SUDAN: Peace and the Region - OCHA IRIN
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SUDAN: Peace and the Region

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

NAIROBI, 2 Apr 2004 (IRIN) - //This is the sixth of a series of reports on prospects for peace in the Sudan. The reports are being published over two months//

With a landmass of over 2 million sq km, Sudan is the largest country in Africa. It has borders with nine countries, all of which will be affected to a greater or lesser degree by the conclusion of a peace deal in their giant neighbour. A comprehensive peace agreement between the Sudanese government and rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) also has the potential to change the dynamics of the region.

In the 1990s, the Sudanese National Islamic Front (NIF) of President Omar Bashir (who came to power in a military coup in 1989) launched an aggressive Islamist-based foreign policy and tried to export radical Islam to the region. Relations with neighbouring countries, particularly Ethiopia and Eritrea, quickly deteriorated. But the new century has seen a realignment of alliances and shifting allegiances due to factors such as the Ethiopia-Eritrea border war, the ongoing rebellion in northern Uganda and the global war against terror. And undoubtedly one of the greatest effects of a peace deal would be the return of hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees to their country from the neighbouring states.


The Ethiopian government believes the country could reap enormous rewards from lasting peace in Sudan. Bilateral ties have been steadily improving over the last few years, particularly in the aftermath of the Eritrea-Ethiopia war of 1998-2000.

"Peace in Sudan is a harbinger of regional peace," says Information Minister Bereket Simon, stressing that the whole image of the war-ravaged Horn would change in the eyes of the international community.

"Achieving unity in Sudan within the framework of peace and democracy will offer a significant advantage for both Ethiopia and our region," he told IRIN.

The government believes that a Sudanese peace deal will also bring an end to religious extremism, fostering greater trade, stability and economic development. Hopes also exist that a lasting solution will bring an end to frequent clashes between rival ethnic groups struggling for ascendancy along the 1,600-km Ethiopia-Sudan border.

Bereket also stated that the "field of operation will be narrowed down" for guerrilla groups intent on destabilising border regions with stable governments.

For Ethiopia cross-border cooperation has been formalised, with the emphasis on boosting the current limited trade levels through business development and oil exports. New negotiations are also underway on fully utilising access and use of the Nile River, which flows from Ethiopia into Sudan. An all-weather road is now linking the north of Ethiopia with Sudan, and Ethiopia benefits from access to Port Sudan and the Red Sea. Telephone networks have been integrated between the two countries, and Ethiopia is delivering excess electricity to Sudan.

The United Nations is also hoping for a "spillover" effect in Ethiopia and Eritrea, two countries emerging from a bloody border war and whose relations are still in deep freeze. "This example of statesmanship in settling a seemingly ingrained and intractable conflict could motivate the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea," said one senior UN peacekeeper.

And while historically, add analysts, Ethiopia’s relations with SPLA rebels have been cool in the last decade, they too are warming as peace approaches. SPLA Leader John Garang has visited Addis Ababa twice in recent months meeting Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to brief him on the ongoing peace initiatives.


Eritrea’s relations with Sudan meanwhile have been steadily declining with both sides accusing the other of supporting their rebel groups. Eritrea is historically mistrustful of Khartoum which sought to export radical Islam into the Horn in the mid-1990s. The Sudanese opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has its headquarters in Asmara, the Eritrean capital, although it stresses that it gets no military support from the Eritrean authorities.

Earlier this year, the Eritrean government accused the Sudanese authorities of arresting its nationals and closing community centres frequented by Eritreans in Khartoum. It also believes a new regional alliance, grouping Ethiopia, Sudan and Yemen, is aimed at isolating Eritrea in the region.

The border between Sudan and Eritrea remains closed, although they each have diplomatic representation in each other’s capitals. Khartoum has repeatedly accused Asmara of backing Sudanese rebels in a bid to topple the regime, but the Eritrean government denies the charges.

"We don’t have an agenda of regime change in Sudan," says Yemane Gebremeskel, Director of the Eritrean President’s Office. "If the Sudanese want to change their government, then it’s up to them." He admits that bilateral ties are currently poor, but stresses that "there are no insurmountable problems".

Regional analysts say radical Islamist groups seeking to destabilise Eritrea could lose their base if a peace deal is concluded in Sudan. Recently there has been a spate of attacks in western Eritrea, believed to have been carried out by the Eritrean Islamic Jihad Movement (EIJM) – a Sudan-based Eritrean rebel group.

The EIJM has previously claimed carrying out attacks on the Eritrean military, but denies targeting civilians.


Uganda’s relationship with its northern neighbour over the past 20 years has been strained, largely due to each country supporting the other’s rebels. At the end of the 1990’s, however, a significant warming of relations officially put an end to this although both sides have periodically accused each other of violating a peace pact, signed in Nairobi in 1999. In June 2002, the two countries signed an agreement known as Operation Iron Fist which allowed Ugandan forces to enter Sudan to flush out LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) bases there.

