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3/29/04 - CONFLICT IN SUDAN - 2004-03-29

Over the past several months, Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha and John Garang, head of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, have been in negotiations aimed at ending Sudan’s civil war. Almost since its independence from Britain in 1956, Sudan has been in conflict, with the predominantly Arab north pitted against the mostly black Christian and animist populations of the south. Fighting in the western province of Darfur, which is mostly Muslim, has complicated the situation.

Over the years, more than four-million Sudanese have been driven from their homes. Two million have died. The suffering has been compounded by famine. Over the last ten years, the U.S. has provided more than one-billion dollars in aid.

Now there is a chance for peace in Sudan. In 2003, the government and the opposition agreed to an internationally monitored cease-fire in the Nuba mountains region. In 2002, they signed the Machakos Protocol, which guarantees freedom of religion and the right of southerners to self-determination. The two sides have also agreed to provide unrestricted humanitarian access to all areas of Sudan and to cease hostilities.

Agreements on wealth-sharing and security issues have also been reached. But the two sides have been at an impasse on other key issues, including the status of Abyei, an area on the border between northern and southern Sudan. To try to overcome this impasse, U.S. Special Envoy John Danforth recently went to the peace talks. U.S. ideas provide for a special status for Abyei during a six-year interim period that would follow the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement. Other ideas address questions of revenue sharing, international monitoring, reconstruction, and reconciliation. There would also be a provision for many of the original residents of Abyei to vote on the area’s future status. White House spokesman Scott McLellan says that President George W. Bush has spoken to Sudanese President Omar Hassan el-Bashir and John Garang:

“The President indicated to both President Bashir and Dr. Garang that there were moments in history when leaders must rise to make a big difference for their countries. This is that moment for Sudan.”

Mr. McClellan says that, “Now is the time for Sudan to show the world that they can reconcile their differences, make peace, and improve the lives of all the Sudanese.”