11 August 2003
The Sudanese government and southern rebels have resumed peace talks in Kenya Monday in an effort to end two decades of civil war that have cost as many as one million lives. But, both sides say the atmosphere for reaching a lasting peace is, at best, very fragile.
The peace talks are resuming, but both sides are expressing skepticism about whether the negotiations will lead to lasting peace in the war-ravaged country.
For 20 years mostly Christian and Animist rebels in the south have been fighting to end domination by the Muslim government of the north.
Last year, in Machakos, Kenya, both sides signed a broad agreement granting the south self-determination, after a six-year period of transition and exemption from Islamic law.
But the peace process broke down last month after Sudan's government rejected a proposal by regional mediators that called for, among other things, separate armies and central banks in northern and southern Sudan during the six-year transition period.
However, according Wahab el Sawi, a spokesman for the Sudanese government, the main issue is a proposal to make Khartoum, Sudan's capital, free of Islam's Sharia law.
"The idea of an Islamic-free zone of Khartoum is not acceptable at all by the government because in the Machakos agreement it was clearly stated that all the northern part of Sudan will be governed by Sharia law and the south will be exempted from Sharia," he said. "So why give a special status for the capital, because the capital is in the north. So at this point the government will not be in a position to re-discuss it."
According to current and former members of both the Sudanese government and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement, or SPLM, one of the major stumbling blocks to peace has been a lack of trust.
Bashir Bakry, the former Sudanese ambassador to France, said that while negotiators from both sides share a mutual distrust, the Sudanese people just want peace.
"There is no confidence between the two parties and I think this is the problem, unfortunately," he said. "I think the problem is that the SPLM, and the government they don't have confidence in each other. And, I think this is not the real wish of the Sudanese from the south or the north we really they want peace."
Gur Kuch is the SPLM's representative in Cairo. He says he is not optimistic about the latest peace negotiations because, he says, he doesn't trust the Sudanese government.
"This is a real issue. We don't have trust in those people because we have agreed so many times with them and they do dishonor [to] the agreement," he said. "So there is a great lack of trust among us."
Mr. Kuch said that if the latest peace talks break down, the country will go back to war.
Sudanese government officials said, unless there are significant changes made in the accord presented last month, Sudanese government negotiators will walk away from the latest peace talks.