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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Sudan: Peace Process Update

Africa Policy E-Journal
February 21, 2003 (030221)

Sudan: Peace Process Update
(Reposted from sources cited below)

This posting contains excerpts from a recent update from the International Crisis Group on the peace process in Sudan, including reports on new agreements on strengthening cease-fire implementation, reached between the government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army earlier this month. Despite this agreement, the report warns that this process is dangerously fragile.

Additional background analysis, from the International Crisis Group, the Kampala-based Justice Africa, and other sources, can be found in earlier postings at> and>

Justice Africa has also posted the Kampala Declaration from the November 21-24 meeting of the Nuba Mountains and South Blue Nile Civil Society Forum, at

Additional current sources are available at

Churches from Sudan will be meeting Feb. 22-27 for a consultation in South Africa, the first time this consultation has been held in Africa instead of Europe. For more details see:

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Sudan's Oilfields Burn Again:
Brinkmanship Endangers the Peace Process

Nairobi/Brussels, 10 February 2003

International Crisis Group

International Crisis Group International Headquarters
149 Avenue Louise, 1050 Brussels, Belgium
Tel: +32 2 502 90 38; Fax: +32 2 502 50 38

New York Office
400 Madison Avenue, Suite 11C, New York 10017
Tel: +1 212 813 08 20; Fax: +1 212 813 08 25

[excerpts: full text of this and earlier ICG reports on Sudan are available at]


Sudan's peace process survived a major challenge in the first weeks of the new year. Indeed, signature by the parties of a strengthened cessation of hostilities agreement on 4 February and a memorandum of understanding codifying points of agreement on outstanding issues of power and wealth sharing two days later indicates that the momentum to end the twenty-year old conflict is strong. However, the crisis produced by a government-sponsored offensive in the Western Upper Nile oilfields at the end of 2002 and through January raised questions about the Khartoum government's commitment to peace and showed that much more attention needs to be paid to pro-government southern militias and the commercial and political agendas for which they are being used.

The fighting, the brunt of which was borne by those militias, with regular government troops in support and backup roles, highlighted three major obstacles in the path of a final peace deal:

  • the willingness of the government to disregard signed agreements;
  • the spoiler role that the government-supported militias can play in the peace process, including following conclusion of a formal peace agreement, if greater efforts are not made to encourage their reconciliation with the SPLA insurgents; and
  • the ongoing danger that the dynamic of oil development represents for the peace process, at least so long as the government and a number of foreign oil companies with which it is in partnership are prepared to pursue that development by whatever means necessary.

Strong international engagement remains the key to buttressing a still fragile peace process and seeing it through to success in the next several months. In the first instance that means insisting on full implementation of the newly agreed ceasefire provisions including an active role for the authorised verification team and the withdrawal of troops to the positions they occupied before the offensive. Holding the parties publicly accountable for violations will be key in ensuring their seriousness at the negotiating table.

The offensive from late December until the beginning of February was an extension of the government's long-time strategy of depopulating oilrich areas through indiscriminate attacks on civilians in order to clear the way for further development of infrastructure. Eyewitness accounts confirm that the tactics included the abduction of women and children, gang rapes, ground assaults supported by helicopter gunships, destruction of humanitarian relief sites, and burning of villages. A senior Sudanese civil society member concluded: "The Nuer militias are the most potent threat to human security and stability in the South, regardless of whether peace is concluded or not".

The Khartoum authorities deny it, but their responsibility for the latest round of hostilities is clear. They and the other participants in the fragile peace process now face crucial decisions. The government must choose between continued reliance on military brinkmanship, which would bring it renewed international condemnation and isolation, or the benefits of a peace that is within reach. The latest fighting reflected a calculated decision to violate the cessation of hostilities agreement signed on 15 October 2002. The signing of new agreements, therefore, does not guarantee their implementation.

The SPLA, which was forced onto the defensive by the attacks, must decide not only whether to keep its emphasis on the negotiating track but also whether to intensify its efforts to achieve reconciliation with the Nuer militia leaders who did most of the recent fighting for Khartoum. Despite the new agreements, many in the SPLA feel increasingly pessimistic about the intentions of the government, as well as about the commitment and ability of the international community to hold Khartoum to its word.

The next several months will be decisive for the peace process. A looming crossroads date may be 21 April, when President Bush is required to report to the U.S. Congress on the state of progress in the negotiations. If Khartoum is assessed to be obstructing the process, that report could trigger new U.S. action under its recent legislation (the "Sudan Peace Act"). Because of the State Department's policy of engagement, "Khartoum is underestimating our response. That would be a mistake", said one well- placed U.S. official, citing Congressional and constituency pressure as unknown variables. "The whole thing could blow up", a Western official close to the talks said in January 2003 out of concern for the consequences if the offensive continued. The peace process held together narrowly this time but the situation remains volatile.



