Sudan Peace Watch - December 21, 2010

With voter registration complete and less than a month before voting is set to begin, referendum preparations and negotiations for post-referendum arrangements continue in Sudan. Tensions continue to run high, with an increasing number of returnees, violence along the border, and a failure to reach an agreement on Abyei. In Darfur, renewed fighting continues to imperil civilians despite some progress at the negotiations in Doha.

Here are the key developments covered in this issue:

  • Plans for the referendum proceed despite abuse and legal challenges: Sudanese and international observers hail the completion of voter registration, but abuses against returnees becomes increasingly common and new legal threats to the proceedings emerge.

  • An increase in violence and still no deal on Abyei: Negotiations on other aspects of the post-referendum arrangements continue, but a deal on Abyei proves elusive. Meanwhile, aerial bombardments add to volatility around key border areas. 

  • Hostilities in areas of Darfur increase but small progress is seen in Doha: While insecurity prevails in the area of Khor Abeche and the signing of a peace deal is postponed, the Justice and Equality Movement agree to negotiate a ceasefire with the government.

1) Southern Referendum

With the voter registration process nearly completed, the number of registered voters as of December 14 has been estimated at over 3.2 million. Voting for the southern diaspora in five cities in the United States continues until December 22 to make up for initial delays.

International and national observers of the voter registration have both agreed that the process was largely credible and peaceful. The Carter Center, which has deployed 50 observers in Sudan and 26 observers in the eight countries where the diaspora is able to vote, stated that the process was “generally credible” and “represents a strong step toward the successful conduct of the referendum,” despite “several logistical, procedural, and security challenges,” “security incidents” in Akobo and Kiir Adem, and “a few isolated incidents of intimidation.” Similarly, two Sudanese observer groups, the Sudanese Network for Democratic Elections and the Sudanese Group for Democracy and Elections,asserted that registration was “conducted free from violations that could significantly impact the integrity of the process, despite some shortcomings with key preparations and planning.” They also noted “scattered incidents of intimidation and observer obstruction” but that they “did not seem to be part of a broader pattern, and potential registrants were generally able to participate in the process without constraint.”

However, several legal complaints challenging the legitimacy of the registration process have been filed with Sudan’s Constitutional Court, which is controlled by Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party. The Court is currently in the process of considering two of the challenges, which could require that the work of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, or SSRC, be suspended, that the SSRC be completely dissolved, and that the voter registration process be re-started—which could delay the referendum significantly, thereby causing insecurity on the ground. The southern ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, or SPLM, has accused the National Congress Party, or NCP, of being behind the legal challenges, while the head of the SSRC has dismissed them, saying that they have “absolutely no substance.”

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has assured the South and the international community that the NCP is “committed to accept the results—whether unity or secession—as long as the referendum is conducted in a free, fair and transparent manner.”

Preparations for the referendum, scheduled to take place on January 9, are progressing, despite a significant funding deficiency. The head of the SSRC said that the ballots will arrive late tomorrow or early on Thursday, giving the referendum organizers enough time to distribute them throughout the South before January 9. However, the U.S. Department of State reports that there still remains a “significant gap” between the funding Khartoum and the Government of South Sudan are supposed to provide and what they have disbursed.           

Tens of thousands of southerners living in the North have been returning to the South in preparation for the referendum and the backlash that might follow. According to Mireille Girard, the Deputy Representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, over 55,000 southerners have returned to the South. Unity State, which shares a border with the North, has drawn the highest number of returns, with 19,000 people returning to the state in the last two months.

As returns to the South continue in large numbers, there have been reports of incidents, ranging from road blocks, to harassment, and sexual abuse of southerners moving southward, in a sign of heightened emotions around the border. Misseriya in Kharasana, northeast of Abyei in Southern Kordofan state, reportedly blocked and detained a large number of buses—reports and Enough’s sources on the ground say between 20 and 70—carrying southern returnees. According to al-Rai al-Aam, the Misseriya demanded payment of two and a half million Sudanese pounds, seemingly in compensation for cattle looted in the previous migration season. State authorities from Southern Kordofan, Unity have reportedly secured the release of the returnees and, according to al-Rai al-Aam, authorities from Abyei and Southern Kordofan have taken steps to promote security along roads in the border area.

