Press Conference Diplomacy and Darfur Peace
Posted on behalf of Hassan E. Talib. Hassan is a senior research fellow at the Centre for Strategic Studies (CSS), in Khartoum, Sudan
Press conference diplomacy has been resorted to by Sudanese partners of Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed between Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and government of Sudan in Nairobi, Kenya, on January 9, 2005. In one of significant manifestations of resorting to press conference diplomacy to mobilize public opinion, vice president of the Republic of the Sudan Mr. Ali Othman, conducted one on 21 October 2007, at the aftermath of the declaration of the Political Bureau of the (SPLM), which ten days before this press conference has suspended its participation in the Government of National Unity (GONU). This event is a major hurdle that GONU faced since its establishment in October 2005, as per the provisions of the CPA.
At its meeting in the town of Juba, the capital city and seat of the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS), on Thursday October 11, 2007, the SPLM has declared its suspension of participation in GONU.
Mr. Pagan Amum, secretary general of SPLM, cited slowness in implementation of CPA, the stalemate in the talks to resolve the question of Abyei and inaction regarding the works of the Commission on Demarcation of Borders between the North and South, as causes for the decision. Further, Mr. Amum declared to local media that transparency is lacking in the area of wealth-sharing, especially at what concerns the revenue accrued to GOSS from petroleum produced in the South.
On the other hand, the National Congress Party (NCP), the governing party headed by president Omar Hassan Al Bashir which is the other partner in implementation of CPA, has severely criticized the decision of SPLM to suspend its participation in GONU calling it a grave violation of CPA’s provisions.
Majority in local opinion leaders and columnists in Khartoum’s press criticized the SPLM for such a decision. Some of those opinion leaders found a relationship between the timing of the decision of suspension of participation in GONU and the upcoming Darfur talks involving various rebels operating in Darfur region of western Sudan and the government, scheduled to be held in Sirte, Libya on 27 October 2007 under the auspices of the UN and the African Union (AU).
Others believe the surprise comeback of Mr. Yaser Arman, Deputy Secretary General of SPLM, from a self-imposed exile after resigning his seat in the National Assembly, declaring he decided to conduct graduate studies in the US and Australia, has contributed in the current confusion.
Some opinion leaders believe the splinter groups inside SPLM, including some who believe that separation of South from North shall be outright and without delay, tried to press and embarrass the 1st Vice President, General Salva Kiir, who is also the SPLM chairman, to expose him as an aggrieved rival to President Bashir, in an effort to proceed with their own agenda.
The majority in this team of public opinion leaders accuse those whom they call Awlad Garang (Garang’s Children) for igniting the spark that caused the explosion, exposing the dichotomy within various thinking levels, priorities and strategies between those who come from the exile and the other SPLM leaders who witnessed the calamities of war in the harsh forests of the South during the civil armed conflict that lasted 21 years. Another group of press leaders questioned the timing of the decision of suspension of participation in GONU which coincided with the festivals of Muslims celebrating Eidul Fitr, ending the holy month of fasting of Ramadan. Major part of public opinion here deplored the action as a pretext by SPLM to cover up grave failures in building sound infrastructure, delivering services or establishing a real democratic system in the Southern part of the country and trying by such event to convey all the compound failures over to the shoulders of its partner, the NCP.
Many citizens of Southern Sudan are frustrated that after almost 3 years since the signing of CPA in January 2005, no infrastructure, schools, health facilities or programs to rehabilitate the South has been conducted. Instead, many financial scandals and corruption stories have polluted the environment in Southern Sudan during the years its autonomous government was formed. One major such event has resulted in dismissing the former minister of finance of GOSS Mr. Anthony Queen in allegations involving embezzlement of US $ 60 million handed to GOSS by the President of the Republic of the Sudan, Omar Al Bashir before the death of its leader, John Garang.
Despite the frustration and disappointment he has voiced publicly, Mr. Pagan Amum, SPLM Secretary General, states that the SPLM has no intention to return to war again and would prefer to solve all outstanding issues of mutual concern with the NCP through dialogue.
The statement has been contested as accusations came from the Ministry of Defense concerning reports about SPLM build up of forces in states of Upper Nile and Unity states, as well as other areas on the border line between the South and the North.