For Uganda, the ‘Sudan question’ is paramount, regional analysts say. Should peace come to Sudan, there could be an end in sight to northern Uganda’s civil war, which has been raging for nearly 18 years and has caused untold mayhem, destruction and massive loss of life. The Ugandan rebel LRA, led by Joseph Kony, bases its operations out of Sudan.

"A comprehensive peace deal which sticks, between Khartoum and the SPLA, will remove the imperative to support the LRA," one analyst said. "Rogue elements in the Sudanese army will no longer feel the need to support Kony because the SPLA will no longer be a threat."

"Once a peace deal is in place, our full attention will turn to the LRA," the SPLA’s spokesman in Kampala, George Riek Machar, commented earlier this year.


Kenya, which has borne the burden of thousands of Sudanese refugees on its territory, stands to gain greatly from peace in its northwestern neighbour. Other peace dividends, according to regional analysts, include a reduced influx of illegal firearms from regional war zones and improved economic prospects due to cheaper oil imports.

Local analyst Charles Omondi says the rise in violence in Kenya can be attributed to the ease with which guns are being acquired through porous borders. He also noted that Kenya, which currently imports its crude oil from the Middle East, stands to gain from cheaper Sudanese oil.

"I envisage a situation where one day a pipeline is built to supply Kenya directly with Sudan’s crude oil," he told IRIN.

Former defence minister Marsden Madoka, who is currently shadow foreign minister, noted that Kenya has built an image as a regional peacemaker, and a Sudanese peace deal would enhance this image. Kenyan mediation of the IGAD-sponsored peace talks between the government and SPLA rebels has been widely praised.

"What Kenya has been out to do is to play a very neutral role," Madoka told IRIN. "But most important now is the question of peace and stability."

"Instability in any of our neighbouring countries is a great threat to our own instability," he pointed out. "We have a lot of firearms in the country, which has contributed to much instability in Kenya."

Gitau Warigi, a political commentator with the Kenyan ‘Daily Nation’, also underlined that peace in Sudan would release development funds for other needy countries.

"Poverty has been spreading in the east African region, but Sudan has diverted attention from other issues that the international community should look at," he said.


For the CAR, the biggest benefits from a peace deal in Sudan would be trade and the return of over 37,000 Sudanese refugees. The two countries share a border of over 1,000 km with the same ethnic groups on either side. But the civil war in Sudan prompted tens of thousands of refugees to flee into the CAR, ushering in a climate of permanent insecurity.

According to CAR officials, during the dry season SPLA rebels would infiltrate towns and villages in eastern CAR in order to obtain food supplies and other commodities. "They would enter the CAR up to 100-200km from the border," Come Zoumara, the presidential adviser in defence matters told IRIN.

For the first time in two years, CAR soldiers were able to reach Bangouti 1,500 km east of the capital Bangui, on the border with Sudan, which had been under SPLA control, Gen Antoine Gambi, the army chief of staff revealed earlier this month during a debate on state-owned Television Centrafricaine.

Hamis Hagar Zat, an adviser at the Sudanese embassy in Bangui, said a peace accord would constitute an enormous boost for trade between the two countries. The decades-long war subjected the southeastern tip of CAR to abject poverty and underdevelopment, due to the long distance separating it from Bangui.

"With peace and stability restored in southern Sudan, people on both sides of the border would engage in trade and commercial exchanges and develop their region," Hagar Zat said. He added that in time, the two governments - which signed a Trade Accord in 1967 - would consider building or repairing roads linking the two countries.

But one of the biggest effects would be the return of the refugees. In February, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reopened its office in Mboki to educate and organise the voluntary repatriation of refugees.

"The decision to reopen the UNHCR office was motivated by the progress made in negotiations between the rebels and the [Sudanese] government," Jean-Richard Fabomy, a UNHCR field officer, told IRIN. He said the repatriation programme would most likely start in July.


In the DRC, tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees are also anxiously awaiting the conclusion of a peace deal so that they too can go home. Around 69,000 refugees have been registered by UNHCR, most of them in the northeastern Province Orientale close to the border with Sudan. UNHCR spokesman Fatoumata Kaba said that in theory, the repatriation of refugees should start towards the end of this year.

"Most of the refugees say they want to go home, but they are waiting for cast iron guarantees regarding the ceasefire, education and infrastructures," he told IRIN. He stressed that the number of registered refugees was "very far from the reality", as thousands more were living outside the camps. Many of them have been in DRC for over 20 years.

But according to DRC officials, there have not been many problems between the refugees and the local people. "These people are the same on both sides of the border," explained External Trade Minister Roger Lumbala. He was the leader of the former rebel group, Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie/national (RCD/N) which had close ties with SPLA rebels operating from Congolese territory.

The DRC government meanwhile is launching a diplomatic offensive to boost relations with Sudan. Foreign Minister Antoine Ghonda was due to visit Khartoum for discussions on issues such as the refugee repatriation.

According to the US State Department, the DRC’s relations with its neighbours, including Sudan, have often been driven by security concerns, leading to intricate and interlocking alliances. The recent crisis in eastern DRC was exacerbated by the use of the Congo as a base by various insurgency groups attacking neighbouring countries, and by the exploitation of Congo’s resources by its neighbours.