When the peace talks facilitated by the regional InterGovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) adjourned for Kenya's election in November 2002, it was anticipated that the parties would be back around the table by early January 2003. That schedule ran into problems at the same time as the guns began to fire again in the oil regions.

Negotiations were to have resumed on 15 January 2003 with the status of three contested areas Abyei, the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile first on the agenda. Due to government hesitancy to treat this subject within the IGAD framework,6 the parties had reluctantly agreed before the November break to consider it in a forum that would be technically and physically distinct from the formal IGAD process that is conducted in the Kenyan town of Machakos.

General Lazaro Sumbeiywo was to facilitate as a Kenyan representative rather than in his normal capacity as IGAD's chief mediator. However, as the starting date neared, the government reneged and demanded resumption of the official IGAD talks on power and wealth sharing.

Regional conferences in SPLA-controlled areas of the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile in late November and early December, respectively, appear to have shaken the government's confidence.

Participants in both conferences unambiguously concluded that they wished to be represented by the SPLA and administered within the southern entity during the interim period that is expected to follow a final peace deal and precede a southern selfdetermination referendum. The parties finally compromised by holding a three-day symposium from 18 to 20 January 2003 that attempted, but failed, to agree on resuming discussion of the three areas.

The official IGAD talks finally restarted on 23 January and made considerable progress on the wealth sharing issue, under the continued able leadership of General Sumbeiywo, the chief mediator, and with helpful facilitation from World Bank and IMF officials. The parties signed on 6 February 2003 a memorandum of understanding elaborating points of agreement on both political and economic issues as a signal of continued seriousness about the negotiations. (These will be the subject of the next ICG report.) The talks are now in recess and will resume in late February or early March.

However, it remains unclear when and how the status of the three contested areas will be taken up. The war in Sudan will continue if these areas are left out of the IGAD process.

There has been encouraging news on the humanitarian side. Most importantly, an agreement by the parties to allow the UN-led Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) access to Southern Blue Nile and Kassala State in the Northeast in order to provide aid to areas that had previously been off limits to it. A meeting of the Technical Committee on Humanitarian Assistance (TCHA), originally scheduled for December 2002, was held from 18 to 20 January, separate from the abortive political symposium, and produced agreement by the parties on a number of issues, principally around the facilitation of crossline access (i.e. between government- and SPLAcontrolled areas) for humanitarian aid and aid workers.


The political and humanitarian discussions occurred against a backdrop of an offensive by governmentsupported militias since the end of December 2002 in Western Upper Nile that threatened to make a nullity of the cessation of hostilities agreement and put the entire peace process at risk. Western Upper Nile, which is home to most of the oil resources in the Sudan, has produced some of the fiercest fighting and worst humanitarian conditions in the world over the past decade.


By the beginning of February 2003, there was a highly dangerous prospect of further escalation, with well armed forces in close proximity to each other on a number of southern fronts.

3. The New Agreement to Stop the Fighting

The government and SPLA pulled back from the brink of such an escalation, and the likely collapse of the peace negotiations, by signing an "Addendum" to the 15 October 2002 cessation of hostilities agreement. Under the terms of the new document, the fighting is to end, and both sides are to return their forces to where they were on that earlier date. They have also obliged themselves to report on the locations and movements of their troops. The government agreed specifically to halt construction of the all-purpose road in the oilfields.

Many of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) who fled the fighting on the Leer front (the first prong of the offensive) moved toward Dablual. The food and water situation in that area is precarious and could easily become a humanitarian disaster. Many residents of the villages south of Mayom and Mankien (the second prong of the offensive) are IDPs from fighting over the last few years in Rubkona, Nhialdiu, and other areas now controlled by the government. They were forced to flee again to escape attacks that were aimed as much at civilians and civilian structures, such as tukuls (civilian huts), as military targets. The new agreement acknowledges the plight of all these IDPs and calls for their safe return, and for the international community to facilitate this.

Most significantly the Addendum provides for the kind of mechanism to monitor implementation that was conspicuously absent from the original document. It does so by expanding the mandate of an existing body that was originally created for a more limited purpose. This is the U.S.-led Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT), which contains both military and civilian personnel, and was agreed to by the parties in March 2002 for the narrow purpose of investigating some of the essentially human rights and law of war violations taking place in Western Upper Nile. The verification group for the cessation of hostilities agreement will now be housed within an enlarged CPMT, and the two bodies will share resources and responsibilities.

