The two-party framework in which Sudan’s peace talks are being held is not adequately addressing all the country’s current armed conflicts: especially the long-running rebellions in the “Three Areas” (Abyei, the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile) in the North, and the more recent outbreak of armed conflict in Darfur in western Sudan. The discontents in these regions have thus far largely been viewed as of secondary importance to those of the South, but they must be taken into account if a sustainable national peace agreement is to be reached. There is a real potential for those who feel ignored by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) peace process to undermine any deal that is between only the Khartoum government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). It is therefore incumbent upon the IGAD mediation team and the international observer countries to ensure that the grievances driving conflict in these areas are fully dealt with in any comprehensive peace deal.
The Three Areas lie in the geographic North but have been fighting alongside the SPLA since the mid-1980s. Much of the tension there is fed by the same factors that led to the long running war in southern Sudan: a central government that has exploited local resources, imposed its religious and cultural beliefs on historically diverse populations and consistently pitted local tribes and ethnic groups against each other for short term tactical gain. Many communities across Sudan feel deeply marginalised a result of these practices. Failure to achieve change peacefully has pushed more and more of them into armed confrontation with central authorities. Their fear of being shunted aside in an SPLA-government peace has led them to intensify conflict as a way of calling attention to their problems before any agreement is signed.
The nascent armed rebellion in Darfur, now at risk of escalation, has shocked much of Sudan. The concerns of communities in this region – particularly the Fur, Zaghawa, Massaleit, and other African peoples of western Sudan – mirror not only the situation in the Three Areas and the South, but also that of the Beja in eastern Sudan and the Nubians in northern Sudan. A threatened massive military response by the government in Darfur would take a tremendous toll on the civilian population while only deepening resentment.
Thus far IGAD’s general strategy has largely been to focus on resolving Sudan’s civil war within the North-South paradigm that led to the Machakos Protocol in July 2002, including provisions for a self-determination referendum to be held in the South and sharia law to continue in the North. Yet the continuing difficulties in the Three Areas and recent violence in Darfur make clear that all Sudan has a shared problem: the marginalisation of peripheral regions and groups by successive governments in Khartoum. The clear danger is that as long as these groups continue to feel marginalised and their views are not represented in the IGAD process, the pull toward violence will remain compelling.
The discussions on the Three Areas must be clearly linked to the IGAD process and the interests of the disaffected populations further accommodated. The violence in Darfur should be the subject of a separate and concentrated initiative – by the Khartoum government, strongly encouraged by the international community – to end hostilities and ensure that the issues are also addressed within the IGAD process.