Articles and Analysies
SUDAN: Washington imposes flawed 'peace’ deal
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Jun 6, 2006 - 1:06:00 AM

    SUDAN: Washington imposes flawed 'peace’ deal

Norm Dixon

In the early hours of May 5, the most militarily significant Darfur
rebel group — a faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) led by
Minni Minnawi — reluctantly accepted a flawed “peace” agreement with
Sudan’s authoritarian regime. Contrary to the optimistic claim by US
President George Bush on May 7 that the agreement allows the people of
ravaged Darfur “a chance to begin anew”, the deal imposed by Washington
again leaves the fate of millions of Darfuris dependent on the “good
faith” of Khartoum’s rulers, whose vicious scorched-earth tactics are
responsible for the deaths of up to 450,000 people in western Sudan.

Since 2003, Khartoum has repeatedly broken all promises to disarm and
disband the state-sponsored janjaweed militia responsible for the
massive pogroms against Darfur’s non-Arabic-speaking villagers. Nor,
despite pledges to do so, has it put on trial any perpetrators of
atrocities in Darfur, which include mass rape and mass murder. Sudan’s
army and air force have regularly participated in the attacks, and
actively hindered the inadequate African Union (AU) ceasefire monitoring
force. The Khartoum regime and its bandit allies are systematically
blocking aid supplies reaching millions of people displaced by their
attacks, contributing to tens of thousands of deaths through disease and

In the month before the latest round of negotiations, which began in
Abuja, Nigeria, on April 25, Khartoum’s armed forces and proxies
brazenly launched an offensive against the rebel-controlled Gereida area
in South Darfur. Around 90 villages were attacked and 200,000 people
displaced, bringing the total estimate of “conflict-affected” people in
Darfur to 3.6 million. As late as April 24, government bombers and
helicopter gunships attacked the area.

      Rebels pressured

For all Washington’s tough talk against Khartoum over the years, at the
Abuja talks senior diplomats from the US, Europe and the AU applied
immense pressure on the main Darfur rebel groups — the Minnawi faction
of the SLM, the SLM faction led by Abdel Wahid Mohamed Nur and the
Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) — to agree to a “peace” settlement
before a UN Security Council-endorsed April 30 deadline. Well before
then, the Sudan government’s chief negotiator Majzoubal Khalifa
announced that Khartoum was willing and ready to sign on the dotted line.

However, the draft ignored the liberation movements’ key demands — a
single, autonomous Darfur provincial government (currently there are
three Darfur states), and an additional national vice-president from
Darfur (provisions similar to those in the peace agreement that ended
the north-south civil war in 2005). The rebels were also concerned that
there was no specific timetable for the disarming and disbanding of the
janjaweed, that the number of rebel fighters to be integrated into the
Sudanese armed forces was not specified and that the reconstruction aid
would be inadequate.

Despite being the massively outgunned victims in the conflict, pressure
was heaped on the Darfur groups to “compromise” with the mass murderers
in Khartoum. “Now is the time for you to show leadership and make the
compromises necessary for peace, for the sake of the people of Darfur”,
AU mediator Ahmed Salim lectured the rebels on May 1.

For several years now, US, UN and AU officials have increasingly
attributed blame for the continuation of the Darfur crisis in equal
measure to the rebels and the government. The corporate media has
dutifully followed suit. For example, the “liberal” British Guardian on
May 2 began its report on the talks’ deadlock: “Darfur rebels have
bickered among themselves, violated a ceasefire and even been accused of
attacking peacekeepers. Now they risk being seen as standing in the way
of a peace agreement...” Similar assertions appeared in the New York
Times, Washington Post and other leading Western capitalist media.

The Bush administration ordered US deputy secretary of state Robert
Zoellick to travel to Abuja, arriving May 1, and take charge of the
negotiations to break the stalemate. The French newsagency AFP on May 3
quoted US State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack on Zoellick’s
mission: “It is time for the international community to make it clear to
all these groups they need to make the hard decisions ... for peace so
that the killing can be stopped.”

It soon became clear that Zoellick’s central task was to bully the
Darfur representatives into agreeing to the “take-it-or-leave-it”,
Khartoum-friendly deal. The May 9 Washington Post revealed that at one
point in the drawn-out, sleepless negotiations Zoellick bailed up
Minnawi, who was still wavering over signing, and threatened: “I can be
a very good friend, but I am a fearsome enemy.”

Minnawi succumbed to the pressure. However the Nur-led wing of the SLM
and the JEM refused to sign. “Our people sent us here to bring back
their rights”, explained Abdel Wahid Mohamed Nur to the May 5 New York
Times. “We cannot accept anything less than their minimum rights.”
According to the May 4 New York Times, “a senior State Department
official travelling with Mr Zoellick said the United States and other
nations intended to simply ignore the other two [rebel] groups ...”

