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U.S. Policy on Sudan and South Sudan: The Way Forward”

By Donald Booth 

 

Continued from yesterday 

 

These conflicts—in Darfur, in the Two Areas, like those previously in the East and in the South, each had unique manifestations, but they were all symptoms of a common national ill. For too long, the focus of conflict resolution efforts in the peripheries—and the supporting international architecture—was focused regionally. Fortunately, the international community has increasingly come to recognize this reality, one framed eloquently in 2009 by President Mbeki, when he described not a “Darfur problem in Sudan”, but a “Sudan problem in Darfur”. We must ensure that this recognition is reflected in our own policy approach, that of other engaged countries and institutions, and in the international architecture we mandate to resolve conflict.

The advent in 2012 of the Sudan Revolutionary Front further illustrates the point, as different armed movements (and unarmed actors)—aware of the government’s attempts to isolate them and address their grievances through separate processes—coalesced in recognition of the national nature of their struggle and of any sustainable solution.

In Darfur, the government and one rebel movement signed the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), but this failed to change Darfur’s realities. Five years later, the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) was signed—but again, it lacked the endorsement of the major Darfuri armed movements. Again, the DDPD, despite its efforts to engage those most affected by conflict, its thoughtful provisions, and its continuing potential to deliver local recovery and development, has gone largely unimplemented. As with prior regional agreements, civilian security, meaningful governance reforms, accountability, and an equitable distribution of resources remain elusive. Instead, we have sadly witnessed a resurgence of violence in Darfur, as well as in the Two Areas, much of it again generated—directly and indirectly—by the state.

 

In addition to clashes between armed opposition and the Sudanese Armed Forces, aerial bombardment and the introduction of so-called “Rapid Support Forces (RSF)” proved particularly devastating to civilian populations. RSF units have not only fought opposition movements, but attacked civilians, burned villages, and displaced thousands as part of what appears to be a deliberate campaign. Meanwhile, inter-tribal fighting and shifting alliances, conflict between opposition factions, and opportunistic banditry, when coupled with dried-up patronage networks and laid atop a competition for resources, have made for an increasingly complex security landscape. And the continuing environment of impunity contributes to sustained cycles of violence.

 

Meanwhile, the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID)—with a broad mandate to boost security, protect civilians, and implement successive peace agreements—while at the same mediating new peace—continues to face challenges. These include attacks on peacekeepers, key personnel and asset shortages, and access restrictions. The mission has also been met with performance criticism. To this end, the UN Security Council last month adjusted the mandate so as to maximize the mission’s impact and focus on the core task of civilian protection. We are meanwhile working with the UN, AU, and troop contributing partners to reinforce our collective support for UNAMID.

In the Two Areas, where another 100,000 people have been newly displaced in the last six months, an escalation of conflict can be attributed largely to two government offensives, including RSF assaults and heavy aerial bombardment. These bombardments include what appears to be deliberate targeting of humanitarian infrastructure and supply lines, to include hospitals and clinics. I have been closely involved in intermittent talks over the last year between the government and the SPLM-North, facilitated by the AU Panel. Talks struggled to advance in part because there was no realistic mechanism to make parallel progress

 

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for Darfur—again a recognition that neither an end to fighting nor political solutions could be reached in compartmentalized fashion. What was needed was a path for all parties to confront Sudan’s problems together, in the context of a national framework. 

The Way Forward With this in mind, I’d like to outline what we see is a viable way forward toward a meaningful National Dialogue that brings the armed groups on board, and helps bring a permanent end to the conflicts. These three steps constitute the approach now being advanced by President Mbeki and the AU Panel, and we fully support them in this regard:

 

1) Resumption of Security Talks, toward cessation of hostilities arrangements and humanitarian access in both Darfur and the Two Areas. These two tracks must necessarily be advanced in a parallel and coordinated manner, and should be facilitated by the AU Panel with support from the UN. Each track must address local issues, but broader coordination is necessary to reflect the realities of armed engagement on the ground. These agreements should also identify a common path to a permanent ceasefire, to hinge on inclusive political dialogue and a broadly endorsed outcome.

2) A Pre-Dialogue meeting outside Sudan, bringing together representatives of the government, opposition parties, the armed opposition, and other important constituencies, who together agree the terms, timeline, and objectives of the National Dialogue..

3) Additional Confidence-Building Measures would then signal good faith and create an environment conducive to open dialogue. These might include release of political prisoners, easing of restrictions on political activity and public expression, and mutual observance of agreed Cessations of Hostilities.

These steps would provide the groundwork to begin a credible National Dialogue inside Sudan, ideally facilitate by President Mbeki or another independent actor. Meanwhile, it is essential that the international community speaks with one voice in support of this strategy, including key voices from the African Union, the Arab League, Qatar, China, Europe, the Troika, and Sudan’s immediate neighbors. Again, we welcome the stated intent of the National Dialogue, and will continue to follow it closely.

 

US-Sudan Bilateral Relations This brings me to a final and critically important discussion, of our bilateral relationship with Sudan. The relationship between Khartoum and Washington has for too long been characterized by mistrust and miscommunication. So deep is the mistrust, and so infrequent is the opportunity for constructive dialogue, that the underlying interests and objectives are often miscommunicated. Let me make absolutely clear, that the United States’ long term interest in Sudan is—as it is in every country—a normal bilateral relationship, where our countries work together on common interests. Our interest is a democratic and prosperous Sudan, one at peace with itself and with its neighbors. It is a Sudan with which the United States can trade, can partner, and can contribute to the unbounded potential which African states and America can achieve together, as partners.

