By Wainaina KiganyaAll Africa
June 18, 2001
Following the failure of the recent regional effort to end the war in Sudan, it is quite clear that the United Nations' Security Council is not interested in ending the conflict or it would have exerted pressure on the antagonists as it did on the various parties to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The UN has also recently acted robustly to try and end the internecine conflicts in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola and Eritrea. The most recent upheavals in Congo began in late 1996. The current conflict in Sudan began in 1983, yet there are now UN peace-keepers on the ground in Congo while the UN seems oblivious to Sudan, except for the work of its relief agency, Operation Lifeline Sudan.
Barely two weeks after the presidents of Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Sudan met in Nairobi in yet another attempt to bring peace to Sudan, war is raging in the south with no prospects for peace.
Virtually every day now, the rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army claim battlefield successes, which, if true, constitute a major setback for the government in Khartoum.
The reported seizure of the entire Western Bahr el Ghazal by the rebels is significant, being proximal to the northern states of Darfur and Kordofan where there is a local insurgency. To quell this is diverting some of the government's meagre resources from the main war effort. The area also abuts the Central African Republic, giving the rebels regional control of trade and inflow points for weapons and other supplies.
Before the Nairobi meeting of regional leaders, the Sudanese Government was reported to be "bombing the hell out" of some rebel-held strongholds like the Nuba Mountains. It is claimed that pilots for the long-range Russian bombers are Iraqi mercenaries.
Colonel John Garang, leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement, was also in Nairobi. But the regional leaders meeting, under the auspices of the Inter-Government Authority on Desertification, IGAD, flatly failed in their bid to bring Garang and Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir face-to-face to try and secure peace.
The regional leaders flew in and out of Nairobi the same day, June 3. Most of those who came must have wondered if their mechanical presence in Nairobi was of any use at all, and whether they should not have stayed away as did President Isayas Aferworki of Eritrea.
The chairman of the IGAD peace initiative, President Moi, is on record as wondering aloud why the seven-year-old IGAD was not making headway on the Sudan.
However, the President, jointly with former United States President Jimmy Carter, did achieve success when they brought together the leaders of Sudan and Uganda, Mr Bashir and Mr Yoweri Museveni respectively. The two have regularly accused one another of supporting respective rebel movements.
Sudan charged that Uganda was a major base for the SPLA, while Uganda counter-charged that the Sudanese supported the northern Uganda rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army and the brutal Allied Democratic Front in Western Uganda.
Mr Carter was in Kampala recently. He praised the 1999 Nairobi initiative pointing out that the two countries were now ready to re-establish diplomatic relations and that Sudan had forced the Lord's Resistance Army to release children abducted for recruitment into the LRA in hideouts in Sudan.
At the behest of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi who visited Uganda recently and encouraged Sudan's Bashir to attend the swearing-in of President Museveni, Mr Bashir and Mr Museveni pledged to consolidate the peace pledges they made in Nairobi two years earlier.
If it is true Uganda is no longer involved in the Sudanese conflict as Mr Carter and a group of visiting America Senators claimed in Kampala, then that will remove a major headache for Khartoum's military strategists who remember what happened in the late 1980s when, with Uganda's support, the rebels captured a string of towns in the south in lightning attacks.
Kenya is in a big dilemma over the Sudan because President Moi is the chairman of IGAD, the regional grouping that seeks to bring peace back to Sudan.
Kenya is the staging post for virtually all humanitarian effort for southern Sudan. At the same time, Kenya hosts SPLA bodies like the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Agency.
The government in Khartoum has its suspicions about the thin line between relief work and war efforts, but has not screamed about it. Kenya has offered sanctuary to millions of Sudanese refugees.
Should President El-Bashir lose his grip on the country due to reverses on the battlefield as is happening at the moment, fundamentalist Muslim forces such as those under Mr Hassan el Tourabi, now under house arrest in Khartoum, could become ascendant again, with negative consequences for Sudan and regional peace.
More so if Khartoum can hold on to the oil fields of the south which are now providing revenue for the war effort, thanks to the pipeline built by the Chinese.
The United States, too, could play an assertive role for a satisfactory conclusion to this long-running conflict. Secretary of State Colin Powell made encouraging comments in this direction during his recent visit to the region.
American oil firms which prospected for oil in the Sudan 25 years ago, may well bring to bear on Washington the geopolitical importance of Sudan in a world running short of oil reserves. If Washington's entry into the peace quest is able bring a satisfactory conclusion to this terrible war, it will be very welcome.
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