On June 1, the Nur-led SLM and the JEM allowed a final deadline to pass.
“We are calling on the United Nations and international mediators to be
patient, not to hurry up, not to force an unacceptable peace on people
of Darfur”, JEM leader Ibrahim Mohamad Khalil told Reuters. The AU is
threatening to impose sanctions on the dissenting rebels.

The rebels’ key political demand for the creation of an autonomous
Darfur province was refused, the only concession being a referendum to
be held sometime after the fighting has ended to decide whether such an
administrative region will be created. There were some improvements on
the initial draft: the number of rebels to be integrated into the
Sudanese armed forces was set at 4000, with another 1000 to join the
police force and 3000 others to be provided education to enable them to
return to the civilian population; and a timetable for the disarmament
of the janjaweed was established.

The fundamental weakness is that the deal’s implementation relies
entirely on Khartoum keeping its promises. There will now be a
month-long “assessment” period, followed by a 45-day “disengagement”
period. Only then is Khartoum required to begin to redeploy its armed
forces from parts of Darfur and start to disarm the janjaweed, to be
completed five months later. While Khartoum officials have said the
Sudanese government will now consider the stationing of an expanded
“international” force in Darfur to oversee the implementation of the
agreement, this will not be in place until after September at the very
earliest and probably many months after that, if at all.

Until then, the under-staffed and under-resourced AU force will be the
only guarantee that Khartoum will end its attacks and rein in the
janjaweed — a task the AU troops have been incapable of enforcing to
date. For all their “humanitarian” rhetoric, US and European governments
have refused to provide adequate funds, equipment and logistics to the
AU soldiers in Darfur, the only force in a position to prevent or
discourage attacks on civilians. Only 6000 of the projected force of
7000 troops are in place, and they are mostly holed up in their barracks
due to a lack of vehicles and fuel.

      Washington opts for Khartoum

Minnawi signed the flawed agreement because he felt that his rebel force
and the Darfuri people as a whole had few other options. As the old
saying goes, “actions speak louder than words”, and the performance of
Robert Zoellick at the talks — and the record of Washington over the
past three and a half years — clearly shows that no matter how
belligerent its public utterances, in private Washington has concluded
that at this stage its strategic interests are best served by the
reactionary National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum.

Significant sections of the anti-imperialist left, the liberal centre
and the pro-imperialist right have all been fooled into believing that
the Bush administration is prepared to launch an Iraq-style military
intervention with the goal of “regime change” in Sudan on the basis of
its rhetoric on Darfur. Washington’s actions reveal that this is not the

The fact that Washington used its diplomatic muscle to force the SLM to
sign a deal approved by Khartoum even as Sudanese government forces and
janjaweed had launched an offensive against Darfuris in Gereida, sent a
signal that Minnawi could not ignore. “If they don’t sign, the horrors
of the last years will be redoubled. Few doubt that Khartoum’s 'Plan B’
is anything other than a large-scale military offensive”, Alex de Waal,
adviser to the AU mediation team, explained according to a May 5 IRIN
news agency report.

Adding to the blackmail has been the West’s appalling response to the
humanitarian crisis in Darfur and eastern Chad. On May 22, Medecins Sans
Frontieres International noted that on April 28 the World Food Program
had been forced, due to the failure of Western governments to honour
financial pledges, to halve the daily rations for the millions receiving
emergency food aid in Darfur — from 2100 calories per person to a below
sustenance level of 1050 calories. As of March 30, just US$131 million
of the $600 million required in 2006 had arrived.

“Flagging donor mobilisation is particularly difficult to understand,
given that the status of the displaced has worsened since last year”,
said MSF’s Darfur mission head Fabrice Weissman. “The international
community is behaving as if it had decided that providing vital aid to
the Darfur populations would depend on the signing of the peace
agreement among the warring parties.”

This is the latest episode in the cynical double game that Washington
has played since the crisis in Darfur began in 2003. While it has loudly
lambasted Khartoum in public, most recently with vague threats of UN
sanctions and hints of NATO intervention, and postured as a defender of
the human rights of the people of Darfur, behind the scenes it has
sought to reach a political accommodation with Sudan’s rulers. The lives
of millions of Darfuris come a far distant second to Washington’s
central political and economic goals in the region: continued close
cooperation of Khartoum’s rulers in the US “war on terror” and eventual
access to southern Sudan’s rich oil resources.

 From Green Left Weekly, June 7, 2006.

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