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Wednesday, April 07, 2004

With International Attention Now on Darfur and Naivasha, the Khartoum Regime is Planning a Major Military Offensive in Equatoria, S. Sudan 

Eric Reeves
April 7, 2004

On the grim anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, international outrage over Khartoum's continuing, systematic destruction of the African civilian population of Darfur---primarily the Fur, Zaghawa, and Massaleit tribal groups---has now reached extraordinary proportions. In addition to powerful editorials and opinion pieces in the Washington Post and the New York Times (the latter calling for a humanitarian intervention, with military protection if necessary), UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has finally spoken with appropriate urgency and insistence:

"U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned on Wednesday that outside military action may be needed in western Sudan to halt 'ethnic cleansing' in the strife-torn Darfur region. Annan said humanitarian workers and human rights experts needed to be given full access to Darfur to administer aid to hundreds of thousands of people driven from their
homes, many into neighboring Chad." (Reuters [Geneva], April 7, 2004)

Predictably, Reuters reports, this assessment was "rejected at once rejected by the Khartoum government" (Reuters, April 7, 2004).

And President Bush today declared:

"The Sudanese Government must immediately stop local militias from committing atrocities against the local population and must provide unrestricted access to humanitarian aid agencies. I condemn these atrocities, which are displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians, and I have expressed my views directly to President Bashir of Sudan."

President Bush further declared that:

"the Government of Sudan must not remain complicit in the brutalization of Darfur. I renew my call to Khartoum to bring the peace process with the SPLM to a just conclusion and to bring peace and justice to Darfur." (Statement from the White House Press Office, April 7, 2004)

But as welcome as these overdue voices are, and for all the encouraging signs from Naivasha about agreements between Khartoum and the SPLM/A on power-sharing and the three contested areas, there is more bad news coming from both Darfur and southern Sudan.

Of Darfur, the UN's News Center reports:

"Nearly 20,000 more internally displaced persons (IDPs) have flooded Sudan's Darfur region over the past week, reporting a campaign of systematic torture and rape by militia groups, which a senior United Nations official recently linked to ethnic cleansing." (UN News Centre, April 7, 2004)

It is critical, however, that increasingly disturbing reports from Darfur not be allowed to obscure the reality and implications of Khartoum's continuing military actions in southern Sudan. For in an extremely ominous development, government and Congressional sources, as well as regional observers, are reporting that there is compelling evidence that Khartoum plans to launch a new military offensive from Torit (Eastern Equatoria) in the next few days.

This offensive will be directed against the Equatorian Defense Forces (EDF), which united with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Armyf last month. Khartoum views this growing rapprochement of southern forces and peoples as a threat to its control of areas in which it now has military garrisons---such as Torit in Eastern Equatoria, and Malakal
at the southern end of the Shilluk Kingdom of Upper Nile Province. The offensive to be launched from Torit will be a reprise of the offensive ongoing in Upper Nile and detailed by this writer (April 6, 2004; available upon request) on the basis of a series of very recent "situation reports" from the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT).

This impending offensive is terribly threatening on several counts. First, it would represent the renewal of fighting in an area that has not seen significant conflict between Khartoum and the SPLA since the two months preceding the October 2002 cessation of hostilities agreement. It would thus mark an extraordinary geographic expansion of
Khartoum's present military activities.

Secondly, in addition to the inevitable loss of civilian life that is the hallmark of Khartoum's military actions, this offensive would also put additional thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people beyond the reach of humanitarian aid. This is presently true for large areas of the Shilluk Kingdom, as reported by CPMT.

Finally, and most consequentially, such a military offensive would clearly signal the meaninglessness of Khartoum's commitment to any agreement negotiated in Naivasha. To understand why this is so, we have only to understand the nature of Khartoum's present offensive in the Shilluk Kingdom. It has been described by the CPMT in detail, with these conclusions:

"Thousands of civilians displaced and in urgent need of humanitarian intervention (numbers given by witnesses in this village estimate displaced at 19,100 between the villages on Diny and Popwojo)

"A CPMT member with 18 months of CPMT field investigative experience described this [offensive in the Shilluk Kingdom] as the worst systematic destruction/displacement of civilians he has personally observed since the formation of the CPMT in August 2002.

"A second CPMT member with over 8 years of Sudan experience and 16 months with CPMT described the Government of Sudan offensive in the Malakal area as reminiscent of the devastating 'clearing' of the oil region in the Western Upper Nile in the late 1990s." (Malakal Area Destruction SITREP # 2; March 31, 2004)

Now the same military horror is about to be loosed from Khartoum's garrison town of Torit. Khartoum must be warned, before the launching of this offensive, that it will be met with the severest of consequences.

This cannot simply be ignored by those negotiating a peace agreement in Naivasha---nor can it be ignored by the US State Department in its current preparation of a report on Khartoum's diplomatic performance at Naivasha, a report that must also ascertain whether the regime has "unreasonably interfered with humanitarian efforts" (language of the
Sudan Peace Act). For this is the report that will guide the Presidential determination on whether Khartoum has "engaged in good faith negotiations to achieve a permanent, just and equitable peace agreement" (language of the Sudan Peace Act).

What should be clear even now, in light of Khartoum's ongoing offensive in the Shilluk Kingdom, is that we have compelling reasons to declare that despite agreements reached in Naivasha, Khartoum's participation is clearly not in "good faith." Moreover, the offensive in the Shilluk Kingdom is more than "unreasonably interfering with humanitarian aid":
it is preventing aid to many thousands altogether. And of course in Darfur, where a million people have been displaced and 3 million are described by the UN as "war-affected," Khartoum has for months widely and systematically denied humanitarian access.

The decision to launch a military offensive from Torit at this time would make a mockery of negotiations at Naivasha, and would signal that whatever Khartoum may feel expediently obliged to sign, there will be no commitment to follow through in the difficult tasks of securing the peace agreed to.

The US, other members of the "troika" in Naivasha (Norway and the UK), and the IGAD countries must urgently warn Khartoum off the launching of this offensive---and stand ready to condemn such an offensive, if it occurs nonetheless, as the deepest affront to the essential ambitions of the Naivasha negotiations.

If this test is failed in Naivasha, there will no further test worth passing.

Eric Reeves
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063
ereeves@smith.edu


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