With so much at stake, U.S. President Obama is attempting to galvanize regional leaders to put pressure on Khartoum to ensure that the referendum occurs on time and its outcome is respected. He recently wrote to leaders of Libya, Egypt, Chad, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, Nigeria, Rwanda, and the African Union.

2) Abyei and Post-Referendum Arrangements

The status of Abyei remains unresolved between the two parties with the latest round of Presidency-level talks under the mediation of the A.U. resulting in no breakthroughs. Likely options on the table include annexing the region to the South with a range of rights granted to the Misseriya, partitioning the area between North and South, and placing Abyei under international administration. In a recent press call, Special Envoy Scott Gration said of the impasse, "This is probably not a situation where either side will be happy."

Continued negotiations with the A.U. appear have been put on hold to allow for the parties’ participation in a series of summits. An Austrian-led summit in Addis Ababa on economic relations post-referendum took place this past weekend, according to al-Ayyam, while a forum in Khartoum on outstanding issues—reportedly including the demarcation of the North-South border and the future of Abyei—was convened between Egyptian and Libyan Presidents Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Qaddafi, and both Presidents Omar al-Bashir and Salva Kiir on Tuesday. The latter summit came after President Obama wrote to African leaders, including Mubarak and Qaddafi, as part of an “ongoing aggressive diplomatic effort with the parties in Sudan and with its neighbors” toward a successful referendum. Whether the increase in forums will actually result in resolution of outstanding issues—or distract from the A.U. process—remains to be seen.

Hostile rhetoric continues to fly between the NCP and the SPLM, with both parties’ affiliated armies accusing each other of provoking conflict, particularly around Abyei. Representatives of SAF allege that the southern army has entered the area with tanks and land cruiser vehicles, while the SPLA is accusing SAF of reinforcing troops north of the Abyei area and the southern border. These troop movements remain unconfirmed.

Violence between the North and South, and within the South, remains a serious concern. Following accusations made by the SPLM that the Sudanese Armed Forces, or SAF, bombed several areas near the North-South border in November and December, Enough traveled to one of these areas, known as Kiir Adem, to investigate the attacks and confirmed that aerial bombardments had indeed taken place. The U.N. later corroborated that the military had also bombed an area in the southern state of Western Bahr el Ghazal. The SPLM has asserted that it will not respond militarily but will remain focused on seeing the referendum carried out as scheduled.

Last weekend, a clash between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, or SPLA, and forces loyal to former SPLA General George Athor allegedly took place and resulted in at least a dozen deaths. Athor, who had been granted amnesty by Southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir in October, accused the SPLA of attacking his forces in an attempt to kill him and some of his senior officers, while the SPLA has accused Athor’s forces of initiating the fight.

According to UNHCR, if fighting breaks out after referendum is held, 100,000 southerners could be displaced to Uganda, 100,000 to Kenya, 80,000 to Ethiopia, and 50,000 to Egypt in the next year. Under-Secretary-General of the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, said that a civil war in Sudan could displace 2.8 million people from their homes and require $63 million in emergency aid. The U.N. is discussing with Khartoum a proposal to add 2,000 soldiers and civilian police to the 10,600 currently in Southern Sudan.

Early last week, post-referendum talks resumed in Juba between the parties and the A.U. Lead SPLM negotiator, Pagan Amum, was reported as saying that the committees reached agreement on international conventions and are close to a deal on security arrangements, according to al-Ayyam. The World Bank and the IMF held a workshop for Sudanese officials on the process to clearing Sudan’s $35.7 billion debt while the Chinese government signed an agreement to forgive Khartoum for $6 million of debt. 

While both parties have indicated all individuals’ rights, whether from the North or the South, will be protected if South Sudan secedes, there is still no clear agreement on citizenship rights post-referendum. Rhetoric from NCP officials offer worrying indication of how southerners in the North will be treated if secession takes place. Before a rally of supporters, President Bashir recently said that if the South secedes, “we will change the constitution and at that time there will be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity.” He also said that Sharia law will be the “main source” for the constitution.

