December 7th, 2015
Failure and Hostility: Sudan’s Peace Talks
Peace talks between the Sudanese Government (GoS) and opposition groups (including SPLM-N and SLM) from South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur have, yet again, broken down. The 10th round of discussions, held between November 19 and 23, like its predecessors, ended in a stalemate. The talks had looked to move forward on three issues: the urgent need for humanitarian aid to be delivered to the conflict zones, the cessation of hostilities between the warring parties and a preparatory meeting leading to a national dialogue process. The failure to reach any agreement is deeply worrying for those in desperate humanitarian need and there are strong indications the talks were simply a front, on the part of the GoS, to give the impression that problems were being addressed.
Rhetoric from all sides running up to the talks showed potential for positive steps forward. The Foreign Minister, Ibrahim Ghandour, insisted that the government was ready to ‘allow’ aid groups to access the Two Areas (South Kordofan and Blue Nile). This cooperation was furthered by the government’s apparent ‘willingness to resume talks’ and end the conflicts, with the SPLM-N mirroring these sentiments. In October 2015, Ban Ki Moon stated the importance for the sides to engage in a conversation and create an ‘environment’ to aid its success.
However, there is no evidence to suggest that any attempt has been made to create such an atmosphere. The political and military climate in Sudan seems to be stifling any potential for successful peace talks. In October there were accusations of government attacks on the Two Areas and opposition leaders have long been banned from travelling abroad.
The talks themselves did not start smoothly, adding to the hostile atmosphere. The GoS reportedly boycotted the opening session, claiming that the African Union mediators (The African Union High Level Implementation Panel) were supporting the rebels. Minni Minnawi, leader of the opposition faction Sudan Liberation Movement/Minni Minnawi (SLM-MM), suggested that it confirmed “the unwillingness of Khartoum to achieve peace”. However, what is most alarming is what happened immediately after the talks reached an impasse on the 23rd.
- November 24th: the day after the Addis Ababa talks failed, the Sudanese Defence Minister announced he was raising the state of military ‘preparedness’ in Darfur and the Two Areas. He said that the army will continue to attack rebel areas and ‘supply lines’ from South Sudan.
- November 25th: Sadiq Youssef, a leading opposition figure was arrested at his home without any reason given for his arrest by the GoS.
- November 26th: 18 members of the SLM-MM were sentenced to hanging. The release of prisoners had been part of the African Union process for confidence building and creating a ‘conducive environment’.
- November 29th: In response to the GoS rising ‘military preparedness’, the SPLM-N announced it was ‘mobilizing forces’ in expectation of a ‘major government offensive’.
These actions by the GoS imply its’ true feelings of indifference towards forging a peaceful and humanitarian end to the conflict.
A briefing on the talks by Sudan Democracy First Group presented more evidence to suggest the GoS’ continued resistance to agreeing any form of peace deal. In both negotiations for the cessation of hostilities and the delivery of humanitarian aid, the GoS rejected all proposals put forward by rebel groups. Moreover, it rejected the AUHIP proposal for a 6-month cessation of hostilities to allow humanitarian access and, instead, suggested it be reduced to 1 month with all rebel forces being disarmed. It also proposed that government forces should be stationed on the borders of South Sudan and Ethiopia, behind rebel lines. Such a move, as SDFG suggested, indicates the GoS was trying to ‘achieve a political, security and military advantage’. These proposals by the GoS aim to establish its overall dominance over the people living in the Two Areas and Darfur.
The issue of humanitarian aid access has been a high priority in the conflict areas and in previous peace talks. Across Sudan, over 3 million people have been displaced due to violence. There is a desperate need for food and health provisions. As already noted, the GoS has continued to say it will work towards allowing aid access to the regions. However, its conditions for this to happen are of great concern. Already accusing opposition of ‘hindering the work of vaccination teams’, Ghandour suggested that they will only allow aid into the Two Areas if aid groups did not provide any assistance to the rebels. To avoid this from happening, the GoS reportedly insists on controlling all aid entry points, with delivery only through Khartoum, supervised by its own Humanitarian Aid Commission and refusing the creation of a joint committee with all involved in the conflict. The SPLM-N had wanted access from multiple points, including cross-border aid from South Sudan, to reach a greater number of people in humanitarian need. The concern from the SPLM-N is understandable. The GoS has repeatedly bombed civilians and refused aid to these areas. There is serious worry that giving sole responsibility of aid delivery to Khartoum will mean the GoS will be able to further control and limit humanitarian access to the Two Areas.
The preparatory meeting for the national dialogue was due to be held today, on December 7, with the aim of agreeing conditions to include all parties and voices in the discussion. However, due to arrangements not being ‘finalized in time’, it has been postponed until ‘procedural matters’ are confirmed. The national dialogue initiative was launched last January by Bashir, in the hope that all political parties, including opposition groups, could discuss the country’s ‘pressing issues’. The new conference is due to start this coming January, as the previous meeting was boycotted by many opposition groups who were ‘dissatisfied with the process’. Before his arrest, Sadiq Youssef said the dialogue was simply “a festival of speeches by the NCP [National Congress Party, the ruling party in government lead by Bashir] and its allies”. The pre-dialogue meeting is due to include the GoS, opposition parties and armed rebel groups. It seems unrealistically hopeful to expect the pre-dialogue meeting to be a success, given the failure of the talks was only two weeks ago.
It is wishful thinking that a peace agreement could be made over a few days, on the back of years of conflict and nine rounds of abandoned peace talks. In a briefing made on the current political situation in Sudan, Yasir Arman, a leading figure in the SPLM-N, suggested that the GoS are trying to give the impression to the international community that they are solving Sudan’s problems. In fact, “they do not have any solutions”. He also claimed that the international community is putting pressure on opposition groups to sign an agreement, to keep up this impression, as they have “no leverage” on the GoS.
Any comprehensive peace agreement will take time. But, an agreement on the access of humanitarian aid is urgently needed and the mediators of the talks must pressurise the GoS to allow aid groups into the region from multiple points of entry. From this foundation, an inclusive dialogue or conversation can be built. This will require the inclusion of all Sudanese voices, not just the political parties and rebel movements, but civilians who have been caught up in and deeply affected by the violence. A peace deal that is quickly pushed through has the potential to unravel just as fast.
Disclaimer: This blog is a space for discussion and personal reflection. Any opinions expressed within the blog are those of the author and are not necessarily held by HART. Individual authors are responsible for the accuracy of statements made within the blog.
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