Sudan : Sudanese Unite!

abdurratln

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http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2007/863/re64.htm


Day for Darfur
Prospects for peace are still uncertain after a global day of action for Darfur and the Sudanese president's trip to Italy, writes Gamal Nkrumah

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Trying to kiss and make up is not always easy. This week, though, the Sudanese government made reconciliatory overtures to the armed opposition groups of Darfur. The most powerful and influential of these groups promptly declined Khartoum's peace offerings. But Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir pressed on with his determination to win over his foes.

This latest outbreak of amity and goodwill may not last long -- essentially because Al-Bashir's detractors are determined to have their way. They claim to represent the long-suffering people of Darfur, and they insist that the Sudanese government and President Al-Bashir are untrustworthy. In a face-saving move, Al-Bashir flew to Italy to try and mobilise Western support for his cause. Energy- starved Italy is keen on mending fences with the Sudanese government that is being branded a pariah state by most other Western governments. Italy recognises that oil-rich Sudan is a potentially lucrative trading partner. The Sudanese also recognise a golden opportunity in fostering closer economic and trading ties with Italy.

In Italy, Al-Bashir pledged "total cooperation" to resolve the Darfur crisis. He told his host, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, that all the rival factions of Darfur should participate in the Darfur peace conference scheduled for 27 October in Tripoli, the Libyan capital.

Previous Darfur peace talks in the Nigerian capital Abuja have floundered and the resultant agreements have not been implemented. "We hope that the negotiations in Tripoli will be the last and that they will produce definitive peace," the Sudanese president told reporters in Rome. The Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI, after meeting the Sudanese president, expressed his "heartfelt hope" that peace would take hold in Darfur. Pope Benedict XVI urged a "political settlement" as opposed to a military solution.

"We know Bashir. When he talks about a ceasefire, he is not credible. We are seeing an escalation of military operations, which means he's saying this for political reasons," retorted Khamis Abdullah, the leader of the Eritrean-based United Front for Liberation and Development (UFLD). The UFLD is composed of several vehemently anti-Bashir armed opposition groups from Darfur. They do not trust his motives and are suspicious of his peace proposals. Indeed, Al-Bashir's propositions did not wash with the armed opposition groups of Darfur. Groups like the UFLD cannot drop their conviction that they know what is best for their people.

These groups insist that the people of Darfur and other far-flung backwaters of Sudan have been politically peripheralised and left in a state of abject poverty and underdevelopment. Moreover, the case of these mainly secular groups rests on the thesis that the Islamist government of President Al-Bashir and his ruling National Congress Party (NCP) are not to be trusted in positions of power.

Democracy is incompatible with fundamentalist Islamic doctrine, they say, and democracy cannot be reconciled with the military background of Al-Bashir, who ousted the democratically-elected government of former Sudanese Prime Minister and leader of the Umma Party Sadig Al-Mahdi.

The Darfur armed opposition groups note that the Sudanese ruling party is not implementing to the letter the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with the predominantly southern-based Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) -- which ended that region's decades-long war in 2005. The SPLA, closely affiliated with Darfur's main opposition group, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), is now ostensibly a party to the coalition government in Khartoum.

It is in this context that the Papal audience did not exactly strengthen Al-Bashir's political position, either. Some of these tensions seem to have been soothed by the intense discussions in Italy.

Political setbacks for the Sudanese government, though, far outweigh the accomplishments. Unfortunately for Al-Bashir, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets in cities around the world to focus public attention on the plight of the people of Darfur. The so-called "Global Day for Darfur" was commemorated in 30 countries around the world on 16 September. The Darfur humanitarian catastrophe is being described as the world's worst disaster. "One of the greatest tragedies of our time," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown extrapolated. London-based Amnesty International, New York-based Human Rights Watch and the Save Darfur Coalition organised the events with massive protests in cities as far afield as San Fransisco, New York, London, Paris and Tokyo.

Meanwhile, the international community is stepping up political pressure on the Sudanese government. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese Minister of Humanitarian Affairs Ahmed Haroun.

Naturally, the Sudanese government has much to lose from political adventurism. And, it is hard pressed to avoid handing a cabinet minister to the ICJ. In yet another goodwill gesture, the Sudanese government ordered the release of the aged and ailing Suleiman Jamous, a widely respected leader of Darfur's SLA. Jamous was permitted to leave Sudan for treatment in neighbouring Kenya.

Few Sudanese care about the politicians' squabbling, though. The country is experiencing an unprecedented oil boom and the income differentials between haves and have-nots are fast expanding -- exacerbating social and political tensions. Petroleum, however, is touted by some as a possible solution to the woes of Sudan's westernmost war-torn province.

The leader of the largest faction of the SLA, Abdul-Wahid Mohamed Nour, defiantly poured cold water over Al-Bashir's peace overtures. He told reporters from his Paris hideaway that he would not attend the Tripoli peace conference unless peace and security for his people are ensured. His detractors accuse him of pushing things to such a crisis point. Needless to say, he is hugely popular with the displaced people in the refugee camps of Darfur.

Al-Bashir kept his cool, downplaying the entire matter. This should help pacify those who feel that the Sudanese leadership has become too authoritarian. But others retort that it has always been so and that Khartoum's authoritarianism has been the source of the country's political ruin and mismanagement for generations since independence.

As Ramadan draws to a close and the Tripoli talks commence, the stakes will be that much higher.
 
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