Sudan to strike peace with rebels after decades of war

AFP , Thursday 1 Oct 2020

Both sides are due to sign the deal in full on Saturday in Juba, the capital of neighbouring South Sudan, after putting their initials to the agreement at the end of last month

Members of the Sudanese army stand as weapons that were collected from Sudanese citizens are destroyed in the Hajar al-Asal base, the Nile River State, 200 kilometres north of the capital Khartoum, on September 29, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

Sudan's government and rebels are to sign a landmark peace deal Saturday in a bid to end decades of war in which hundreds of thousands died -- a historic achievement, if it holds.

Ending Sudan's internal conflicts has been a top priority of the transition government in power since last year's ouster of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir amid a popular pro-democracy uprising.

Both sides are due to sign the deal in full on Saturday in Juba, the capital of neighbouring South Sudan, after putting their initials to the agreement at the end of last month.

The location of the ceremony holds great significance -- South Sudan's leaders themselves battled Khartoum as rebels for decades, before establishing the world's newest nation state.

"This is a historic day. We hope that the signing will end the fighting forever and pave the way for development," Suleiman al-Dabailo, chairman of Sudan's Peace Commission, told AFP.

The Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), an alliance of rebel groups from the Darfur, Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan regions, too voiced hope for a lasting peace.

"This day marks the success of our revolution and our fight against the old regime," SRF spokesman Oussama Said told AFP.

"The agreement tackles the roots of the crisis and paves the way for democracy," he said, stressing that it is in line with the goals of the popular revolution, "freedom, peace and justice".

Decades of war

Sudan has been torn by multiple conflicts between the Arab-dominated government that was led by Bashir for three decades and rebels drawn from non-Arab ethnic groups in its far-flung regions.

In Sudan's vast rural areas, settled ethnic minority farmers have frequently competed for scarce resources with Arab herders, who have often been backed by Khartoum.

Tensions have been heightened by economic hardship, especially after the 2011 secession of South Sudan which deprived the north of three-quarters of its oil reserves.

Multiple civil wars have raged since independence in 1956, including the 1983-2005 war that led to the secession of the south.

The devastating war in Darfur from 2003 left at least 300,000 people dead and 2.5 million displaced in its early years, according to the UN.

Under the peace deal, SRF fighters are to be slowly incorporated into joint units with government security forces.

There are however holdout rebel groups who have refused to sign up to the deal.

One of them, the Darfur-based Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) faction led by Abdelwahid Nour, launched an attack on Monday, the army said.

Another, the South Kordofan-based wing of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu, has signed a separate ceasefire.

It allows rebels to keep their guns for "self-protection" until Sudan's constitution is changed to guarantee the separation of state and religion.

South Kordofan and to a lesser extent Blue Nile state have significant Christian populations who have fought for decades to end the imposition of Islamic law by Khartoum.

Pitfalls ahead

Dabailo said the government hopes the holdout groups will come on board "because the document addresses the problems realistically and, if implemented to the letter, will lead to peace".

The agreement covers a number of tricky issues, from land ownership, reparations and compensation to wealth and power sharing and the return of refugees and internally displaced people.

But the path ahead is fraught with pitfalls, warned Osman Mirghani, editor-in-chief of the Sudanese daily Al Tayyar, who asked "what happens to the non-signatories?"

Sudan researcher Jean-Baptiste Gallopin, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, warned that "the agreement is going to be very expensive" for the poverty-stricken country.

"Without outside help, the government will not be able to finance it because the economy is collapsing," he said.

"The financial priority is likely to be the integration of thousands of combatants in return for their demobilisation, and compensation for the victims of the conflicts.

"There is a risk that many of the provisions will remain non-starters. But that is not what is at stake. What is at stake is a reorganisation of the national balance of power between the regions."

In Khartoum, the finance ministry said it is developing a plan to implement the agreement because the region's young people "need to work" and millions of displaced need "help to return home".

"People who have suffered from the war have the right to benefit from peace through development," said a ministry official.

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