With less than 100 days until Sudan’s scheduled referenda for southern self-determination and Abyei, Sudan is at risk of renewed war, with dire consequences for civilians. The Enough Project is introducing a new feature, the Sudan Peace Watch. In these regular updates, Enough’s team of researchers and policy analysts will provide in-depth coverage of developments around the key benchmarks and potential flashpoints in the run-up to the referenda and beyond.
International diplomacy on Sudan continues with uncertain results, with nine days of U.S-sponsored talks on Abyei failing to produce a breakthrough, and as envoys from the United Nations Security Council, including U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, complete a week-long visit to Sudan to call for two timely and peaceful votes. Relations between the parties remain tense, with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir warning of renewed war unless agreements are reached on issues including the border, as well as the sharing of oil, water, and debt. South Sudanese President Salva Kiir has warned that if the North attempts to delay the vote, South Sudan will hold the referendum on its own and has publicly said he would vote for secession—a statement a top NCP official called unacceptable and provocative. Meanwhile, insecurity remains a constant in Darfur.
Here are the key developments covered in this issue:
- Preparations for the South Sudan referendum remain behind schedule: A recently-released timetable has voter registration ending just days before the actual vote, allowing little room for logistical mistakes or problems.
- Abyei negotiations flounder in Addis: U.S.-brokered talks to break deadlock over the issue of voter eligibility in Abyei failed to find agreement between the two Sudanese parties following nine days of negotiations. Talks will reportedly resume in late October.
- Post-referendum talks have made little progress: Difficult decisions on oil-sharing, citizenship, and other thorny issues will likely only be resolved through high-level political negotiations between the two parties with active international mediation, not in the technical committees created to work on the issues.
- Insecurity pervasive in Darfur as Doha talks in doldrums: Violence caused by Chadian rebel groups, the Sudanese army, and unidentified armed actors continues to afflict Darfur; Doha talks resumed without key parties while the mediation team announced a forthcoming draft peace agreement.
I) Southern Referendum
Preparations for the January 9 South Sudan referendum are dangerously behind schedule. Although the South Sudan Referendum Commission has released a timetable to reach the January 9 date, First Vice President of Sudan and President of South Sudan Salva Kiir warned of a return to instability and violence “on a massive scale” if the referenda for South Sudan and Abyei are not held on time or if the outcomes are not respected.
According to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA, voter registration should be completed three months before the referendum, by October 9. But according to the timeline, registration will not start until mid-November, resulting in a final voter list on December 31, just days before the referendum. The commission was only appointed in late June, and the recently finalized registration forms are not due back from South African printers until late October. South Sudan Referendum Commission Chairman Muhammad Ibrahim Khalil has previously indicated that the registration forms would reach the 3,600 registration centers in South Sudan and that the registration center staff would be trained by November 15. Although the commission approved the $370-million budget for the referendum, observers from the Carter Center said that the commission still needs to complete several important steps, including the distribution of funds and publication of a detailed calendar.
Tensions between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, or SPLA, and the ruling National Congress Party, or NCP, are rising. The SPLA and NCP accused each other of deploying troops along the North-South border. The SPLA accused the North of deploying 70,000 troops in disputed areas and plotting to invade the South, while a NCP official claimed that the SPLA had entered contested territory. During the Security Council’s visit to Juba, President Kiir requested that U.N. peacekeepers be deployed along the North-South border, a proposal that was later rejected by Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti during his meeting with the delegation in Kharotum.
The U.N. Mission in Sudan, or UNMIS, is in the process of setting up 79 centers in southern Sudan to assist with conducting the referendum and serve as a “symbolic presence.” UNMIS will provide technical and logistical assistance but will not be an official observer of the referendum. In addition to the Carter Center and other observation groups, a panel of the U.N. Secretary-General, chaired by former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa will monitor the referendum. This panel may play a crucial role in helping to ensure a coordinated response to the referendum results from the international community, especially the African Union.
With just three months left before the vote, the formation of the Abyei Referendum Commission faces intractable political deadlock between the two Sudanese parties, as its members are granted the legal power to determine the key issue of voter eligibility. At issue is who can vote in the referendum other than the Ngok Dinka. Representatives from the North and South are split particularly on whether to give voting rights to the nomadic Misseriya, who are for the most part aligned politically with the North and who spend months in Abyei grazing their cattle but are not permanent residents. Recent threats of war by Misseriya leaders indicate the high levels of tension around the region.
