Sudan Peace Talks: Cautious Optimism
By: May Ali
Published Thursday, May 31, 2012
While mistrust and mutual recrimination run high, worsening economic conditions could spur Sudan and South Sudan into a truce.
Khartoum - Backed by the threat of UN sanctions, high-level African mediation has succeeded in persuading Sudan and South Sudan to return to the negotiating table. Talks resumed Wednesday in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to discuss the so-called outstanding issues, principally oil and security, that brought the two countries to the brink of all-out war last month.
While the African Union (AU) mediation is a continuation of efforts begun in June last year, it has gone beyond its initial mandate and has assumed the twin roles of reconciling the two sides’ viewpoints and monitoring their compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 2046 and the African Roadmap.
The chief mediator, former South African president Thabo Mbeki, had previously asked both negotiating teams to list the steps they had taken so far to implement the Resolution. At Wednesday’s talks, mediators sought to determine areas of disagreement over compliance to serve as the basis of a preliminary agenda for negotiations. This was due to be discussed Thursday, and if necessary amended in light of the two sides’ observations.
Despite the Security Council warning that either side could face sanctions, including under Chapter VII of the UN charter, if it does not comply with its resolutions, there are numerous obstacles to agreement. Some observers believe the mistrust and mutual recrimination that has dogged previous talks could scupper this round too. There have been calls in northern Sudan for the talks to be abandoned on the grounds that it is futile to negotiate with the southern government, and similar sentiments have been expressed south of the border. Chief southern negotiator Pagan Amum, after arriving in Addis Ababa Tuesday, charged that the Sudanese military was continuing to shell parts of South Sudan and overfly its capital Juba.
Both sides have also been lobbying for the support at the Security Council by seeking to demonstrate their compliance with Resolution 2046 and the other’s failure to abide by it. The Council’s president has been inundated with complaints filed by the two countries’ permanent representatives accusing the other of violations.
The Sudanese representative, Dafaallah al-Hajj, told al-Akhbar he was confident his country was in a strong position regarding compliance with UN resolutions ahead of a Security Council meeting scheduled for Thursday.
Sudan has been working hard to win the backing of Council member-states it deems friendly. The head of the crisis-management team at the Sudanese foreign ministry, Omar Dahab, was dispatched to New York to reinforce his country’s UN delegation and promote Sudan’s case.
Crucially, Khartoum announced just a day before the talks opened in Addis Ababa that it had withdrawn its forces from the disputed district of Abyei, as required by the UN.
The government of South Sudan, for its part, informed Darfur rebel groups belonging to the Kauda Alliance that they would have to leave its territory, a move seen as tacit acknowledgement of Khartoum’s charges that Juba has been harboring and aiding northern insurgents.
These steps helped generate a measure of cautious optimism ahead of the Addis Ababa talks.
However, the economic crises from which both countries are suffering could prove to be the main incentive for them to take the negotiations more seriously, according to Sudanese foreign ministry spokesman Obaid Marwah.
Mbeki’s approach to mediation is also credited by some observers with having calmed tempers. By preceding the talks with a formal request for each side to evaluate its own compliance to date, they say, he highlighted areas of prior agreement and compelled both to face up to their responsibilities, thus prompting them to take a more objective and less emotive approach.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.