Sudan returned to the international limelight with a ministerial meeting at the U.N. Security Council chaired by the United Kingdom and attended by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This high-level meeting coincided with the commencement of voter registration for the southern referendum, and the appearance of some progress on negotiations between the North and South, despite continued deadlock on Abyei and other issues. Meanwhile the end of the rainy season resulted in escalating conflict in Darfur, especially between the government and the Justice and Equality Movement, or JEM, even as JEM has quietly begun consultations on rejoining peace talks in Doha.
Here are the key developments covered in this issue:
Referendum registration begins, albeit unevenly: As this critical step toward the southern referendum gets underway, registration centers are overwhelmed in some areas of South, while initial turnout is low for southerners living in North.
Presidents Bashir and Kiir set to talk on Abyei: High-level talks on Sudan in Addis Ababa were postponed, but negotiations continue in Khartoum, where Sudan’s presidency is scheduled to meet to negotiate a resolution to the Abyei issue during the week of November 22.
Darfur fighting escalates: Rhetorical concern about Darfur from the international community has not stopped the escalation of violence in the region, including the bombing by Sudanese Armed Forces, or SAF, of reported rebel movements in a contested area near the North-South border.
1) Southern Referendum
Voter registration began on Monday, November 15 as scheduled, but the process has exposed a number of challenges, including too many people registering in some areas in the South, and too few people in Khartoum and its environs. On the first day, thousands of southerners flocked to referendum centers in the South to register, but due to insufficient staffing and the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission's approval of fewer centers than necessary, the high turnout overwhelmed registration centers in some areas. Additionally, some centers in the South had not yet received registration materials because of logistical challenges and were unable to begin registering voters. In Khartoum, the chair of the U.N. secretary-general's panel tasked with monitoring the referenda expressed concern that the number of registrations has thus far been “extremely small.” Moreover, according to the newspaper Ajras Al-Hurriya, many voters were unaware of the timetable for the registration period and the referendum. Southerners living in the North blamed the low turnout on insufficient media coverage and voter education about the locations of registration centers. In a suburb outside of Khartoum, the location of a referendum center was changed at the last-minute. The referendum commission admitted that they had not done enough to publicize the locations of registration centers.
Until December 1, the estimated 5 million southerners who are eligible to vote will be able to register at over 3,600 referendum centers in Sudan and eight additional countries (Australia, Canada, the United States, Britain, Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya). After delays and with less than two months left until polls are scheduled to open, the start of registration this week was an important logistical and symbolic milestone.
Additionally, there is concern that the national ruling party the National Congress Party, or NCP, is engaging in vote rigging. Moses Larco Duku Lomayat, an information officer with the Government of Southern Sudan, or GoSS, has accused the NCP of issuing national identification cards and other documents required for voter registration to non-southerners. Voter turnout needs to be at least 60 percent of registrants in order for the referendum to be considered valid, and Lomayat claimed that the NCP has been intentionally enabling people who would not end up voting to register. Southerners living in Uganda have been advised by GoSS not to register, and representatives of the southern community in Uganda announced that they would not participate in the referendum.
One of the core problems limiting the potential success of the referendum is the severe underfunding of the SSRC, whose budget is approximately $370 million. The governments of Sudan and southern Sudan have disbursed only a small fraction of the $179 million they are expected to provide. The head of the SSRC, Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil, has expressed frustration that international donors have been unwilling to disburse money to the commission, providing only in-kind assistance. Without the necessary funding, preparation for the referendum, including voter education and the hiring, training, and deployment of staff, will likely continue to be insufficient, with potentially serious ramifications for the conduct of the referendum.
On the issue of security, the United Nations is considering increasing the size of its mission in Sudan, UNMIS, to strengthen its capacity to ensure security and monitor violations of the 2005 cease-fire agreement between the North and South.
2) Abyei and Post-Referendum Arrangements
Various high-level meetings planned to begin in Addis Ababa at the beginning of the month, including the Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s summit on Sudan and the resumption of talks on outstanding CPA and post-referendum issues, have been continuously postponed. The IGAD meeting is now tentatively scheduled to begin in the Ethiopian capital next week, while the African Union-mediated talks on the CPA and post-referendum arrangements have largely moved to Khartoum.
On the heels of the postponed negotiations, the SPLM announced that it would be open to annexing Abyei to the South through a presidential decree rather than a vote. Finding an alternative to the referendum vote, which is now woefully behind schedule, seems to be an option supported by the United States. As U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley stated in a press briefing, “Discussions continue on Abyei, and we will continue to hold the parties to their obligation of a referendum on Abyei… unless they arrive at an alternative that is mutually agreeable to both sides.” An NCP official publicly rejected this idea, saying that it would be a “flagrant violation of the Abyei Protocol and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.” One Enough source indicated, however, that the ruling party itself forwarded a proposal to annex part of Abyei to the South, but only a southern portion that would exclude the region’s remaining oilfield of Diffra.
In an attempt to signal its commitment to accelerate North-South negotiations, Senator John Kerry delivered on behalf of the U.S. government a deal offering additional U.S. incentives in return for tangible progress. As Secretary Clinton stated to the Security Council recently, “If the Government of Sudan fulfills the CPA, if it resolves the future of Abyei, if it holds Southern Sudan’s referendum on January 9th and then recognizes the will of the Sudanese people in the South, then the United States is prepared to begin the process of withdrawing Sudan from our list of state sponsors of terrorism.” Some leading members of the NCP rejected this offer too, expressing irritation at the continued involvement of the United States.