In this political atmosphere filled with thick smoke of doubt and mistrust between partners of CPA, the vice president of the Republic of the Sudan, Mr. Ali Othman Mohamed Taha, addressed the nation in a press conference that found heavy coverage from national, regional and international media. The vice president, in response to the decision of SPLM to suspend its participation in the GONU has said in the press conference held at the Presidency of the Republic on October 21, 2007, that he sees it as his duty to clarify the attitude of GONU and to convey to the national public opinion the official position of the National Congress Party (NCP) which he is also its Deputy President. Mr. Ali Othman further, stated his aim as to clarify certain ambiguities raised by SPLM on the issue of implementation, to recite the true record about the achievements made by GONU in implementation of CPA and to convey the official position of NCP as a faithful partner in the implementation of CPA, sharing the responsibility in tandem with the SPLM.
The major points that the Vice President has tackled as issues of concern at the press conference included, among others, the following:
CPA’s Mechanisms of Implementation and Monitoring.
The vice president states that CPA has its own mechanisms for implementation. Each mechanism has its matrix of a time-bound schedule of implementation. That fact was present in the mind of the parties as they have agreed for the 6 —year interim period for the referendum. Even before the implementation, a pre-phase period of 6 months has been agreed upon for the parties to prepare for the interim. He talks about the institutional terms of reference which include the interim constitution, the text of CPA, as well as the Assessment and Evaluation Commission (AEC).
The Role of GOSS and its Advancement of Democracy in the South.
The Vice President states that the first setback in the delay for compliance with the stated schedule came as a result of the tragic and sudden death of John Garang, Chairman of SPLM. That has made a gap that took almost ten months — from January to October 2005- to fill by the declaration of the GONU. According to provisions of CPA, formation of GONU and GOSS are the starting two preliminary steps of implementation of CPA and the epicenter of all the operations that involve the implementation. Eventually, SPLM was late to respond to the demand to nominate its candidates in the various commissions called for by CPA. This has become a known reality which has been accepted by all due to the underlying circumstances. This setback has its negative impact on all other matrices that were set to control and govern the time-bound schedules of implementation of CPA.
The Call by SPLM for Intervention by Members in the International Community
The vice president criticizes SPLM for the decision to suspend its participation in GONU calling it a flagrant violation of CPA because it has overlooked the institutions created by CPA to address such hurdles and obstacles that naturally happen in any implementation of such a great achievement that has come after 21 years of fighting. Although the SPLM decried the slowness in implementation, ironically, its very decision has accelerated the already slow motion of implementation in their view; he states. He calls on SPLM to review its decision which will never benefit the citizens of the South nor the national cause of the people of the Sudan who all support peace and hate war.
The Efficacy of Evaluation and Assessment Commission
Counting some of the achievements of the GONU in implementation, the Vice Presidents says that one of the major achievement is the creation of the AEC which is entitled with the assessment and monitoring of implementation. It comprises members of international community who were our partners at the time of negotiations to bring peace. It is entrusted by the job of assessment. So why SPLM oversees that responsibility and not wait for the assessment of AEC, preferring instead to make its own subjective one-sided evaluation? The vice president questions. He adds that the call of international community is not appropriate since we have the Norway presides over AEC which includes in its membership, the AU, the EU, the US, Britain, Netherlands, Italy, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and others who are entrusted by the UN and the international community, as well as the provisions of CPA to do this job. The AEC has finished assessment of the implementation in areas of wealth sharing, power sharing and security arrangements, where three reports have been reviewed to date. So, any call to bring new members of international community to review implementation is a stark violation of CPA, it is not acceptable to us and it is not called for; the vice president reiterated.
The National Census Committee (NCC)
The Institution of the Presidency of the Republic (IOP) has agreed after reviewing the report presented by the chair of the NCC, few weeks ago, that operation for census start in February 2008. In order to boost the momentum of implementation NCP suggested to IOP that partners conduct meeting on weekly basis to accelerate implementation. The agreed upon measures have specified that the meeting which will take place in the 1st week, has to take in its agenda review of implementation in the area of security arrangements; the 2nd week’s meeting shall review the works of the Cease-fire Political Commission; the 3rd week’s meeting would have to handle the issue of Abyei, power-sharing and etc; This arrangement has been agreed to by SPLM members participating in the meeting. Unfortunately, SPLM Political Bureau has overseen this achievement while counting the works awaited to be implemented to carry out the provisions of CPA. One of the issues agreed upon was the festival of the celebration to commemorate completion of 3 years of signing of CPA which is to take place in January 2008. The proposal has been agreed to by IOP; the Vice President states.
