Low-intensity conflict between the Sudanese government and the rebels in the east could escalate into a full-scale war with disastrous humanitarian consequences, a Belgium-based research and advocacy group said on Thursday.
Sudan: Saving Peace in the East, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, warns that the withdrawal of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) this month could lead to a deadly struggle for control of the region.
"Eastern Sudan is a powder keg," said Matt Bryden, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director, in a press statement released Thursday by ICG. "A greater conflict is inevitable unless the parties come together to address Darfur and the East in a comprehensive way which gives negotiations continuity and consistency. A piecemeal approach to peacemaking simply won’t work anymore."
SPLM, a major rebel group in Sudan, had agreed to withdraw from the region after nearly three years of negotiation with Sudan’s government in Khartoum. The historic Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ended more than 21 years of civil war, which was sparked by a government effort to impose Islamic law on the mostly Christian south in 1983.
Under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the SPLM must withdraw from eastern Sudan by Jan. 9, 2006.
However, ICG noted that the withdrawal could be months behind schedule because SPLM’s former allies – the Eastern Front and the National Congress Party (the Khartoum government) – is likely to compete to fill the power vacuum in the region.
ICG’s report raises concern for Christian groups working in Sudan such as Lutheran World Relief that, along with Action by Churches Together and Caritas Internationalis, offer one of the last health care centers in the Darfur region.
"If war does break out, it will be disastrous for the people of Sudan, who've already suffered so much during the country's long conflict," said LWR spokesperson Emily Sollie. "For lasting peace to come to Sudan, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement must be enforced consistently throughout the country."
Sudan’s government, as well as international officials, had hoped that the agreement would facilitate solving the problems in western Darfur region.
Other Christian groups working in Sudan who will likely be affected by a fight in East Sudan include World Relief, World Vision, Christian Aid, Church Ecumenical Action in Sudan, Norwegian Church Aid, Sudan Council of Churches, DanChurchAid, and Persecution Project Foundation among others.
According to ICG, peace is still possible in east Sudan if SPLM uses its influence in Sudan’s Government of National Unity constructively and the United States, the European Union, the United Nation and others become actively involved in the effort for a peaceful withdrawal in east Sudan.
ICG advises that in order to defuse the situation, Sudan’s government should send a high-level delegation including NCP/SPLM members, to start negotiations with the Eastern Front before the end of January, with the help of the international community.
"The East, like Darfur and the South, has a legitimate claim on greater power and wealth sharing in a new federal government," says Suliman Baldo, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director. "Unless those grievances are addressed now, Sudan’s vicious cycle of violence will spread once again."
Peace talks between the Sudanese Central government and the rebel Eastern Front alliance is due in Libya later this month.
The alliance has good relationships with the SPLM and Darfur’s rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).