What's In Blue

Posted Mon 9 Jun 2014

Consultations on Sudan and South Sudan

Tomorrow morning (10 June), Council members expect to receive a briefing in consultations on Sudan and South Sudan from Haile Menkerios (via videoconferencing), head of the UN Office to the AU and UN Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan. Some Council members had expressed interest in hearing from Thabo Mbeki, the head of the AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) mediating between Sudan and South Sudan, in an informal interactive dialogue. However, Mbeki, who has not briefed Council members on Sudan-South Sudan issues since a 27 March 2013 informal interactive dialogue, is unable to participate. At press time, no outcome was planned for tomorrow’s meeting.

Progress continues to be elusive in addressing many of the key political and security issues dividing Sudan and South Sudan. The Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism is currently dormant, the centreline of the Safe Demilitarised Border Zone has not been established and the Abyei area administration has not been formed in the midst of increasing instability in recent months in the area. Council members will likely be interested in hearing from Menkerios an update on whether there are any efforts being made by Sudan and South Sudan to address these ongoing challenges, as well as when they might reconvene for negotiations to discuss these issues.

The situation in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states in Sudan is also likely to be discussed in tomorrow’s meeting. The US and several others have expressed ongoing concern with the humanitarian crisis in these two states, although political divisions in the Council have prevented it from mounting an effective response to this crisis. Heightened fighting was reported in April and May, as the government launched a “Decisive Summer Operation” against rebels throughout the country. The fighting in South Kordofan (and elsewhere in Sudan) has led to significant displacement, and there is strong evidence that Sudan has bombed civilian areas. These bombings have been particularly alarming to several Council members, who are likely to raise their concerns about them in tomorrow’s discussion.

Council members may also be interested in learning more about recent developments on the political track regarding South Kordofan and Blue Nile. After Sudan’s second civil war (1983-2005), the SPLM-North and other parties in the two areas continued to believe that they were politically marginalised by Khartoum. With South Sudan becoming an independent state on 9 July 2011, South Kordofan and Blue Nile erupted into conflict in June and September 2011, respectively, and the violence has continued since then, with Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) struggling to agree on a framework for their negotiations. (The SPLM-N prefers to express its grievances as part of a broad national coalition of rebel groups called the Sudan Revolutionary Front; Sudan has shunned this holistic approach, preferring to engage with rebel groups through distinct regional processes.) The parties last convened for negotiations on 22 April, but the talks had collapsed by the end of the month. When Menkerios last addressed Council members in consultations on 19 May, he said that the parties were expected to reengage on 28 May; however, this did not happen. During tomorrow’s meeting, Council members may be interested in an update from Menkerios on why the talks have been delayed and when the negotiations might recommence.

Some Council members may also ask Menkerios about the national dialogue process in Sudan and what the next steps in the dialogue might be. President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan has stated that the process is designed to “stop…war and bring peace, free political society, fight against poverty and revitalise national identity.” However, it appears that the national dialogue, which is only in its nascent stages, is already stalling. The 17 May arrest of Sadiq al-Mahdi, the leader of the National Umma Party, on charges of “defamation” after he accused a government-affiliated militia, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), of murdering and raping civilians in Darfur appears to have been a significant setback. The National Umma Party, one of the leading opposition parties in Sudan, withdrew from the national dialogue following al-Mahdi’s arrest, as did the Reform Now Party (RNP) on 4 June. Other opposition parties that were amenable to the national dialogue also seem to be reconsidering their involvement. The 8 June arrest of Ibrahim al-Sheikh, head of the Congress Party, for remarks critical of the government and its management of the Darfur situation, is likely to lead opposition parties to further question the national dialogue. While Council members have viewed the national dialogue as a step in the right direction, some have been more cautious in their support than others, preferring to see concrete steps before commending the process. The recent arrests of al-Mahdi and al-Sheikh have led some Council members to call into question the government’s commitment to political inclusiveness and dialogue.

Another matter that may be raised by Council members is the 3 June meeting in Addis Ababa of the Tripartite Committee. This Committee—consisting of representatives from Sudan, South Sudan, and the AUHIP—was created to implement the 27 September 2012 agreement between the two countries on “certain economic matters.” It is mandated to urge international actors to help Sudan and South Sudan in four areas: providing transitional financial assistance for Sudan; awarding development aid to South Sudan; providing debt relief; and lifting economic sanctions (i.e., bilateral sanctions) on Sudan. Council members may be interested in input from Menkerios on the efforts of Sudan and South Sudan to achieve these four goals. According to the 27 September 2012 agreement on certain economic matters, Sudan is expected to retain “all external debt liabilities and external assets” existing prior to the independence of South Sudan. However, if within two years (or at a later date agreed by Sudan and South Sudan), Sudan does not reach the “decision point”— the point at which the IMF determines that a country has met conditions that make it eligible for support through its Enhanced Initiative for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC)—then the two countries would negotiate how to apportion the external debt between them. As such, at tomorrow’s meeting, there may be some questions about how close Sudan is to reaching the HIPC “decision point” and whether Sudan and South Sudan have given thought to negotiations on how to apportion debt in case Sudan does not achieve “decision point” status.

The issues of debt relief and economic sanctions have been raised in the Council in Sudan-South Sudan discussions before. When Mbeki last met with Council members on 27 March 2013, he noted that economic sanctions against Sudan were unhelpful. Some members of the Council similarly believe that economic sanctions on Sudan have been a destabilising factor and have supported the idea of debt relief. Other Council members believe that the removal of such sanctions would be counterproductive, as it would reward the regime despite its negative behavior.

It is possible that Menkerios will discuss how the conflict in South Sudan impacts on the relationship between Sudan and South Sudan in tomorrow’s meeting. For example, Menkerios may address reports that Justice and Equality Movement rebels from Darfur have supported South Sudan in its conflict against the SPLM in Opposition, while he may also comment on reports that Sudan has aided the SPLM in Opposition, an allegation that Sudan denies. Another issue that might be discussed is how the South Sudan civil war is affecting the flow of oil from South Sudan to Sudan.

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