3) Darfur

Four years after signing the Darfur Peace Agreement, relations between the Sudan Liberation Army’s Minni Minnawi and the government of Sudan appear to have deteriorated to the point of no return. The spiraling disintegration of relations started when Minnawi, who heads the faction known as the SLA-MM, accused the NCP of failing to uphold the 2006 agreement, after which SAF declared Minnawi’s forces enemies of the state. Since then, the power struggles, which have most recently included the dismissal of ten SLA-MM aligned Transitional Darfur Authority officials and Minnawi’s declared determination to join forces with rebel leader Abdel Wahid, have devolved into a return to the battlefield.

Despite the encouraging release of the three Latvian pilots kidnapped last month in Darfur, the breakdown of relations between Minnawi and the NCP has had a seriously detrimental effect on the security situation in the region. On December 10-11, clashes between SAF and SLA-MM took place in the Khor Abeche area of South Darfur, leading around 300 civilians to flee to the nearby UNAMID compound seeking assistance and protection. Following the attacks, both the U.N. andU.S. issued statements voicing their deep concern about reports that SAF had indiscriminately attacked and burned the village. Unfortunately, however, this did not prevent further clashes in Khor Abeche on December 17, which, according to Reuters, has led to the displacement of as many as 12,000 people who started moving north towards the Zam Zam internally displaced persons’ camp and Shangil Tobaya. UNAMID reports that the situation has calmed, but they are still “working to secure air access to the region for humanitarian missions.”

Clashes between SLA-MM and government forces also apparently took place in the Shangil Tobaya area of North Darfur, but later reports suggest that it was most likely a misunderstanding that occurred when a government convoy moving through the area was mistaken as an attack.

The government’s stated commitment to security and development in the region was again called into question recently when the state legislature in South Darfur suspended its second session in protest over the lack of funding it received from the central government. The state budget committee reported that it had received less than a fourth of the funds to which it was entitled per month, which created a fiscal deficit in the state. Legislators have formed a delegation to meet with top officials in Khartoum, and have threatened to resign should the government ignore its request.

Meanwhile, peace talks in Doha between the Liberty and Justice Movement, or LJM, and the government of Sudan continue. Although an agreement was meant to be signed on December 19 and there appears to be some items on which the parties agree, such as thecreation of some sort of interim transitional authority for the region, there are still some outstanding points that necessitate further discussion. According to the Sudan Tribune, these points include the basics of power-sharing, such as the creation of one administrative unit for Darfur and the appointment of a Darfuri vice president, as well as security arrangements and compensation for those affected by the conflict. Some Darfur experts have also speculated that the mediation team would like to allow more time for other rebel groups outside the process to join in, should they choose to do so.

At the moment, the mediation’s desire to delay is most likely tied to the hope that the Justice and Equality Movement, or JEM, will finally agree to fully engage in the peace process. A meeting of eight rebel groups in London last week resulted in the formation of a new alliance, apparently as a counterweight to JEM. The group, which also included the United Revolutionary Forces Front, the United Resistance Front, and a splinter faction of the LJM, among others, signed the “Charter of Sudanese Alliance Resistance Forces in Darfur” which pledged to form during the next two weeks the alliance’s structure and policies, including its position towards the peace talks. There remains a serious question, however, of whether the alliance will accept joining the negotiations that have been ongoing between the government and LJM.   

JEM did agree this week to begin renegotiating a ceasefire agreementwith the government delegation in Doha. Even as JEM continues to work with the mediation to finalize the terms of its re-engagement in the Doha peace process, the rebel group has agreed to consider ceasing hostilities should the government commit to its new terms, which include the release of JEM prisoners from government custody.According to a joint statement, the mediation wants to "urge the Government of Sudan and the JEM to conclude a cessation of hostilities agreement before 31 December 2010, and to fully participate in the peace process."

Meanwhile, the Sudan Liberation Army faction led by Abdel Wahid, or SLA-AW, continues to refuse to participate in the process. While Abdel Wahid has promised to convene a meeting in Paris to discuss his faction’s participation in the process, a date for the meeting has still not been set. The mediation team in Doha has called on Abdel Wahid to hold the Paris meeting before the end of the year. 

International engagement in the Darfur peace process was given a boost this week when Washington named a new full-time diplomat for Darfur, Ambassador Dane Smith. According to U.S. Special Envoy Scott Gration, Smith will “play a vital role in our diplomatic efforts concerning Darfur, as well as to help us implement our initiatives and programs in the field.”