Sudan Peace Act a recipe for more war

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US President George Bush signed legislation on October 21 calling for sanctions on Sudan if he finds that negotiations to end the country’s 19-year civil war are not being conducted in good faith. One would logically assume that this applies to both parties to the conflict, but unfortunately, Bush and logic have never been fond of each other. Washington’s Sudan Peace Act stipulates that the onus lie solely with the government in Khartoum.

Biannually, should Bush find that the government is acting in bad faith or has “unreasonably interfered with humanitarian efforts” in the separatist south, Washington will vote against multilateral loans to Sudan and consider downgrading or suspending diplomatic ties, the resolution says.

The United States will also try to prevent the government from using oil revenues to acquire weapons, and seek a UN Security Council resolution imposing an arms embargo é again, the rebels are exempt from the Americans’ rules.

The legislation also authorizes the administration to spend $100 million a year in the fiscal years of 2003, 2004 and 2005 to improve conditions in areas of Sudan not under government control. This irresponsibly links the humanitarian situation of northern Sudanese Arabs with the actions of their government, regardless of their lack of influence on a totalitarian regime. It also implies that their suffering is perhaps not as important to alleviate as those of the mostly Christian and animist south.

Khartoum has branded the US decision “unbalanced and unobjective,” and urged Arab, Muslim and other parliaments to denounce it. “We are not an American state,” said President Omar Al Bashir. He said the United States has “previously imposed sanctions on us, and if they strike us today we will not succumb to them.”

Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail added: “If the aim of this message is to add more pressure on the Sudanese government so that it can accept any kind of peace, then this step would only lead to a stalemate in the peace processé The neutral role which we had been expecting from the US administration regarding the peace process is turning out to be negative, and is biased in favour of the rebel movement.”

The Sudanese National Assembly called the bill “a flagrant violation of international law and a breach of Sudan’s sovereignty,” adding that it “makes the United States an international policeman that rules over the destinies of the peoples of the world.”

This reaction is not surprising, given that this is direct meddling in another country’s internal affairs (an increasingly commonplace US strategy, particularly since the September 11 attacks), and that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) now has no incentive to stick to the peace track.

On the contrary, the US legislation gives the rebels a free reign, knowing that only the government’s conduct will be the focus of American attention and reprisals.

As such, it does more to encourage war than peace. It is perhaps no coincidence that on the same day Bush signed the legislation, Khartoum reported that the SPLA violated a truce agreement reached just days earlier as a prelude to peace talks in Kenya by attacking three government positions, killing civilians and stealing cattle, a valuable food source in desperate times.

Despite the US bill, Sudan’s government seems to be standing firm. Army spokesman General Mohamed Beshir Suleiman said government forces repulsed the attacks and inflicted “heavy losses in lives and equipment.” He added that Khartoum “will remain committed to all conventions and agreements, and will at the same time be committed to protecting positions against any aggression.”

Sadly, US partiality in this conflict is not new. Washington condemned Sudan’s government for quitting negotiations after the strategic town of Torit fell to the SPLA on September 1. The fact that the rebels increased hostilities and captured a major town during peace talks went without rebuke, and rebel attacks since then have been met with similar silence from Washington.

The Unites States has also long provided humanitarian and financial aid solely to the rebels, drawing fire from governments and humanitarian groups for its one-sidedness.

This partiality is certainly not new to the region. One is reminded of US claims of being an “honest broker” in Arab-Israeli peace talks, while simultaneously championing Israel’s military superiority and economic well-being, and turning a blind eye to its daily violations of human rights and international law.

Despite the advantages granted to the rebels by the Sudan Peace Act, the SPLA would be wise to avoid unilateral hostilities and focus on negotiations. After all, the government é perhaps mindful of the suffering of its people and finally realizing the futility of ruling another by force é has never been more willing to make peace.

Under a framework deal reached in Kenya on July 20, Sudan’s government granted the south the right to vote on full secession after six years of self-rule, during which they will be exempt from the Islamic law applied in the north. These are ground-breaking concessions that largely satisfy rebel demands and may herald an end to a conflict that has killed two million people and displaced twice that number.

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