In our latests Sudan Insider, we provide news and analysis on the latest round of failed peace talks, food insecurity in Blue Nile State, the EU’s anti-migration policy and Sudan and finally new relations between Sudan and South Sudan after the ousting of former Vice President Riek Machar.
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Peace talks collapse again
Peace talks are meant to recommence in late September after talks collapsed last month.
On August 14, the African Union-brokered peace negotiations collapsed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, between the Sudan government and umbrella opposition group, Sudan Call.
The umbrella Sudan Call opposition in attendance included: the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement–North (SPLM-N) from the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State; two Darfur rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement–Minni Minawi (SLM-MM) and the Justice Equality Movement (JEM); and the leading opposition party, the Umma Party.
In the case of the SPLM-N and government negotiations, talks collapsed over access points for humanitarian aid to war-affected areas. The SPLM-N eventually presented a compromise: 80 percent of aid comes across frontlines from government-controlled areas in Sudan, while 20 percent would come cross border from Asosa, western Ethiopia underSudanese government supervision. The government refused any aid emanating from a foreign country, claiming the aid could be misused to carry weapons for the rebel forces. Conversely, the SPLM-N opposed all aid originating from Sudan, fearing the NCP would block or manipulate aid deliveries as a weapon of war.
In the case of Darfur, negotiations broke down on August 14 after the rebels refused to reveal 13 force locations as required by the government at the beginning of a cessation of hostilities agreement. The Darfur groups also objected to the government’s insistence on using the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) as the basis for negotiations. Neither of the rebel groups were signatory to the DDPD in the past, and maintained their current discussions over a cessation of hostilities had no relation to the July 2011 document.
The African Union (AU) mediators released a statement on August 17 accusing the Darfur rebel groups of re-opening issues “that had previously been agreed and others which contradicted the Roadmap Agreement.” The AU further said the rebel groups refused “balanced options” in regards to the government request for the location of rebel fighters ahead of signing a cessation of hostilities.
Prior to the collapse on August 8, the main parties behind Sudan Call signed the AU-brokered roadmap agreement, a procedural document designed to assist the two warring parties reach a final peaceful solution. On March 19 during previous AU-brokered peace talks in Addis Ababa, the government and Chief Negotiator Thabo Mbeki signed the roadmap peace agreement while the opposition declined.
The main parties of the Sudan Call refused to sign the document since the agreement excluded key opposition groups and would operate through an ongoing dialogue process, called the National Dialogue, that they claim is government-controlled.
Both sides have traded accusations for the collapse of the talks and, equally, both sides have claimed they are willing to resume the peace talks despite the foundered discussions. The U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also urged both sides to return to the negotiating table.
What it means….
The collapse of the latest talks, the twelfth attempt, may represent one of the last attempts at peaceful negotiation for Sudan. In an address to senior military officers on August 21, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir said they would only “negotiate by force” if attempts at peaceful negotiation failed this year.
The collapse of the peace talks may repeat this month if the AU continues to use Thabo Mbeki as the chief negotiator. There is deep mistrust, especially among the Darfur rebel groups, regarding his neutrality vis-à-vis the Sudanese government. Many of the rebel groups see his past mediation in Darfur and the contested Abyei area both in 2011 as exemplary of his bias towards Khartoum.
Conversely, sources attending the talks claim the AU has lost confidence in the multiple Darfur rebel groups to convey a singular, practical stance to usher in peace. Often split on personal differences and individual power and ethnic interests, factionalism has dissipated the strength and mediator’s confidence in the legitimacy of the rebel movements.
The political impasse over humanitarian aid access between the government and SPLM-N is not a new debate. The Sudan government has denied aid access emanating outside of the country since the conflict started in 2011, harbouring deep suspicions over aid routes being misused by the rebels for military purposes. The government nominally supported a Memorandum of Understanding between the SPLM-N, the AU, League of Arab States and the UN to provide humanitarian access to war affected areas in 2011 but the document was never implemented to date.