The United States hosted trilateral talks on Abyei over the weekend of September 25, following the United Nations General Assembly gathering in New York City, with negotiating teams for both Sudanese parties headed by First Vice President Salva Kiir and Vice President Ali Osman Taha. A U.S. proposal was put on the table in New York, but was rejected by the NCP. The proposal defined eligible voters as those Sudanese who had resided in Abyei for one year by the time voter registration takes place, essentially excluding nomadic groups. The U.S. proposal also included language on the economic, political, security, and cross-border arrangements for Abyei after the CPA’s interim period ends. The proposal would give Abyei its own oil revenue-sharing arrangement—split between the two governments, the Ngok Dinka, and the Misseriya—give the Abyei Administration sole responsibility for security within the area, and formalize the grazing and migration rights of nomadic groups.
The New York talks produced a joint statement from the NCP and SPLM affirming the two parties’ commitment to holding the Abyei vote on time, to the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling on Abyei’s borders, and to the rights of the Misseriya and other nomadic groups. More significantly, the parties also pledged to resume border demarcation two weeks after the conclusion of talks.
A second round of talks began on October 3 in Addis Ababa, under significant diplomatic pressure. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called both Taha and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi prior to the talks, making clear that the parties should come to Addis prepared to reach an agreement. On Monday, October 5, Sudanese Vice President Taha indicated that a resolution had not been reached, saying that in order for the Abyei referendum to take place, a political agreement must be struck; talks are expected to continue for several more days. U.S. State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley described “very, very direct talks, frank talks,” and pointed to the presence of both Ngok Dinka and Misseriya delegations in Addis as grounds for optimism that a deal could be reached.
After nine days of negotiations, talks ground to a halt due to continued disagreement between the two Sudanese parties over what defines voter eligibility. A joint statement from the two parties released Tuesday said, “Despite serious efforts and many productive discussions, they did not succeed in reaching agreement on eligibility criteria for voters in the Abyei Area referendum.” Two more proposals were reportedly put forth and rejected. According to Al-Sahafa, the Gration proposal would annex Abyei to the South through a presidential decree. The NCP proposed to divide Abyei between North and South Sudan. Talks will resume in October back in Ethiopia, reportedly with the participation of President Kiir and Vice President Taha.
Beyond a definition of voter eligibility, successful negotiations should deliver an on-time and credible referendum, hold parties to prior legal rulings and agreements, and address the increasingly distinct demands of communities on the ground. Securing post-referendum arrangements in Abyei prior to the vote, including agreement over nomadic population’s rights to graze and move freely, will be a step toward assuaging anxieties among the Misseriya and the Ngok Dinka that have fueled hostility between the two communities. Also important will be reducing the perception of Abyei’s referendum as a zero-sum game. The post-CPA oil revenue and security arrangements spelled out in the first U.S. proposal would grant Abyei considerable autonomy, preserving much of the area’s current special administrative status. These arrangements would soften the potential loss of Abyei for the NCP, who could present these concessions (including a large portion of Abyei’s oil revenues) to its constituency as a victory. More recent proposals from Gration and the NCP are a worrying indication that the parties are looking toward solutions that abrogate the CPA. The U.S. should not allow renegotiation of the peace agreement to be an option on the table.
III) Post-Referendum Arrangements
Securing agreements on post-referendum arrangements for citizenship, oil-sharing, and other key issues are among the most critical of tasks to prevent a return to war in Sudan. If North and South can come to terms on these issues, then an amicable divorce becomes a much more likely scenario. Absent such agreements, the prospects for war increase precipitously.
This summer there was a semblance of progress, with the NCP and SPLM signing a Memorandum of Understanding in Mekelle, Ethiopia on June 23, 2010. This document outlined a structure for talks, with facilitation by the African Union High Panel chaired by Thabo Mbeki, and with working groups designated to address four sets of issues: citizenship, security, international treaties, and economic issues and natural resources. The MoU also committed parties to launch negotiations on July 5 in Khartoum.
