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Saturday, November 20, 2004

Context on "historic" agreement  

Some context for today's "historic" agreement on a prospective peace
deal between the Khartoum regime and the Sudan People's Liberation
Movement/Army: a return to January 2004---

Eric Reeves
November 19, 2004

[excerpt from analysis of January 22, 2004]

Some very recent history [bearing on progress in the Naivasha peace
talks]. First there was a missed December 31, 2003 deadline for
concluding an agreement---a deadline demanded by the US, and to which
both Khartoum and the SPLM/A committed themselves. Even as the deadline
was passing, however, President Omer Beshir was reported as declaring
emphatically that:

"a definitive peace deal with the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army
[would be reached] next week, the official daily Al-Anbaa reported
Tuesday. 'Next week could see the signing of a final agreement on the
questions of sharing of power, sharing of resources and the three
contested areas,' Beshir was quoted as saying." (Agence France-Presse,
December 30, 2003 [Khartoum])

Though Khartoum did nothing to see this prediction into reality, the
same general, if troublingly extended, time-frame was promulgated by NIF
foreign minister Mustafa Ismail the week following the completion of a
wealth-sharing agreement between the two sides on January 6, 2004.
Speaking in Cairo, Ismail declared,

"'I am optimistic that in a short while we will manage to sign the
peace accord,' he said, adding the time-frame proposed up until now was
the end of January. 'We are continuing to hope (to be able to respect
the deadline), but in my opinion, even if we exceed this date, it will
not take much time' to conclude a settlement, the minister said. 'I'm
not speaking of months, but perhaps weeks.'" (Agence France-Presse,
January 13, 2004 [Cairo])

But of course the day after Ismail's pronouncement President Beshir
precipitously declared that the last major issue outstanding---the
status of the three contested areas of Abyei, the Nuba Mountains, and
Southern Blue Nile---was not within the purview of the Naivasha
negotiations, despite the fact that such status was precisely what
Khartoum's negotiators acknowledged they were then discussing, and
despite Beshir's own earlier (December 30, 2003) reference to
negotiations on this very subject (see above). But Beshir's
disingenuous and peremptory comments again retarded the diplomatic
process and commandeered what news attention was being garnered by the
peace talks.

Now, following this pattern of clear delay, misdirection, and
obfuscation, the key negotiator has decided out of the blue that he will
depart on January 24, 2004 for Mecca. Taha no doubt counts on the fact
that the Haj is an act of Islamic religious devotion, and will thus
insulate him from criticism that this is an inappropriate time for
religious observance, given the extraordinary urgency of peace for
Sudan. But there is good reason for skepticism about the genuineness of
Taha's religious urges. This pilgrimage on his part was not announced
in any fashion, or even known of, prior to its becoming expediently
useful. Indeed, as the comments above on peace agreement deadlines by
Beshir and Ismail make clear, there was nothing on the horizon as
represented by the NIF even ten days ago.

In short, Taha's Haj has come without any warning, without any
explanation, even as he would certainly have known that his absenting
himself from Naivasha would force a suspension of the peace negotiations
(a fact baldly acknowledged on January 21, 2004 [Reuters] by Ahmed
Dirdeiry, the NIF deputy ambassador in Nairobi who broke the news of
Taha's Haj). How likely is it that, knowing of the extremely
consequential nature of his Haj, Khartoum's key negotiator would have
said nothing earlier to the man who is leading the IGAD talks, Kenya's
Lazarus Sumbeiywo?

Indeed, Sumbeiywo was incredulous when confronted by Reuters with the
news of Taha's Haj:

"The chief mediator of the talks, Kenyan Lazaro Sumbeiywo, said Taha
had not mentioned any upcoming absences or a break in the talks and cast
doubt on the comments [about the Haj] out of Khartoum. 'He hasn't told
me of any break that is coming up,' Sumbeiywo said. 'I don't think he
would want to leave without an agreement. It would mean that he is not
serious, and yet I know he is serious in these talks. There are two
camps in Khartoum: those who want to get an agreement and those who
don't,' Sumbeiywo said. 'This claim that he is going for the Haj could
be from those who are against.'" (Reuters, January 20, 2004)

Sumbeiywo has it exactly right: Taha's leaving for his Haj "would mean
that he is not serious" about the peace talks---that this is the action
of someone who "doesn't want" a peace agreement.

[end excerpt]

***********************

November 19, 2004:

Khartoum has signed an agreement committing the regime to reach a final
peace agreement by the end of the year. Yet it refused from May until
October of this year to engage in negotiations over the remaining
technical issues (all issues of substance had been negotiated, and
codified in protocols signed on May 26, 2004).

The National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum counts on short
international spans of attention. It has been richly rewarded in such
presumption.



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