over to the authorities in Khartoum,” Abdel-Hayy said.

Abdel-Hayy expects the exchange to take place in September.

The arrival of the prisoners has been delayed for 18 months, since the SPLM announced in December 2014 the release of 20 prisoners with government forces and 22 mine workers taken in SPLM-controlled areas in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

In June, another exchange attempt was thwarted due to what were called “sudden procedural coordinating” conditions. The ICRC announced that its planes had not received take-off permission from the Ethiopian authorities.

“If that’s the only piece of good news, it’s better than nothing,” Wardi said. “In general, we’ve grown used to the failure of Sudanese negotiations to reach a resolution without international mediation and pressure, like the Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972 under late president Jaafar Numeiri and the Naivasha Agreement of 2005.”

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