Activities of the Institution of the Presidency
The vice president states that the IOP has started measures to issue a decree on the formation of the National Commission on Human Rights and to nominate its members which are underway. The parties have conducted intensive meetings since January 2007 aiming at evaluation and assessment of implementation and suggesting ways and means to overcome obstacles that stand in the way of implementation as raised by the specialized commissions. During the period September 15-16, 2007, the IOP has tackled the issues of border demarcation, reviewed the report presented by the Chair of the Commission on Demarcation of Borders which suggested that works on ground would start by February 2, 2007, after having completed the works for collection of maps and formation of technical ground work teams. The report also, included proposals about selection of the protection and security packages that form part of the operation processes. The IOP commended the report and agreed that a second follow-up meeting should take place immediately after the end of Ramadan.
The Progress Report on Abyei
In the issue of Abyei, the Vice President says that an agreement has already been reached at the level of the Institution of the Presidency, which comprises the president, the 1st Vice President and the Vice President, regarding the issues of population census, Abyei and the demarcation of borders. All the works has been carried out through the specialized commissions, as cited in CPA. The ground operations for the demarcation of borders were agreed on by the parties to begin early February 2007, due to the rainy season in the area which terminates by that period. Also, SPLM decision of suspension has strangely coincided with the operations of the Joint Commission on Abyei which has looked into the possibility of marking the border line of Abyei area in order to set the platform for the works of the Interim Administration of Abyei, as per the provisions of CPA; the vice president added.
Inclusiveness of CPA to All Sudanese Citizens.
The vice president says CPA provisions address not only the dispute in Southern Sudan or the two partners who signed it but extend its umbrella to cover every Sudanese citizen who shall find specific rights and other entitlements due to him or her in the text of the agreement. He urges SPLM to show the Sudanese people its White Book on implementation of CPA provisions to all citizens of Southern Sudan. He reiterates that NCP does not look at itself as a political party that is gaining political victory by stopping the war in the South; rather it looks for a strong partner for attaining to sustainable peace in the Sudan.
Conduct of GOSS and Delivery of Services to Southern Sudan Citizens
The vice president challenges SPLM to provide evidence of its good governance in areas of democratic practice and basic freedom at the level of GOSS, stating that: "He who lacks something can not donate the same to others"… He expresses concern about allegations raised by a wide segment of the public opinion in Southern Sudan and leaders of political opposition parties regarding the practice and behavior of SPLM in democratic governance, accountability, transparency and delivery of services in the South. He states that SPLM has got its share in wealth fully, as per the provisions of CPA, but the people in Southern Sudan would like to see to which projects these funds have been earmarked.
This question is raised in particular, at a time where floods, rain storms and security hazards have a negative impact on the life of citizens in the region during the current year; he states.
The public outcry in Southern Sudan today, is that no transparency, no accountability, no information nor record has yet been shown to convince the citizen in Southern Sudan of the good conduct of the GOSS.
Projects Undertaken by GONU above the Mandate Specified by CPA
The Vice President stated that the GONU have executed various projects in Southern Sudan that its mandate and provisions of CPA do not require it to perform, yet these project were conducted as an expression of good will of the part of GONU to the citizens of Southern Sudan. Mr. Ali Othman says that the GONU has supported and promoted the capacity of GOSS in areas of development and services, through providing more than US $140 million. In addition, GONU has given up its share in revenues accrued to it by the provisions of CPA which was left as financial aid to GOSS. Further, a letter of guarantee by GONU for an amount of US $238 million has been forwarded for the Meiram — Malakal road; another US $80 million for the Rank-Malakal road; an amount of US $34 million for the Juba International Airport; also, another amount of US $39 million for the services needed to rehabilitate the river transport in the Southern region, in addition to various grants and financial aid to support GOSS’s projects in areas of water, health, education, as well as construction of the new University Rumbek.
To this, we add the various projects that have been constructed by the Ministry of Energy and Mining at Unity State, where more than 1500 kilometers of paved roads have been constructed, including health centers, electricity generating stations, water wells and other facilities to support the local population living around the areas of oil exploration and production sites.
Commitment of NCP to the Implementation of CPA
The Vice President states that NCP is committed to the implementation of CPA and has no intention to return to war. He adds that responsibility of implementation does not hang on one party, it is the mutual responsibility of SPLM and NCP. The solid will of the people of the Sudan is unequivocal and capable of implementing the CPA without foreign interference. No other outside elements shall be called on to intervene; he states. He recalls that the Oslo Conference for Donors which pledged billions of dollars to the process of rehabilitation in Southern Sudan and in areas affected by the war has become a fiasco. Majority among the donors shows little concern to meet the obligation as has been pledged in the said conference, he says.
The vice president urged the donors, time and again, to comply with their pledges for rehabilitation.
Compliance with the Constitution
The Vice President affirms that the GONU shall never transcend the constitution or the provisions of CPA and urges SPLM to consider its decision to suspend participation in the GONU. He reiterates that the Ceasefire Political Commission is entitled by provisions of CPA to address issues regarding security, share of power or wealth, as well as every issue that may stand as obstacle in the way of implementation.
