Five years after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, South Sudan’s referendum is set to begin as scheduled this Sunday. President Omar al-Bashir has publicly pledged to accept an outcome of secession as an array of internationals flock to Sudan to witness the vote. But, Sudanese acceptance of a likely vote for secession is by no means guaranteed and much remains to be accomplished on the post-referendum front, including the contentious issue of Abyei. Meanwhile, violence in Darfur continues to be on the rise as the government delegation in Doha withdraws from the peace talks to return to Khartoum.
Here are the key developments covered in this issue:
- All steady on the referendum front: Polls for the highly-anticipated independence vote open Sunday in what is largely seen as a positive and stable environment.
- Incremental progress on post-referendum issues, continued deadlock on Abyei: Parties continue to holds their cards close in negotiations on Abyei and big ticket post-referendum issues such as oil-sharing and citizenship. Party leaders promise to resolve all issues before the end of the CPA period.
- Increasing violence threatens civilians in Darfur as the Doha talks once again stall: Clashes in North and South Darfur lead to massive displacement while the government leaves negotiations in Doha with LJM on a final peace deal and ceasefire negotiations with JEM.
1) Southern Referendum
South Sudan’s referendum will commence this Sunday due in no small part to a concerted, international push in the last three months to ensure the vote takes place on time. The exercise will take place January 9 to 15 and may see the participation of a reported 3.9 million registered voters. Sixty percent of those registered must take part in the vote in order for the referendum to be considered legitimate. A final logistical hurdle was cleared when election ballots—a total of 7.3 million—were delivered by the U.N. to South Sudan in late December.
An array of domestic and international election observers will be in South Sudan to monitor the exercise including, a three-member U.N. panel led by former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, a Carter Center mission led by Jimmy Carter and Kofi Annan, and a European Union observation mission. The U.N. panel arrived in Khartoum on Wednesday evening to embark on a month-long visit to monitor both the polling and tabulation phases of the referendum. Domestic observation groups SuNDE and SuGDE will have over 3,000 observers combined in each of Sudan’s states. The east African regional body IGAD, the African Union, the Arab League, and China are also sending observers.
In a series of recent speeches, President Omar al-Bashir has reiterated his intent to support the referendum’s outcome. Bashir said in a visit to Juba on Tuesday: "I am going to celebrate your decision, even if your decision is secession." SPLM officials have warmed to these comments. In a show of reciprocation, South Sudan President Salva Kiir said during his Christmas address in reference to the impending vote, “This is a historic credit to President Bashir and the NCP and I further urge him to continue working hand in hand with us to consolidate peace and prosperity for all irrespective of what the referendum holds in store for Sudan.”
But as the rhetoric between northern and southern officials grows conciliatory, political hostilities have escalated in the North. Opposition leaders have threatened to overthrow the regime if steps are not taken to write a new constitution and conduct new elections after secession. The ruling party has for the most part rejected these calls for change. A shift in public strategy may be underway though, given Bashir’s most recent call to opposition forces to join in a “broad-based government” in the event of secession. Notably, SPLM leader Pagan Amum has called on northern opposition forces to refrain from overthrowing the regime and instead to work toward consensus.
Though NCP recognition of the referendum’s result is far from guaranteed—a number of legal challenges to the vote, allegedly the machinations of the NCP, remain tied up in court—key countries, Egypt and Libya, have said they intend to respect the referendum’s outcome and the will of the southern population. Russia has said that it will accept the vote’s outcome once the Sudanese parties and the international community recognize the exercise. The post-vote period will likely be fraught with anxieties as ballots are counted. Even after the result is announced, the potential for a protracted period of uncertainty during which the referendum’s result is challenged looms large.
On the eve of the vote, the southern ruling party and its army have taken robust steps to mitigate an outbreak of violence. Clashes that resumed between renegade general George Athor and the SPLA in late December were hastily put to bed in a ceasefire signed late Wednesday night in Juba. Whether the truce will lead to sustained peace between the two forces remains to be seen. South Sudan President Kiir has also announced the expulsion of Darfur rebels from the South, in a gesture of assurance aimed at Khartoum.
