Nuba cease-fire comes into effect

The military cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains, Southern Kordofan, an agreement on which was signed in Switzerland on Saturday after six days of negotiations between the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) Nuba region, entered into force at 12 noon (local time) on Tuesday, according to the Sudanese army.

The army spokesman, General Muhammad Bashir Sulayman, said the army would be "instrumental in achieving the objectives of the agreement" in the 80,000 square-kilometre south-central region, based on its firm belief that dialogue was the best means to achieve peace, Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency reported.

The agreement, to be supervised by a Joint Military Commission, had been scheduled to enter into force 72 hours after its signature, according to the Swiss government, which co-hosted the cease-fire talks with the United States of America.
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Dr Salaf al-Din Salih, head of the government's Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC), said the agreement would facilitate the work of aid agencies in the Nuba Mountains and contribute to the region's rehabilitation and development, the official Sudanese News Agency (SUNA) reported on Monday.

The SPLM/A has also welcomed the cease-fire, saying it would make it possible for the Nuba people to receive international humanitarian assistance, but downplayed its significance in terms of the civil war which has torn the country, in its latest phase, since 1983.

"Until and unless a comprehensive political settlement of the conflict in the Sudan is reached, the conflict in the Nuba Mountains is far from resolved," Commander Abdulaziz Adam Elhilu (Abd al-Aziz Adam al-Hulw), head of the SPLM/A-Nuba delegation in Switzerland, told journalists after signing the agreement on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Sudan has rejected US criticism of its refusal to stop aerial bombings in rebel-held southern Sudan, saying that halting the raids would give the rebels a military advantage.

In a statement carried by newspapers in Sudan on Saturday, the presidential peace adviser, Ghazi Salah al-Din al-Atabani, said a unilateral move to halt the bombings, with the introduction of international monitors, "would put the Sudanese armed forces alone under restriction", news agencies reported.

"The rebels would remain free [of such restrictions]... and this would give the rebels a clear military advantage," the Associated Press (AP) news agency on Sunday quoted him as saying.

The Sudanese government told the visiting US peace envoy, John Danforth, last week that it would not cease aerial bombings - which have drawn criticism from relief and human rights groups for targeting and otherwise terrorising civilians - unless the SPLA agreed to a comprehensive cease-fire, the report stated.

Khartoum also accused the rebel movement of using hospitals, residential areas and schools for military purposes, it added.

"Contrary to US belief, [the Sudanese government] does not adopt a policy of deliberate bombing of civilians," AP quoted Atabani as saying.

The issue of the government bombing civilian targets was one of four confidence-building proposals put to the government and SPLM/A by Danforth in November, on which progress has not been made - after concessions on humanitarian access to the Nuba Mountains, zones and times of tranquillity for humanitarian assistance elsewhere, and an end to abductions and the taking of slaves by pro-government militia groups, according to diplomatic sources.

Government flexibility on the Danforth proposals (except the targeting of civilians, which terminology it rejects) included the Nuba cease-fire negotiations [now agreement]; access for continuing Nuba humanitarian assessment missions; permits for an anti-polio campaign and agreement to issue permits for a Guinea worm eradication programme, SUNA reported on Saturday.

There had also been agreement to expand the scope, mandate and powers of the Commission for Eradication of Abducted Women and Children (CEWAC), and a government welcome for a proposed US-led mission to investigate accusations of slavery, it added.

Atabani said the US did not accept a counter-proposal on aerial bombing advanced by the government of Sudan, namely: to stop the government's aerial bombing campaign in the south for a four-week test period, provided the issues of "neutrality and transparency" of humanitarian operations, and the "verification and prevention" of the exploitation of wartime civilian populations were addressed, according to AP.

The peace adviser specifically mentioned the SPLA's exploitation of children in war in terms of "verification and prevention", SUNA reported.

The Khartoum government has repeatedly called for a comprehensive cease-fire throughout Sudan, but the SPLM/A is firmly opposed to creeping cease-fire agreements outside the context of a comprehensive political settlement to end the Sudanese civil war, according to regional observers.

US diplomatic sources have echoed Danforth in stressing that the issue of civilian bombings was an important one for the Washington administration, and would not be shaken off lightly as it pursues its continuing peace initiative on Sudan.

"There is no meaning in 'prospects for peace' and for US involvement in peace if there is no understanding on something as absolutely basic and consistent with the Geneva Conventions as the immunity of civilians from military attacks," the Christian Science Monitor on Sunday quoted Danforth as saying.