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Sudan Government, Rebels Still At Odds

Sudan Government, Rebels Still At Odds Over "Framework Document"

September 4, 2003
Posted to the web September 4, 2003

Charles Cobb Jr.
Washington, DC

Speaking to an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, representatives of the Government of Sudan and the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) continued a bitter debate that increasingly seems to threaten efforts to reach a settlement in Sudan.

At the core of the argument is a broad proposal introduced in July by East Africa's Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad). Known as the "Nakuru document," it outlines compromises on various issues and while it has been embraced by the SPLA/M it has been harshly rejected by the government of Sudan.

President Omar el-Beshir reportedly told the Igad mediation team to "go to hell", in rejecting the proposal. If the mediators didn't come up with a "reasonable alternative", Beshir said, "they will have to dissolve the document in water and drink it."

And speaking to reporters, Friday, Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail seemed doubtful about success when talks resume on September 10. "It will be difficult to reach a final agreement in the next round of peace talks in Nairobi," he said.

"[The Nakuru Document] came out of the blue in direct contradiction to previous development of the peace process," said Sudan's ambassador to the United States, Ahmed Khidir. He suspected it was "a deliberate attempt to sabotage the peace process."

Responding, the SPLM/A representative to the United States and Canada, Steven Wöndu, said: "Khartoum clearly favors processes that drag on forever while they build their military capability in preparation for a decisive victory on the ground."

They are still talking, says Wöndu. "The parties are not being asked to sign on the dotted line. The [Nakuru] draft is a guide for negotiating the last corner on the path to peace."

At the heart of the dispute is the government's belief that the Igad draft document inevitably leads to the secession of the southern Sudan. "The Nakuru Document is based on the express assumption of putting unity on hold... that would undoubtedly pave the way for two separate entities at the end of the [six-year] interim period," said Khidir. A "full monopoly" by the SPLA over the South would be "guaranteed."

They are for unity, insists Wöndu, but he doubts government commitment on that issue, noting that it still insists on Sharia law for the capital city, Khartoum. The SPLM/A wants "a national capital that shall be a symbol of national unity." Reflecting a distrust that is also to be found on the government side, Wöndu said that the government doesn't want to reach a peace settlement. "They would have invented an excuse to frustrate Igad if the draft framework did not exist," he says.

There remain crucial unresolved questions of power-sharing. The last round of negotiations made little progress on this front. Underlying much of the discussion about governance is wealth-sharing - how to apportion oil revenues as well as the ownership of land and other natural resources.

Khartoum has also refused, so far, to discuss three disputed areas of southern Blue Nile State, Abyei, and the Nuba Mountains in the center of the country. Rebels are active there and the SPLM/A says it is authorized to represent the them in talks. But the government says it controls 90 percent of the regions.

Khartoum has also rejected and denounced a proposal that both the government and the SPLM/A maintain separate armies during the transition period.

Speaking to reporters at Nairobi's Wilson Airport just after arriving in the Kenyan capital, Wednesday, for talks with Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha, SPLM/A leader, John Garang, said: "The issues of the presidency, the issues of wealth sharing, the issue of security arrangements, the issues of power sharing, and the issue of the three conflict areas are the major issues that are outstanding."

The two men will engage in their first ever face-to-face meeting Thursday, in Naivasha, a town 90 km (55 miles) west of Nairobi. "Obviously it is going to be a critical meeting," said Garang. "The time has come to resolve the Sudan conflict."

An International Crisis Group report released in July ("God, Oil and Country: Changing the Logic of War") described the peace process as one "of dueling press releases." It complained that there had not been a proper peace process "in the sense of continuous negotiations... only a trading of well-worn positions."

Meanwhile, the government and the Darfur rebels of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) signed a six-week ceasefire in Chad's city of Abeche on Wednesday night, according to radio reports in Khartoum. The deal was signed by Sudanese General Essmat Abdel Rahman Zenelabdin, commander of the western region, and Abdullah al-Bakr, on behalf of the SLA which launched its armed campaign in February.

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