The government refusal to compromise over humanitarian access points in the war-affected regions of the two areas (South Kordofan and Blue Nile states) may remain a permanent position. Providing humanitarian relief to the SPLM-N-controlled areas defies Sudan’s military strategy to force civilians in rebel areas to relocate to government-controlled regions through a war of attrition. Government forces have scaled up offensives in 2016, targeting farmlands and market areas crucial for food production and access.
Three other areas of contention for upcoming peace talks between the SPLM-N and government involve disarmament, the status of the national dialogue and inclusivity.
Authorities insist the SPLA-N disarm upon signing a cessation of hostilities agreement, while the rebels will only agree to a more gradual integration process with the Sudanese army before considering disarmament.
The SPLM-N has reiterated repeatedly their refusal to participate in the ongoing National Dialogue launched by Bashir in October 2014, claiming it is factitious and government-controlled. SPLM-N Secretary General Yasir Arman has, however, confirmed their willingness to participate in a separate, evolved National Dialogue process. It is unclear; however, whether the government will insist on the SPLM-N joining the current dialogue taking place in Khartoum.
Finally, SPLM-N insists any peaceful solution must be national in nature rather than achieved on a case-by-case basis. SPLM-N has called for a countrywide peace and political reform process involving all opposition forces across the country rather than consecutive deals preferred by the ruling party. The reason, according to SPLM-N statements, is their concern that the government will manipulate the process if resolutions are not national in nature and that agreements will be breached. The government, however, argues the issues of conflict are diverse and cannot be resolved holistically.
With peace talks still in limbo, conflicts will continue in the two areas and Darfur. Poor harvests, meagre rainfall and the ongoing conflict in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile may lead to severe food shortages this year and potential starvation the next. In Darfur, the U.N. estimates 82,000 people were newly displaced across the region in the first seven months of 2016, largely coming from the Jebel Marra area.
Food Insecurity in Blue Nile
Mass displacement from the conflict, erratic rains and extremely high market prices has lead to severe food insecurity in Blue Nile State and in cross-border refugee camps in Maban, South Sudan, according to humanitarian workers.
The Food Monitoring Security Unit’s July report indicates that over 65,000 individuals in Blue Nile are facing severe food insecurity, especially in the payams (a term for an area smaller than a county in Sudan) of Yabus, Chali, Geissam and Wadaka. Humanitarian workers and news reports claim at least four people – two being children – have died of hunger in July alone.
While the conflict effectively came to a standstill in July in Blue Nile, depleted food supplies from poor harvests last season and extreme market price hikes has lead to severe hunger and further displacement. At least 120 people from Wadaka payam, for instance, were displaced in July due to a lack of food, according to the Food Security Monitoring Unit (FSMU) report. While rainfall is better than 2015, the 2016 conflict has displaced many from the most valuable agricultural land to areas of meagre yields, the report adds.
Reduced supplies, blocked trade routes and the devaluation of the South Sudan pound have all contributed to the escalating market prices in Blue Nile. The price of staple grains such as sorghum has more than doubled last year’s price in the rebel-controlled Yabus, Blue Nile.
Sudanese authorities have also reportedly hired Ethiopian militias to block Sudanese refugees from accessing refugee camps in Ethiopia. The Benishangui-Gumuz refugee camps in Ethiopia host close to 39,000 Sudanese refugees. The militias have blocked cross-border trade, severely affecting rebel-controlled markets, especially in Geissan and Yabus, Blue Nile State.
Food insecurity across the border in refugee camps in Maban, South Sudan, is similarly dire. A nutrition survey conducted in late 2015 found increased levels of malnutrition in all the Maban camps, especially Doro refugee camp. A 30 percent reduction in UN relief food rations and insecurity in South Sudan has reduced food supplies for over 136,000 refugees, mostly women and children who fled the conflict in Blue Nile.