Unfortunately but unsurprisingly these talks have largely stalled, partly because referendum preparations and negotiations around Abyei have commanded the attention of the parties. The structure for these negotiations also appears designed to fail, as delegating extremely difficult decisions about controversial political issues to technical working groups is likely to prove ineffective. Despite little movement on these negotiations, the particularly important issues of citizenship and wealth-sharing have remained in the headlines.
The post-referendum status of southerners living in the North and northerners living in the South is a key concern. In the North, concerns about forced expulsion and persecution increased after Sudanese Information Minister Kamal Obeid threatened that the estimated 1.5 million southerners in the North would lose citizenship rights, jobs, and benefits if the South votes for secession. President Bashir subsequently pledged to protect this population. Southern President Salva Kiir had previously pledged to protect northerners in the South.
It is well known that the majority of Sudan’s oil fields are in the South, close to the as-of-yet undemarcated North-South border. The likely first target of any major military action between North and South, Sudan’s oil is also a major incentive for peace. Both parties need each other to benefit from oil revenues: South Sudan will require the northern pipeline to Port Sudan to export oil for the foreseeable future, as plans for a southern pipeline via Kenya or Uganda remain nascent. Oil also provides a point of international leverage, as major Chinese investments in Sudan’s oil sector provide an impetus for peace from one of Sudan’s largest arms suppliers. A lack of transparency remains a major impediment to an oil-sharing deal. Although the Ministry of Petroleum has agreed to publish production and revenue data and commission and independent audit of the oil sector, there has been little follow up action on these points.
In recent weeks Darfur continued to be plagued by multiple sources of violence and insecurity on the ground. Peace talks resumed between the Government of Sudan and the rebel Liberation and Justice Movement, or LJM, but key rebel groups including the Justice and Equality Movement, or JEM, are not part of the process.
On September 23, the Sudanese Liberation Movement-Abdel Wahid, or SLA-AW, reported that the Sudanese Armed Forces, or SAF, had bombed the restive region of Jebel Marra and burned a village in South Darfur, killing 18 people. Although the government allowed U.N. humanitarian agencies access to the area of Jebel Marra for the first time in six months, army forces in the Draibat area of South Darfur prevented agencies from supplying medication and other materials to that region. The campaign of air and ground assaults in Jebel Marra continued around the village of Jawa, killing 27 people, according to the SLA-AW. However, the U.N. has been unable to confirm these latest attacks.
A second source of insecurity has been the presence of Chadian rebels and other armed gunmen. On October 1, members of the Chadian armed opposition were accused of raping four women in the area of Kutum, North Darfur. Residents in the area claim that the Chadians have also prevented them from accessing their land, thereby threatening their livelihood, and called on the government to take action against the rebels. Meanwhile, attacks by unidentified groups appear to be on the rise. Sources on the ground suggest that some of these more recent attacks are likely tied to the presence of the Border Guard.
Violence continues within Darfur’s camps for internally displaced persons. Five gunmen recently entered the Khamsa Degaig camp in the Zalengei area of West Darfur, purportedly to track down and kill eight camp leaders whom they were ultimately unable to locate. A similar event occurred earlier in the month in Hamadiya IDP camp, wherein three camp leaders were killed. Meanwhile, rumors of the presence of the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, in areas of South Darfur persist despite government denials.
On September 24, Radio Dabanga reported that Chad had handed over Abdelhakim Adam Harun, a leader of the LJM to the Government of Sudan. LJM representatives currently in Doha, where peace negotiations for Darfur are underway, told the news source that the extradition of Abdelhakim to Khartoum was a violation of the framework and ceasefire agreements signed last February between the LJM and Sudan’s ruling party. According to the agreements, all prisoners were to be released in light of the ongoing negotiations.
Following delays, peace talks in Doha resumed on October 5, 2010 with an announcement by the mediation team that it would plan to put a draft peace agreement on the table for all rebel groups to consider after talks end on October 19. LJM agreed to this timetable, but expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that the government refuses to engage in discussions related to its new strategy for Darfur, and particularly its emphasis on development over the achievement of a comprehensive peace agreement.
Finally, the African Union pressed the U.N. General Assembly to suspend the International Criminal Court charges against Sudanese President Bashir. Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika, who chairs the A.U., urged the 192-nation General Assembly to amend the Rome Statute to give it the power to defer Bashir's case to avoid disrupting peace talks.