Sudanese Rebels, Refugees Skeptical of Gov't 'Good Faith' Assessment

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - Although the U.S. says the Sudanese government is showing "good faith" in talks with southern rebels, the rebels themselves and southern Sudanese refugees charge that Khartoum has yet to show it is committed to peace.

A latest round of peace talks aimed at ending the bloody civil war concluded recently in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, with the warring sides disagreeing on national security arrangements during a proposed six-year transitional period.

Khartoum has proposed the formation of a single, national army to be constituted in accordance with agreed percentages from either side.

Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) spokesman George Garang said inhabitants of the south - who are mostly Christian or animist - must have their own army, distinct from the regime's military, which he described as a religious army professing radical Islamic ideology.

The only guarantee the South has that its right of self-determination will be met is the establishment of a southern army, Garang said.

The U.S. government this past week certified that the Sudanese administration had showed good faith in peace talks with southerners, who are fighting for political and economic freedom from Khartoum.

President Bush said the warring sides had made significant progress in negotiating peace but cautioned that much work had yet to be done.

Sporadic military activity from both sides was hindering peace efforts and must stop, he said.

The president's overall positive assessment means the U.S. will not impose further economic sanctions on Sudan at this time - although some sanctions do remain in place against Sudan, which is on the State Department's list of terror-sponsoring states.

The Sudan Peace Act provides for the imposition of sanctions if the administration establishes that Khartoum is not engaging in peace talks in good faith or has unreasonably interfered with humanitarian efforts in southern Sudan.

The president is required to present Congress with a review of peace efforts every six months.

The Sudanese government termed the U.S. decision "encouraging," with Khartoum's deputy ambassador to Kenya, Muhammad Ahmad Dirdeiry, saying Washington had moved toward evenhandedness and playing a constructive role towards achieving peace in Sudan.

Dirdeiry said that the SPLA should also be required to show it is negotiating in good faith.

He said similar measures should be taken against the SPLA to encourage it to negotiate in good faith.

A cross-section of southern Sudanese refugees interviewed in Nairobi said more pressure should be put on Khartoum to accelerate the peace talks.

"The Americans must get the facts on the ground before they congratulate Sudan," said David Makhour, a 28-year-old refugee in Nairobi who lost both his parents in government bombing raids on southern villages.

"We are still receiving reports how our people are being killed by the government forces in the villages," he said. "We believe more pressure should be applied on Sudan."

Nancy Dorum, a refugee and mother of three whose husband is fighting for the SPLA, said she did not trust the Sudan government and predicted that the talks would collapse as soon as Khartoum realized they would lead to relative freedom for southern Sudanese.

"They have attacked us for over 20 years now, and we do not believe they will let us have freedom unless the international community increases the pressure on the Islamic regime," she said.

The 20-year-old Sudan civil war has claimed more that two million lives and displaced millions more.

The two sides reached an interim peace agreement in 2002, providing for a national unity government for six years, followed by a referendum to determine whether the south should become an independent state.

The chief mediator, Kenyan envoy Lt.-Gen. Lazaro Sumbeiywo, forecast that the present talks could stretch into the middle of this year before compromise solutions to the still-disputed issues are found.

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