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SUDAN: Time running out for "powder keg" - former diplomats
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Feb 1, 2010 - 7:14:11 AM

SUDAN: Time running out for "powder keg" - former diplomats

Photo: Peter Martell/IRIN
Patients recover in a southern Sudanese hospital (file photo): There has been an upsurge in violence in the south
NAIROBI, 1 February 2010 (IRIN) - The peace agreement which ended years of war between north and south Sudan could unravel unless immediate steps are taken to salvage it, two key former diplomats say.

"Today, five years after the historic Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed between North and South Sudan, there is a real threat of an all-out war returning to Sudan and still no permanent resolution to the Darfur conflict," Lt-Gen Lazarus Sumbeiywo and John Danforth warned.

Sumbeiywo was chief mediator at the peace talks between Sudanese parties in the central Kenyan town of Naivasha. Danforth was US envoy for peace in Sudan.

Five years after the signing of the CPA, the former diplomats wrote in Kenya’s EastAfrican newspaper that crucial provisions have not been implemented. Conditions across the country had also deteriorated.

"Unless international support is dramatically increased to help North and South Sudan agree on the foundations of their future, we fear the [April 2010] elections and [2011] referendum may throw the country back into massive war," they said.

On Darfur, they said violence had increased yet the root causes of the conflict had not been addressed. "The situation in Eastern Sudan and the three transitional areas of Abyei, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile remains volatile as well."

Last week, US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said Washington was concerned about the flow of arms, including heavy weapons, into southern Sudan. Her government, Rice added, believed the arms were coming from northern Sudan and neighbouring countries. The Sudanese government denied the allegations.

Upsurge in violence

On 30 January, African Union (AU) Commission Chairman Jean Ping described the situation as a powder keg.

"Is the war between north and south at risk of resuming despite what has been said?… Will the independence of Southern Sudan not lead other players in Darfur and in other places, which are currently not asking for independence, to seek independence as Southern Sudan will have done?" Ping asked on Radio France International.

"We have a feeling that we are sitting on a powder keg," he added.

There has been a recent upsurge of violence in the south. For example, at least 140 people were killed and 90 wounded in a January attack on Wunchai Region of Warrap State.

Aid agencies say at least 2,500 people were killed in 2009 and 350,000 fled their homes, "a human toll greater than occurred last year in Darfur".

In a recent statement, they warned of several possible flashpoints over the next 12 months including the presidential, legislative and local elections in April - the first in 24 years - and a referendum in early 2011 on whether Southern Sudan becomes independent.

Small Arms Survey report

A separate report by the Small Arms Survey on 15 December said Sudan’s future appeared increasingly precarious.

"Despite progress made in recent days, the peace process continues to lurch from one crisis to the next," it noted. "Just three months ago the head of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) predicted a 50 percent chance of a return to war with President Omar al-Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP)."

It said obstacles to progress on talks on Darfur were many: Major armed groups remain splintered and the Arab militias were increasingly disenchanted.

"In parallel with these troubling developments, the demand for small arms and light weapons - and some larger conventional weapons systems - among government forces, insurgents, and unaligned groups in the country has grown considerably," the survey said.

Arms imports and internal transfers had continued despite a UN embargo and other multilateral restrictions designed to prevent weapons from reaching some Sudanese actors and areas. The presence of 25,000 international peacekeepers had also not helped, it said.

On 29 January, Amnesty International warned that the elections could lead to a deterioration of the human rights situation across the country and an upsurge of armed conflict, particularly in Darfur and the south.

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