The vice president accuses the anti-Sudan lobby, which is hostile to peace in Sudan in general and to CPA, in particular, in igniting the spark of this conflict at a time where the country is poised to participate in the Sirte conference in Libya on October 27, 2007, between the Darfur rebels and the government. He says that the coincidence of the decision of suspension of participation in GONU and the timing of the talks with Darfur rebels could never be a haphazard happening, it is deliberately targeted; he adds.
President Al Bashir has endorsed the reshuffle suggested by SPLM for the ministers representing it in the GoNU’s cabinet. Those included, among others, Dr Lam Akol from Foreign Affairs to the Ministry of Council of Ministers’ Affairs, replacing its former minister Deng Alor, who has to become minister of foreign affairs. A new face to the cabinet from SPLM’s team is Dr Mansour Khaled, a Northerner and former minister of Foreign Affairs in the regime of Jaafar Numeiri (1969-1985) who has been appointed as minister of External Trade. Mr. Khaled was also the former adviser to the late leader of SPLM, Mr. John Garang. Efforts regarding taking of oath for the newly appointed ministers are underway. As per the provisions of CPA, SPLM has to bag portfolios for eight ministers in the national cabinet of the GONU.
In line with the strategy of press and public diplomacy, president Omar Al Bashir, in a statement before the National Assembly (the parliament), inaugurating its winter session on October 24, 2007, calls on SPLM, once more, to consider its decision to suspend participation in GONU. President Al Bashir says that peace is a joint responsibility between the two partners, as well as a common responsibility of all Sudanese citizens rather than a one-sided process. The President adds that CPA is equipped with mechanisms of its own, which both warrant and assess implementation of its provisions by the two partners. There is no need that one partner imposes its views on implementation on the other. The mechanisms set by CPA shall uphold that duty, the President of the Republic states.
Likewise, the 1st vice president of the Republic of the Sudan, General Salva Kiir Mayardit, who is also president of the South Sudan government, formed in compliance with provisions of CPA, addressed the Sudanese people, in a press conference held in Juba on October 22, 2007, called for neighboring countries in the region to save CPA. He also stated that SPLM was serious in its quest for peace and does not want to see CPA to fall apart. Further, he added that SPLM will never return to war.
In another regional venue, relating to the events in Khartoum, at the Sirte (Libya) Conference for Peace Talks on Darfur, Libya, the UN, the AU and Sudan government have agreed to hold talks with rebels opposed to Abuja Peace Agreement of May 2006. The conference, which colonel Mu’amar al-Gadafi, leader of the Libyan revolution, agreed to host, has been convening since October 27, 2007. Two factions considered to be the oldest among the rebel groups, namely Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) of Mr. Abdelwahid Nour and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) of Khalil Ibrahim, were adamant in their resistance to attempts to attend the peace talks. The reasons cited were: presence of other splinter Darfuri factions, amounting to more than 14 by now, in some counts, participation of Darfuri civil society representatives and the mistrust they generally feel toward the government in Khartoum.
A major characteristic the current talks in Sirte glares, is that majority among the negotiators are civil society, local NGOs operating in Darfur and presence of groups of Arab militias fighting the Sudan government in Darfur, having participated for the first time in any talks for peace in Darfur.
The Bush administration, which maintains good public relations with the two major groups boycotting the Sirte peace talks, has moral obligation to pressure them to participate in these talks. Calling what happened in Darfur genocide, while stand mute about this stalemate is not acceptable. The government of the Sudan has been subject to ferocious sanctions by the US government in line with the administration’s pledge that it will not tolerate any party that stand in the way of peace in Darfur. Now there is a real test for the administration to show balance and integrity toward its declared policy of peace in Darfur. If action is not taken to save the Sirte conference from failure, such act will demonstrate the Bush administration as having no serious interest for realization of peace in Darfur. Unfortunately, this is the feeling of a wide segment of public opinion in Khartoum, and in Arab and Muslim world.
On the other hand, what has been seriously threatening peace in Sudan in general and the talks in Sirte, in particular, to come to a viable conclusion, is the recent declaration by former rebel groups of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, SPLM, who signed a peace deal with the Khartoum government in January 2005 which resulted in stopping a 21 years-old blood shed in Southern Sudan.
The SPLM on October 11 suspended its participation in the National Unity government.
So, if the situation in Darfur is left to escalate to the mercy and whims of rebel factions opposing to Sirte peace talks, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005 with SPLM can become the first casualty.