Skepticism Greets Sudan Peace Plan

By Moira O'Brien | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

( - Sudan's ruling Muslim party has endorsed an Egyptian-Libyan peace initiative to end the nation's 18-year civil war and approved government participation in a conference on the initiative. There is doubt, however, as to whether or not the venture would be successful.

Prime Minister Mustafa Uthman Isma'il of the National Congress party said this weekend that the government in Khartoum would be "very flexible" in the talks, since "the priority will be for halting the war and reaching a political settlement that leads to national unity."

The opposition umbrella group National Democratic Alliance also endorsed the peace proposal, but with some reservations.

The group, which includes the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army, wants the initiative to include the principles of self-determination for the people of southern Sudan, as well as the principle of separation of religion and state.

A parallel peace proposal by the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development includes these tenets.

Sudanese President Umar Hasan al-Bashir, however, spoke against self-determination and separation of state and religion in Wad Madani this weekend.

There would be no revocation of his National Salvation Revolution government, nor would Islamic Shar'iah law be separated from government law, he said. According to Isma'il, Bashir approves of the Egyptian-Libyan proposal because it does not touch those principles.

Some of the principles addressed by the Egyptian-Libyan initiative include that the unity of Sudan be preserved; that citizenship should be the base for exercising rights and duties; and that the racial, cultural and religious diversity of the nation be recognized.

In addition, democratic pluralism, freedom of expression and separation of executive, legislative and executive powers would all be upheld. An immediate cessation of hostilities is required, after which an interim government representing all political forces would be assembled.

Many believe there is little reason for optimism about the Egyptian-Libyan initiative.

According to a report by Eric Reeves, an English language and literature professor at Smith College and a noted activist on human rights in Sudan, Bashir's remarks from this weekend indicate the president will not compromise on the two principles sought by the southern Sudanese.

Reeves writes, "The flurry of enthusiastic reporting around the supposed re-invigoration of the 'Libyan-Egyptian Peace Initiative' for Sudan has now bumped squarely against the brick wall of recalcitrance in Khartoum that has always been the real obstacle to peace."

Mark Daniels, a spokesman for the International Christian Concern group, agreed that most of the recent optimism is "hype." He said, "I don't think any concrete measures have been taken. This is mostly an appeasement by the northern regime for their own economic purposes."

Daniels added, "The south has no say in the fate of its own people or how resources are being used, and so we are seeing the slaughter of millions of innocent people. This stalemate is the same stalemate we've been seeing for many years."