Cautious Optimism as Peace Agreement Looms in Sudan

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - Analysts are optimistic that Sudan's comprehensive peace agreement will be signed soon. The optimism follows Thursday's agreement on the country's transition security arrangement, previously seen as the most contentious issue in efforts to resolve the 20 year-old conflict.

However, there are fears that elements on both sides could scuttle the progress achieved so far.

The government of Sudan and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) have now agreed on security arrangements for the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile and Abyei areas of conflict, whose territories are claimed by both sides.

The agreement comes after three weeks of intense negotiations between SPLA leader John Garang and Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha in the Kenyan town of Naivasha, 150 kilometers from the capital Nairobi.

David Mozersky of the International Crisis Group think tank termed the steps taken by both parties as "very significant" and "enormously positive."

"They have overcome one of the most difficult and contentious issues in the peace talks," he said.

SPLA spokesman Samson Kwanje said the security arrangement involves deploying separate armies in south and north of Sudan, under the command of Garang and Sudan President Hassan al-Bashir respectively.

Further, a 20,000-man joint army comprising troops from both sides will be set up to operate within disputed areas, with al-Bashir as commander-in-chief.

The deal requires Khartoum to withdraw 80 percent of its forces from the south within two years of the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement. The Islamic government currently has 90,000 troops in the mostly Christian and animist south.

For its part, the SPLA will maintain 80 percent of its army in south during a six-year interim period, due to start in January 2004.

Delegates said the two parties would now be left to work on two remaining issues - how to share power and the significant oil wealth, currently controlled by the government.

Unconfirmed reports said that the final agreement could be signed as early as mid-October, in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. government is expected to act as "guarantor" to safeguard and monitor the implementation of the peace agreement.

Its main feature is the right of self-determination for the south, if approved by a referendum following the transition period.

International Crisis Group Africa Program director John Prendergast said "hardliners" on both sides may still scuttle the peace process.

Those on the Khartoum side believed they could win control of oil fields by military means, and favored continuing fighting to see how far they could "stretch the international community."

On the other side, some "battle hardened" rebels still believed they could win the war, and that through alliances with northern opposition groups, they could detribalize the government he said.

The best solution, Prendergast said, would be to accommodate other interest groups in Sudan, apart from Khartoum and the SPLA.

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