There is no single answer to why, if its military strategy was succeeding, the government agreed to end its offensive, reverse some of its apparent gains, and accept a monitoring arrangement that should make renewal of the tactic more difficult. The planned oilfield road from Bentiu to Adok has now been completed as far as Leer and oil infrastructure moved further south, the major commercial objective of the operation. It may be considered in the oil consortium's interest to have a monitored ceasefire that can protect newly deployed assets and so facilitate exploitation of the oil further south than ever before. However, the requirement to withdraw troops from territory captured during the fighting implies that the government should abandon the garrisons it established as it advanced the road to Leer. While the road itself will remain an accomplishment, and a monitored ceasefire provides a new measure of stability, there is a question whether foreign oil companies will be prepared to operate beyond the limits of Khartoum's military protection, and if they do whether this will require them to reach understandings with the SPLA. ,,,



The juxtaposition of quiet progress on the wealth and power sharing issues in the latest phase of IGAD talks with the high visibility government offensive that almost collapsed the process demonstrates the fragile nature of the peace initiative. The offensive highlighted both government willingness to disregard signed agreements and the spoiler role that the southern militias aligned with Khartoum can play if they are not brought meaningfully into that process ideally after reconciliation with the SPLA to harmonise southern positions.

The agreements reached on 4 and 6 February 2003 show that despite the serious fighting that greeted the new year and for which it was responsible, Khartoum has not decided to forsake negotiations and again seek a military victory. The brinkmanship that it conducted for relatively limited diplomatic and commercial purposes, however, involved huge risks. The best way to ensure that it is not allowed to strain the promising peace process again is for the international community, in particular the official observer countries (U.S., UK, Norway, Italy) and others that are directly supporting the talks such as the UN, the Arab League and the African Union, to engage strongly on behalf of the IGAD mediation.

It should be made clear to the parties that any violation of the existing agreements, most particularly the cessation of hostilities agreement of 15 October 2002 as amended and supplemented, will bring unrelenting, public condemnation from governments and multilateral bodies alike. Earlier and wider condemnation of the Khartoum authorities for violating the cessation of hostilities agreement in December and January could have led to much earlier agreement on an end to the offensive and establishment of a verification regime.

There has been reluctance to condemn the government publicly, apparently for fear of provoking a reaction in Khartoum against the negotiations. This is a mistaken reading of the political psychology. A low-key reaction is more likely to encourage hardliners in the Sudanese capital rather than restrain them. Coordinated and sustained multilateral diplomatic pressure can support moderate voices, as the recent humanitarian, power and wealth sharing and cessation of hostilities agreements testify.

As part of the post-conflict reconstruction effort that is being prepared, adequate resources should be earmarked to address the root causes of local violence in the South. These include chronic underdevelopment in parts of the Upper Nile, competition over natural resources among pastoralist communities within the South and along the North- South administrative border, and the resulting proliferation of small arms in these communities. Donors' post-conflict aid planning needs to remain in step with the IGAD process, however, so that mixed signals are not sent regarding the normalisation of relations Khartoum desires. Some analysts are becoming rightly concerned at the speed with which this "Planning for Peace" effort is advancing. Donors may not be taking adequately into consideration the absorption capacity of either the SPLA or the government and the long-term sustainability of the peace itself in the rush to put together large reconstruction packages.

It is important for the SPLA not to be diverted by the recent fighting from taking further significant steps towards reconciliation with the many disavowed and disaffected southern militias aligned with the government. The events of the last several months have shown that these groups are potentially the great spoilers of the peace process because of the ease with which their anger and sense of exclusion can be manipulated. They can make governing certain areas of the South all but impossible for an SPLA-led southern government following a peace agreement, but if they are kept on the outside, they also have the capacity to ensure that such an agreement is never signed. Donors can help by increasing support for efforts by Sudanese civil society to build on the process that unfolded at the December 2002 Entebbe conference for South-South reconciliation, convened by the New Sudan Council of Churches.

The international community should work urgently to ensure that the verification team called for in the Addendum to the cessation of hostilities agreement signed on 4 February is allowed full access to locations and forces, has the necessary resources, and publicises its findings in a timely way in order to maintain pressure for full compliance on the parties so that the last political issues can be addressed in a positive atmosphere. No doubt should be left that the ceasefire applies to the militias equally as it applies to the parties that signed it. Consideration should be given to adding to the arrangements for monitoring the ceasefire that are already in place a mechanism for soliciting input from Sudanese civil society, North and South.

Robust, early and public condemnation by the international community of any violation will make an enormous contribution to the calculations of the parties at the negotiating table. If they understand the clear choice between the benefits of peace and the isolation of war, the prospects for a final agreement will be strengthened considerably.

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Date distributed (ymd): 030221
Region: East Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+ +security/peace+

The Africa Action E-Journal is a free information service provided by Africa Action, including both original commentary and reposted documents. Africa Action provides this information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.

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