'Parallel' Peace Initiatives Seen as Delaying Sudan Peace Deal

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

Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - Hopes for a comprehensive peace agreement in Sudan are being held up by fighting in the western part of the country, and complicated by a "clash" of two separate peace initiatives - one backed by the U.S, the other involving the European Union - according to a Sudanese intelligence source.

The U.S. is actively pushing the main peace talks, currently taking place in Kenya between the Khartoum government and the key rebel group the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

But another conflict, between the government and two smaller rebel groups, has been causing devastation and a significant refugee problem in the western Dafur region, and the EU has gotten involved.

The Sudanese source, who spoke in Nairobi on condition of anonymity, said the EU, realizing that it had "no stake" in the main peace process, had seized the opportunity to become involved in the Dafur issue.

He said the EU recognized that the U.S. "will have significant influence" in post-war southern Sudan and wanted to ensure a future stake for itself by aligning itself with the government as far as the Dafur conflict was concerned.

Kenya-based political analyst James Mwamburi said Wednesday the EU was keen to demonstrate its concerns to the plight of those suffering in Sudan, to avoid a perception by Africans that it is only the U.S. which is keen to see a peaceful future for the country.

He voiced concern that a "parallel" EU peace initiative in western Sudan could cause delays to a resolution of the main conflict, by shifting attention away from the main peace process underway in Kenya.

The EU is trying to bring the government and the two rebel forces, the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, to the negotiating table.

So far, efforts have been unsuccessful. The rebel groups on Tuesday refused to attend a peace conference in the capital, proposed by the government.

Earlier, Khartoum refused to attend peace talks in Geneva, organized by a Swiss-based non-governmental organization (NGO), saying the talks should instead have been held in Sudan.

What was expected to be the final round of the main, Khartoum-SPLA peace process started in Kenya on Feb. 17, but officials say outstanding issues are unresolved.

They include the administration of disputed areas and political power distribution during an envisaged transitional period, during which the two parties will share power.

But even if agreement is reached on those matters, the Sudanese intelligence source said it was unlikely that a peace deal will be signed, as long as the fighting in Dafur continues.

The rebellion in Dafur began a year ago, when non-Arab minorities took up arms against the Arab Islamist government in Khartoum, demanding better representation and economic aid.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced, and aid agencies have termed the humanitarian situation as "very serious."

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir earlier announced that his government had opened up corridors for aid agencies to access victims of the conflict.

But U.S. officials visiting Sudan last week said despite that undertaking, Khartoum was still delaying facilitating quick humanitarian assistance to internally displaced people.

Last year an NGO called the International Crisis Group warned that having numerous peace initiatives in Sudan would jeopardize the main peace process because different players were suggesting different solutions.

At that time, Libya, Egypt, and Djibouti were promoting separate peace initiatives, apart from the main U.S.-backed one, taking place in Kenya.

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