Since late October, about 143,000 people have returned to the South from the North, according to the U.N. The International Rescue Committee warned that the spike in returns is creating “an unfolding humanitarian crisis, layered on top of an existing and forsaken one.” There has been “a stunning lack of attention to the current and long-term protection and humanitarian needs of vulnerable civilians,” the organization said. According to the Associated Press, an internal U.N. report indicated that the U.N. is planning for a possible 2.8 million people to be displaced should worst case scenarios play out around the referendum.
U.S.engagement on Sudan has not slowed in the lead-up to the vote. In late December, President Obama and Vice President Biden made separate calls to President Kiir and Sudan Vice President Ali Osman Taha to emphasize the importance of an on-time referendum and press the two parties to engage seriously in negotiations on outstanding issues. A number of senior U.S. officials will be in Sudan during the referendum, in a clear sign of the administration’s commitment to the exercise. Senator John Kerry has returned to Sudan for the third time since October of last year and will be meeting with Sudanese officials in Juba and Khartoum. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Secretary Colin Powell, and former U.S. special envoy John Danforth will also reportedly be in Sudan for the vote. U.S. officials are optimistic that the referendum will take place successfully.
1) Abyei and Post-Referendum Arrangements
Little progress has been made in ongoing negotiations over post-referendum issues and Abyei. During his visit to Juba, President Bashir pledged to resolve outstanding issues before the end of the CPA interim period, on July 9.
Lead SPLM negotiator Pagan Amum has been publicly optimistic over the progress of the talks and said—albeit in late December—that he believed an agreement on citizenship could be reached before the referendum. While the two parties agreed to the principle of protecting both northerners and southerners in a November framework agreement facilitated by the A.U., no agreement has been reached over the citizenship status of residents in the North and South after secession. According to SPLM minister Deng Alor in an interview with AllAfrica, the NCP’s position on citizenship is that any individual eligible to vote in the referendum will automatically lose Sudanese citizenship. The SPLM wants to provide northerners and southerners “the right of choice,” said Alor.
Some progress has been made on the issues of security and currency, according to Amum. The SPLM official says that the two parties have reached an agreement on a number of security issues except for those pertaining to the border areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. The parties also agreed to have separate currencies and an interim period after secession during which the Sudanese pound will continue to be the legal tender for both states.
No agreement on oil-sharing has been reached and five areas along the North-South border remain undelineated. Of the 320 kilometers of disputed border, according to U.S. Special Envoy Scott Gration in a recent interview, some “may have to go to arbitration.”
Little movement has taken place on Abyei, but in his AllAfrica interview, Alor detailed—and criticized—two options that were being pushed by U.S. officials. One option is to split the region in half between North and South and the other would transfer Abyei to the South while giving Misseriya considerable representation in the area government. According to Alor, Gration put forward the option of transferring Abyei to the South via a presidential decree during the October talks in Addis Ababa because the envoy believed insufficient time existed for a referendum. Alor said that the NCP agreed to this option, with the major caveat that only the southern portion of Abyei is transferred to the South—an idea that Gration supported. Kerry also pushed the South to accept half of the Abyei area, Alor said.
Alor also said that U.S. lead negotiator Princeton Lyman expressed support for an option put forward by the A.U. that would transfer all of Abyei to the South and include Misseriya in the administration. Misseriya would be given two-thirds representation in the northern portion of Abyei and one-third representation in the whole area. Alor said giving the Misseriya two-thirds of the seat in northern Abyei was not feasible given that most Misseriya are nomadic and do not reside permanently in Abyei. He said, “We cannot import people to come and administer the area.”
In the interview, Alor expressed confidence that a solution could be reached but warned, “There’s no chance of more compromising on Abyei.” According to Gration, a solution on Abyei can only be reached if the two parties “demonstrate the political will, the political courage, and the political leadership to make some concessions.”