Our concern for marginalized populations, our interests in the resolution of deadly internal conflicts, and our support for democratic governance derive from principles that reach far beyond Sudan’s borders. They orient us in our posture toward states and partners around the globe, and they will remain enduring elements of any U.S. relationship with Sudan. But we stand ready to work with the Sudanese on these issues, and on a range

 

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of other areas of mutual interest and potential cooperation. The majority of the Sudanese people have no interest in a collapsing economy, no interest in war or divisive politics, no interest in extremism or international isolation. They seek what we seek, a new chapter in Sudan, one in which this country of vibrant communities and rich history succeeds.

Despite the disappointments of the past, I believe there remains an opportunity to realize a better relationship; and we must engage toward this end. We cannot accept a Sudan mired in conflict or a relationship lost to mistrust—the tumult of the region in recent years demonstrates the vital importance of stability and mutual engagement. We must together chart a course forward. To this end, I reiterate my readiness, and that of my government, to engage the Sudanese in a more frank and frequent exchange, to visit Khartoum, and to discuss the full range of issues that frame our bilateral relationship.

SUDAN – SOUTH SUDAN: Continuing Inter-Connectivity

In closing, I would like to address the relationship and continued inter-connectivity between Sudan and South Sudan, which remains critically important to us, to the region, and to the long term strategic interests of both countries. The September 27 Agreements of 2012—which the United States played a critical supporting role in brokering—identified solutions for critical post-referendum issues, helped prevent renewed conflict between Sudan and South Sudan, and—importantly—recognized the inevitability and opportunity of their continued inter-connectivity. And while many successes can be cited, many critical elements also remain unimplemented. And thus while focus has turned to the domestic situations in both countries, and while domestic stability is a critical ingredient in solid relations between the two states, we must also remain vigilant about the state of bilateral relations between the two. Areas to watch include:

 

1. Trade and Mutual Economic Viability: The economic interests of the two countries are, for the foreseeable future, best served by continued economic cooperation and the notion--popularized at separation--of “two mutually viable states”. Oil production remains a lifeblood for both, and a renewed and equitable agreement on the joint export of oil—to be revisited in 2016—is a necessary bedrock of mutual economic viability in the medium term. Meanwhile, as the largest concentrations of populations in both countries are located near the shared border, the full potential of cross-border trade and movement remains unrealized. Free trade and movement across historical corridors can build a value chain that binds and stabilizes the borderlands and the two countries. Furthermore, the September 27 agreements included an arrangement in which Sudan agreed to assume all pre-secession sovereign debt, provided the two countries work together to secure debt relief from creditor countries. We’ve welcomed Sudan and South Sudan’s flexibility in extending this so-called “zero option”, and we remain available for discussions with the Sudanese on the steps necessary to realize debt relief. We will meanwhile continue to press Juba to follow through on its commitment to joint outreach.

2. Borders and Security: Recent history demonstrates that instability in one state can register deep impact in the other. The two countries’ shared border—one of the longest in Africa—remains a centerpiece of this security interdependence. Political tension in 2011, the presence of oil reserves near the border, disputes over demarcation, the market for cross-border trade, and the proximity of populations meant this frontier was then, and remains, both a critical security concern and a frontier of essential cooperation. Fortunately, the dangerous postures assumed by armies on either side in 2011 did not escalate, but the posturing underscored the need for a border security and maintenance regime. The mechanisms

 

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envisioned in the September 27 agreements—principally the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone (SDBZ) and its ten crossing corridors—were intended to facilitate joint border management and reduce the trust deficit. But neither side has invested the political capital necessary to fully operationalize these mechanisms and thereby realize the opportunities of a normalized border. Unless and until these mechanisms are operationalized, the border will remain both an irritant and a drag on shared potential.

In this context, I want also to reiterate our strong concern about destabilizing activity being advanced on both sides of the border, and call for an end to support to armed proxies, as agreed. The vision of two countries living side by side in peace will not be fulfilled as long as either state continues to pursue such narrow and short-sighted cross-border activity. It must end now.

3. Abyei: Sadly the final status of Abyei remains unresolved, its people marooned in a state of limbo and insecurity. And as long as it is unresolved, and seasonal migrations continue without agreed terms, the potential to draw the two countries back into wider conflict persists. An inward turn in both countries—most notably in South Sudan—has virtually stopped all bilateral negotiations on outstanding post-referendum issues—including the final status of Abyei, while concurrent disputes over the establishment of joint local administration has brought progress on local stability, administration, and development to a halt. We remain deeply concerned about this fragile situation, and are working with UNISFA to help improve the humanitarian situation and manage tensions. The final resolution of this dispute, however, is the responsibility of both governments, and we continue to believe the September 2012 Mbeki Plan remains the most viable path to fair and lasting resolution of this dispute. In the interim, we must do all we can to improve the lives and livelihoods of the residents of Abyei, as well as of those who regularly migrate through the area.

In closing, let me underscore that focused U.S. engagement with Sudan and South Sudan is as robust—and remains as important—as at any time in recent history. And to that end I welcome the continued engagement, advocacy, ideas, and support of the many dedicated individuals and institutions who have long been friends of the people of Sudan and South Sudan. The writer is the US Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan 

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