Ever since fighting broke out in the three Darfur states of western Sudan over a year ago, Chad has been drawn into the Sudan conflict on a different axis. It is currently hosting an estimated 110,000 Sudanese refugees who fled combat between Darfur rebels and Sudanese militias.

Despite cosy relations between N'djamena and Khartoum, concerns have been raised about regional stability in the area where cross-border ethnic ties are stronger than nationality. Much of the top brass of the Chadian army belongs to the same Zaghawah ethnic group as many of the refugees. President Idriss Deby of Chad is also a Zaghawah.

Deby is therefore walking a tightrope, say observers. "He can't afford a falling-out with Sudan," a regional analyst told IRIN. "If he supports his clansmen openly, Sudan will come down on him like a ton of bricks. If he does it covertly, he risks taking the war home with him."

Whether a peace deal between the Sudanese government and SPLM/A will help bring the deteriorating situation under control remains to be seen, say regional analysts.

SPLM/A spokesman Yasir Arman maintains that a "democratic solution" to the Darfur conflict will be one of the SPLM/A's first priorities once it enters a transitional government.

"Any peace agreement is going to inject a new momentum and new ways of looking at things in Sudan. It will allow transformations and political participation," he told IRIN. "If we have an agreement, the present policy of the government is going to change... There will be new thinking for all the parties, including ourselves."

An EU official noted that a constitutional review is foreseen during the six-year transition period after a peace deal is signed. "This would be a good opportunity to address the political aspects of the Darfur crisis, but within a broader framework of addressing the issue of marginalisation of various areas," he said.


Egypt and Sudan resumed diplomatic relations in March 2000, which were broken off in 1995 after Cairo accused Khartoum of attempting to assassinate President Hosni Mubarak in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

Egypt does not want to see a split Sudan as this would increase the competition for the resources of the Nile river. "Moreover as well as strongly supporting a united Sudan, Egypt has long assumed some extra-territorial rights in Sudan based in historical-cultural linkages, the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium and its assumed natural and historical rights to the waters of the Nile," says Sudan analyst John Young.

"From such a perspective, Cairo has always favoured an amenable and conciliatory regime in Khartoum," he added. "And no doubt as its premier ally in the region, the US has been influenced by the changing perspectives of Cairo on Khartoum."

"Thus in the present context, Cairo can reasonably conclude that things are moving its way on Sudan...For its part the NIF welcomes Egypt’s involvement in the peace process to ensure that self-determination is removed or sufficiently undermined in the peace negotiations," says Young.

In March, Egypt’s ambassador to the UN Ahmed Abul-Gheit stressed his country’s interest in maintaining Sudan’s territorial integrity and in "bringing about justice, peace and equality to all the people of Sudan". He added that Egypt was keen to get solid international peace guarantees for Sudan.


Throughout the 1980s, Sudan's relations with Libya alternated between extreme hostility and cordiality. Observers note that Sudanese leader General Jafar Numayri and Libyan leader Mu'ammar al- Qadhafi were especially antagonistic towards each other. Numayri permitted the opposition Libyan National Salvation Front to broadcast anti-Qadhafi propaganda from radio transmitters located in Sudan. The Libyan government responded by training anti-Numayri opposition forces in Libya and providing financial and material support to the SPLM.

According to regional analysts, repairing relations with Libya has been a goal of the various governments since 1985. The Sadiq al-Mahdi government allowed Libya to station some of its military forces in Darfur, from where they assisted Chadian rebels in carrying out raids against government forces in Chad. The expanding relations between Sudan and Libya were not viewed favourably in Cairo, and in 1988 - apparently in response to pressure from Egypt and the US - the Sudanese government requested a withdrawal of the Libyan forces.

Observers say relations between Libya and Sudan now can be described as "stagnant" However, Sudanese officials and opposition leaders visit Tripoli occasionally. But Libyan investment in Sudan has dropped to almost nothing. This is largely attributed to lack of Libyan funds after years of sanctions and Qadhafi's displeasure after sponsorship of the peace talks was "hijacked" by the US.

Other recent SUDAN reports:

Rising tensions reported in areas of Upper Nile,  26/Nov/04

Violence shuts down WFP operations in North Darfur,  25/Nov/04

Measles immunisation campaign planned for the south,  25/Nov/04

Escalating violence in Darfur condemned,  24/Nov/04

Big challenges in the south,  24/Nov/04

Other recent Peace Security reports:

ETHIOPIA-ERITREA: EU welcomes Ethiopia's acceptance of border ruling, urges Eritrea to respond, 26/Nov/04

SUDAN: Rising tensions reported in areas of Upper Nile, 26/Nov/04

IRAQ: Weekly round-up Number 89 for 20-26 November, 26/Nov/04

ANGOLA: Biggest ever campaign against landmines launched, 26/Nov/04

GREAT LAKES: Fresh threat challenges new regional declaration, 26/Nov/04

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