Violence continued in Darfur during the latter half of December with clashes taking place in the town of Dar al Salaam in North Darfur. An alliance of Darfur rebel groups including the Justice and Equality Movement, or JEM, and Minni Minnawi’s arm of the Sudan Liberation Army, or SLA-MM, engaged in fighting with SAF on December 23, just days after JEM announced that it was negotiating a ceasefire with the government. This fighting came on the heels of earlier clashes between SLA-MM and SAF in the areas of Khor Abeche and Shangil Tobaya which resulted from the dissolution of the Darfur Peace Agreement and led to the displacement of thousands. The rebels involved in the Dar al Salaam incident stated that the attack was a reprisal for SAF’s assault on civilians during these earlier battles. The A.U.-U.N. Mission in Darfur, or UNAMID, which has provided refuge to many civilians around its team site in Shangil Tobaya over the past couple of weeks, stated that the December fighting left 32,000 people displaced. Reports of further attacks on Jebel At-Tin, southeast of Shangil Tobaya, and Abu Deimat, in South Darfur, suggest that the current displacement crisis is ongoing.
As per usual, UNAMID struggled to secure and maintain unfettered access to the affected populations in the areas of recent fighting. Although the mission did finally secure a lifting of restrictions on movement to these areas, it was not granted until December 28, more than two weeks after the fighting began. Distribution to Shangil Tobaya was further delayed on December 29 after new restrictions on movement for the area were put in place. By December 30, humanitarian teams were allowed to reach many of the affected areas, but the humanitarian situation remains dire. In other positive news, UNAMID reported on January 5 that its international civilian staff member, who was kidnapped 90 days ago, had finally been released from captivity.
While President Bashir was in Nyala for the signing of a tribal reconciliation agreement aimed at stemming an inter-Arab war in Darfur, clashes between the Misseriya and an unidentified armed group in the Kass locality of South Darfur exemplify the persistence of existing tribal tensions. On January 4, UNAMID was also investigating reports that violence had broken out between the Misseriya and the Rizeigat in the village of Treij, which is just south of Zalengei in West Darfur.
In late December, the government of Sudan and JEM met in Doha to discuss disagreements over the draft agreement for the cessation of hostilities in Darfur. According to the Sudan Tribune, JEM was demanding full access for humanitarians, the release of political detainees, and the inclusion of Kordofan in the cessation of hostilities deal. The government rejected JEM’s latter two demands and requested that JEM reveal the geographic positions of its forces, which JEM refused to do.
On December 29, however, it became clear that the government intended to discontinue the Doha negotiations. Speaking at a rally in Nyala, President Bashir stated that, "We have set a deadline of tomorrow and if there is no agreement then we will withdraw our delegation, and any talks will from now on be inside Darfur… After that anyone who takes up arms — we will show them." In a statement issued in response, JEM wrote, "It is a declaration of war and a limiting of any future chance for peace."
On December 30, Ghazi Salaheddine, the Sudanese government's special adviser on Darfur, softened the tone somewhat when he stated that, "The delegation will leave because it has nothing to do, but that does not mean we withdrew from the peace process, and the mediators have promised us a document.” The government has stated repeatedly in recent days that its withdrawal from Doha does not signal its unwillingness to pursue peace in Darfur, but rather its intention to carry on peace efforts within the region, as outlined by the government’s August 2010 strategy for Darfur. This is a move that is opposed by both rebel groups and chief mediator, Djibril Bassole, who believes a domestic process is not possible at this time.
The mediation team, on January 1, announced that it had handed over compromise proposals to the government and rebel groups. According to sources, the mediation’s deal for LJM includes establishing a regional Darfur authority for a period of five years which would not replace the state governors or create an administrative unit, but would be charged with implementing a peace deal in the key areas of security, social and economic development, and the reintegration of IDPs. The mediation further proposed a compensation package for those affected by the conflict and the creation of national hybrid courts to try conflict related cases. In regards to the cessation of hostilities, the mediation distributed to JEM and the government the observations of the other party on the draft agreement.
While progress on the ceasefire deal with JEM appears stalled, LJM accepted the Darfur peace proposal advanced by the mediation. The Sudanese government, however, asked for more consultations, stating that it had reservations about the constitutionality of the deal and doubts about whether it fits within the framework agreement signed with LJM at the outset of negotiations.