This situation is compounded with conflicts between the host community and Uduk tribe in Doro and Kaya refugee camps in Maban, South Sudan. The violence and limited food aid in these refugee camps has induced thousands of Sudanese refugees to return to the Blue Nile. According to interviews with Maban refugees, as many as 100 people have been killed in these conflicts since 2011.
What it means…
The violence between Sudanese refugees and South Sudanese host communities has driven refugees back to Sudan and contributed to further food insecurity within Blue Nile. FSMU estimates half of those returning to Sudan are in need of humanitarian assistance. The return of the refugees to Sudan has further compounded meagre food supplies in Blue Nile. The sporadic conflicts have also blocked humanitarian aid to the camps.
Insecurity related hindrances to humanitarian aid might worsen an already fragile food security situation in the Maban refugee camps. This will likely aggravate tensions with the host community and incur further movement of the war-displaced to return to the conflict they fled in the first place.
The government routinely uses militias to fight the conflict in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile. These forces, sometimes in tandem with regular Sudan Armed Forces, are also used to block food supplies in both conflict areas in a bid to force civilians to relocate to government-controlled areas.
This may be the key reason why the government negotiation team appears unwilling to compromise humanitarian access points during the latest round of peace talks in with the SPLM-N in Addis Ababa. Providing humanitarian relief would completely reverse their military strategy in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states – a war of attrition.
EU’s anti-migration policy and Sudan
On August 25, Italy repatriated a group of Sudan nationals who attempted to cross the border at France. The Sudanese migrants were detained at Ventimiglia, a border town near France, from where they were flown to Khartoum on a chartered EgyptAir flight.
This deportation was the first of its kind in Italy. Only last year, 60 percent of Sudanese asylum seekers were granted humanitarian protection in Italy.
The forced deportation is the product of an agreement signed on August 3 between Sudan and Italy. While this agreement is designed to tackle means of curbing irregular migration into Italy, it remains vague on how such measures would be implemented.
The UN Refugee Agency has expressed concern about the risk of returning people with protection needs back to Sudan. According to the organisation’s press officer, Carlotta Sami, it is imperative that the Italian authorities take into account individual refugee circumstances before forcibly returning them to their country of origin.
Italy’s repatriation of Sudanese migrants falls under the broader framework of cooperation between Sudan and the EU on migration issues. Sudan has existed as a major transit zone for migrants moving between East Africa and Libya to reach the southern tips of Europe. In April, European Development Commissioner Neven Mimica announced a €100 million package, to support Sudan in addressing the root causes of irregular migration.
What it means…
Although the EU has claimed they are not providing any direct aid to the Sudanese government, Sudan started an anti-migration campaign on both its major migratory borders in eastern and western Sudan soon after EU funds were announced.
In May, close to 1,000 Eritreans were reportedly rounded up in Khartoum where they were either imprisoned or deported back to Eritrea. A month later, Sudan also captured Mered Medhanie, an Eritrean smuggler thought to be responsible for the drowning of almost 400 migrants near the Italian island of Lampedusa in 2013. He was extradited back to Italy.
Last month the pro-government militia leader Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti” claimed his Rapid Support Force (RSF) has been patrolling the Libya-Sudan border in order to curb migration on behalf of the EU. In July, the RSF claimed they had arrested over 300 illegal immigrants who were heading to Libya across the Northern State. And only in August, security forces in the North Darfur State arrested 26 foreign nationals as they attempted to cross from Sudan to Libya.
The RSF is well known for its extensive human right violations in the past. Formerly known as the “Janjaweed,” Khartoum repackaged the militia in 2014 to work directly under President Omar al-Bashir and Khartoum’s security agencies.
The Janjaweed’s atrocities are well documented and led to the International Criminal Court (ICC) issuing an arrest warrant against Bashir. The UN estimates that at least 300,000 people have died since 2003 during the conflict in Darfur. Similarly, the RSF have harassed and attacked citizens in Darfur and the two conflict areas, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, since 2014.
