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Darfur progress may be transient

Sultan Ahmed

Issue date: 8/28/09 Section: Opinion
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Hard as it may be to believe, summer vacation is a relative term: it does not apply to international politics. Malevolent dictators, unlike our former president, are not prone to brush-clearing vacations to their ranches. Indeed, this summer was host to a notable change in the mentality of the players in the Darfur conflict.

For those who are unfamiliar with the conflict, it would be best to acknowledge its complexity. There are nearly 30 different groups currently fighting for resource and political control in the Darfur region of Sudan. Initially, and up until the past few months, the competing groups refused to cooperate or negotiate. This summer, however, that mentality began to wither away, and the bright lights of compromise could be seen creeping over the horizon.

In the spring of this year, an arrest warrant was issued for Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir. As a response to this warrant, Al-Bashir expelled 13 aid groups from the country. On July 30, groups from Darfur met in Geneva to conduct talks about how to bring aid to civilians in the region. Representatives of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) met with various aid groups and donor nations to discuss the problems with getting aid into the country. While an immediate solution was not reached at that time, the talks did serve the purpose of initiating conversation between the groups and building optimism for the future.

The Obama administration is working on a new policy toward Sudan, focusing on lifting sanctions on the Sudanese government. General Scott Gration, Obama's chosen envoy to Sudan, has been conducting talks with the Khartoum government and has indicated that they are showing a willingness to cooperate. The United States has also managed to unite four major groups into a common front. On August 24, the groups United Resistance Front, Abdulwahid, Abdulshafi, and Unity all agreed to form a unified front after US-led peace talks in Addis Ababa.

These events, among others, are indicative of a newly developing cooperative attitude within Sudan. However, as per my standard modus operandi, I must remain skeptical of all optimism and potential progress. While several major players, such as the groups mentioned above, are actively participating in the emerging peace process, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) is conspicuously absent. JEM is perhaps the largest group fighting for control in Darfur, and its lack of involvement will inevitably make peace nothing more than a fantasy. In fact, Egypt is to host a Comprehensive Peace Agreement and Darfur conference in the near future, and JEM spokesperson Ahmed Hussein claims that JEM was not invited to participate in the conference. It is a real concern that the conference will be a resounding flop as a result.

Furthermore, I must be skeptical of the Obama administration's willingness to relax restrictions on the Sudanese government. Namely, it does not seem wise to open trade with a government that is currently sponsoring the systematic slaughter of its people. Without strict regulations on use of the resources entering the country or staunch preconditions for receiving those resources, opening resource pathways for the Sudanese government will only add fuel to the fire.

While I desperately try to remain optimistic, I cannot help but think that the Sudan peace process will see little success.
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    posted 8/28/09 @ 1:48 PM EST

    One consultant to Sudan advocacy groups, Chuck Thies, emails that the move is the product of restlessness among advocates at the administration's "seeming inaction" and concern at Special Envoy Scott Gration's statement that genocide in Sudan had stopped. (Continued…)

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