On November 7, talks between the NCP and SPLM, guided by the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel, or AUHIP, got underway in Khartoum. The purpose of the talks was to resolve pending North-South issues including Abyei, citizenship, and political and economic cooperation between North and South. The U.S. special envoy, the head of the U.S. Negotiation Support Unit, and the U.N. special representative of the secretary general all attended as observers. The result, as announced by AUHIP Chairperson Thabo Mbeki on November 15, was an agreement on a “Framework for Resolving Outstanding Issues Relating to the Implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the Future Relations of North and South Sudan.” The agreement, which has not yet been signed and only addresses guiding principles for negotiations, includes commitments to:
· Work toward a successful referendum
· Refer Abyei to the presidency
· Ensure that popular consultations respect the will of the people of South Kordofan and Blue Nile
· Demarcate the North-South border immediately and maintain a ‘soft border’
· Ensure that any change to nationality or citizenship laws in the post-CPA period will ensure that the rights of people are not adversely affected
· Deal with matters such as free movement of people, goods and services, monetary and fiscal policy, the management of oil and water resources, and the handling of assets and liabilities
· Avoid any action, or support of any group, that would undermine the security of the other party
Sources on the ground indicate that, while this appears to be a positive step, numerous issues still need to be resolved before either party agrees to sign the framework. In particular, sources indicate that the issue of citizenship and the role of the international community in border demarcation and disputes remain stumbling blocks in the talks.
The biggest sticking point in negotiations still appears to be Abyei. The SPLM, fearing a Kashmir-like scenario for the region, has made clear that it will not sign a framework document that excludes a resolution on Abyei, yet Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Karti indicated to the U.N. Security Council that the NCP has no intention of “rushing” the Abyei negotiations. Meanwhile, Mbeki clearly indicated his intent to package a deal on Abyei with the signing of the framework agreement when he said to the Security Council that the framework, “will be completed, signed, and published once the negotiations on Abyei… have been concluded.” Presidents Omar Al-Bashir and Salva Kiir are due to begin Abyei negotiations on November 22.
With fighting intensifying in Darfur, world leaders emphasized the importance of keeping the western region on the international stage as the referendum process begins in the South. At the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon made clear that “there remains an urgent need to reach a comprehensive and inclusive settlement” and noted that increasing violence in Darfur worryingly indicates “the parties have not yet decided to give up the military path.” Both U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Ibrahim Gambari, head of the hybrid U.N.-A.U. peacekeeping force, or UNAMID, also issued similar calls in the last week. Referring to the growing violence in Darfur, continued human rights violations, and illicit arms flows, Clinton said, “This is all unacceptable.” Clinton’s speech reinforced the U.S. offer of incentives, in which the lifting of U.S. sanctions, international debt relief, and increased trade and investment remain conditioned on whether the Sudanese government “commits to peaceful resolution of the conflict in Darfur and takes other steps toward peace and accountability.”
After a period of relatively low-level violence, the end of the rainy season has seen renewed fighting between the SAF and JEM. Various media sources reported on a spate of clashes between the two forces in North Darfur, South Darfur, and North Kordofan that took place two weeks ago and stretched across five days. Both the army and JEM confirmed these attacks, though the details, including which side initiated the fighting and the number of casualties and injuries, have been mixed. On Friday, November 12, SAF bombed a disputed North-South border area, injuring civilians in the southern state of Northern Bahr el Ghazal. The army claimed it was in pursuit of JEM members entering the South to seek haven and accused the southern army of aiding the rebels. Both the northern and southern armies stated that the bombing was not intended to target the SPLA. Following the bombing, Gambari warned of the security consequences that would result from a renewal of ties between the SPLM and rebel movements in Darfur, though the SPLM continues to deny the accusation that it is currently providing support to Darfuri rebel groups.
Two Arab rebel factions of unknown significance or size have declared their alignment with rebel leader Abdel Wahid’s Sudan Liberation Army. According to the U.N., government forces have also recently clashed with another Arab faction, the United Revolutionary Force Front, in a sign of the ever-fluid alliances of the players involved in the Darfur region and growing dissatisfaction among some members of the Arab community with the NCP. Clashes between Arab groups over various resources also continued in South Darfur around Kass.
The mediation team in Doha pushed back the date for the signing of a peace deal between the rebel group Liberation Justice Movement, or LJM, and the Sudanese government. The parties still disagree on a handful of issues—in particular, over the administrative status of Darfur—but the mediation said they would aim to come to agreement by December 19. LJM head Tijani Seise has publicly said the group will not compromise on their demand to restore Darfur to a single province, in contrast to the existing three states in the region now. According to Joint Chief Mediator Djibril Bassole, the mediation team raised the issues of Darfur’s administrative status, along with issues of compensation and representation in the executive branch, during a meeting with President Omar al-Bashir and the Qatari state minister in Doha.
Simultaneously, consultations between JEM and the Darfur mediators have begun and will continue next week in Doha to discuss the rebel group’s conditions for returning to talks. Another round of consultations with Darfur civil society will also take place under AUHIP and UNAMID. According to Mbeki, this Darfur-Darfur conference will focus its discussions on the outcomes of the Doha peace talks and will contribute to a global, political agreement on Darfur.
Notably, the United Nations, in cooperation with the Sudanese government, is preparing to help 1,600 displaced Darfuris from Kalma IDP camp voluntarily return to their homes—in line with the Darfur strategy set out by the Sudanese government. The dismantling of camps for displaced people, especially those affiliated with rebel factions, has clear benefits for a Sudanese government still apparently pursuing a military solution, as the U.N. secretary general put it. U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos said that the United Nations would only support returns that “are being made on the basis that people want to go back.”