Sudan is being supported to curb migration while the authorities may well be the main creators of refugees. At the end of 2015, Sudan was the fifth largest country of origin for refugees, according to UNHCR and between January and June this year, just under 5,000 Sudanese refugees fled to Italy. By consistently funding militia groups like the RSF to fight rebel groups in Darfur and the Two Areas, it is likely that more refugees will be forced to flee to Europe than in previous years prior to the EU anti-migration policy.
Old enemies, pragmatic friends: South Sudan & Sudan
Political and economic relations between former rivals Sudan and South Sudan appear to be improving after a diplomatic charm offensive by the latter amidst internal turmoil within South Sudan’s capital, Juba.
Newly appointed Vice-President Taban Deng traveled to Khartoum on August 22 to meet Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir to discuss security, border arrangements and oil transaction issues.
One of the key assurances Deng gave Khartoum was an end to any perceived assistance to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. Deng said they would call on the SPLM-N to seek a peaceful settlement. “We advise them [SPLM-N] that wartime is over and we say to them that your brothers in South Sudan shouldn’t suffer because of you, for even if the South didn’t support you, Sudan is making use of that [pretext],” Deng said in news reports.
Following Deng’s request during his visit, Bashir pledged to deliver aid assistance to war-affected areas of South Sudan including Aweil, Renk and other areas in Unity and Upper Nile states. The assistance was meant to reach South Sudan before the 17th of September.In what appears to be a trust-building exercise, Deng also handed over a letter from South Sudan President Salva Kiir to Bashir during his Khartoum trip. In the letter Kiir expressed his commitment to implement all cooperation agreements signed between the two countries in 2012.
A separate meeting in Khartoum took place simultaneously with Sudan’s petroleum minister, Dr. Mohammed Awad, and his South Sudanese counterpart, Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, to discuss oil production resumption. The meeting included an oil agreement and plans to restore Al Wohda Oil field in Upper Nile after South Sudan’s oil production decreased to less-than-half of pre-conflict production levels.
Seemingly desperate to improve diplomatic relations, South Sudan turned a blind eye to Sudan providing medical treatment to former vice president and later rebel leader Riek Machar. Nor did South Sudan flinch after Sudan seemingly reneged on a prior agreement to allow South Sudanese national status within its borders.
What it means…
This may be a turning point in Sudan – South Sudan relations after years of reneged promises and a political impasse over past commitments. In September 2012, both countries signed a series of agreements concerning: oil, citizenship status, security, banking, border trade, among other issues. Despite signing an implementation procedural agreement six months later, the plans are yet to be executed.
The current ruling regime in Juba are desperate to maintain power amidst a severe political and economic crisis driven by civil conflict and need regional support to do so. Without Sudan’s support, South Sudan is cut off from crucial oil revenue that constitutes 98% of the economy. Further, with little funds for armaments, Sudan could potentially fund the opposition and oust the current clique in power.
The current leadership in Juba is facing increasing unpopularity vis-à-vis the international community and seeks regional political support to counter this trend. Despite Omar al Bashir harboring an International Criminal Court warrant for crimes against humanity, Sudan has received considerable international support recently from the international community in return for alleged support to curb migration to Europe and counter terrorism.
Although South Sudan’s support toward the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement / Army –North (SPLM/A-N) in Sudan has been largely debated, recent developments suggest the SPLM-N will receive no support from South Sudan. It would appear, despite SPLM-N being former military allies to the SPLM who helped South Sudan achieve independence in 2011, even political support is not forthcoming.
South Sudan’s closer collaboration with Sudan may lead to an even tougher stance toward those fleeing the fighting in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states that have migrated to South Sudan. UNHCR, in collaboration with South Sudan officials, already closed the largest refugee camp, Yida, in Unity State. There are over 234,000 Sudanese refugees in neighboring South Sudan –the majority being from Nuba, according to UN statistics.