A few weeks away from the elections for a new parliament as well as national and regional presidencies (Southern Sudan), fighting has not stopped between Khartoum’s armed forces and the SLA/SLM rebels in the Jebel Marra region. And yet, only a short time ago, signs of improvement allowed one to hope for the best. Two significant steps were taken at the end of February by the government led by Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al Bashir. These steps consisted of a truce with the rebels of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM, the largest but not the only group that revolted in Darfur to defend the rights of the region bordering with Chad), and a peace agreement, signed in Qatar, with N’Djamena, always considered to be allied with the JEM.
To confirm Khartoum’s good intentions, 100 JEM rebels sentenced to death were reprieved and another 57 were set free. However, the fragility of the agreements signed is there for everyone to see and contradicts President Al Bashir’s triumphant statements, when he declared that the civil war in Darfur was “over, speaking on State television and to the international press. The National Congress Party (NCP) lead by Al Bashir, seems in search of new stability, perhaps preparing for the elections, perhaps to appease western hostility for his government, but not all the players on the complicated Sudanese political stage want reconciliation. On the contrary, there have been violent clashes between government troops and the rebels of the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA/SLM), a group that has not signed the truce.
That said, it seems unlikely that the Sudanese people will be able to vote, or that the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement will be able to be totally implemented. At the moment, however, a ‘real’ peace would suit Al Bashir, because it would allow his government to remain in power, in spite of personally being accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes by the International Penal Court (CPI) in July 2008. The president-colonel is considered responsible for atrocities committed in Darfur by the Arab Janjaweed guerrillas.
Defended by the Arab League and by the African Union and the Organisation of Islamic Countries, it is probable that behind the scenes Omar Al Bashir has been obliged by his allies to continue the peace process, closing internal and external fronts; the one with the large Southern Region with its Christian and Animist majority as well as the one with the East and the Darfur rebels. The work done by Egyptian diplomacy, which for historical and economic reasons preserves a strong relationship with the Sudan, has been decisive. Chad too has directed all its efforts at stabilising its tormented neighbour, with a surprise visit by President Idriss Deby to Khartoum on February 8th. This was a historical step that received a great deal of attention from the Arab language press. On the basis of the agreement signed in Doha by Chad and Sudan, announcements should be followed by real developments before March 15th with government appointments for the JEM. Time is running out.
In the meantime the elections approach. Postponed on a number of occasions for two years, these first multi-party elections since 1986, should be held from April 11th to April 13th. At the end of March there will be the international conference for Darfur held in Cairo. There will then be a referendum for the independence of Southern Sudan (about 8 million inhabitants), planned for January 2011.
In April, the main party that will challenge Al Bashir will be the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), a former faction of the SLA now part of the government coalition. The SPLM, which aims at overcoming religious differences between Muslims and Christians and dominates the Christian and Animist south, represents twenty-five percent of voters. Al Bashir’s NCP, instead represents the mainly Arab and Muslim north.
Translated by Francesca Simmons