More work needed to achieve peace, think tank says

As the next round of talks aimed at ending 19 years of conflict in Sudan draws near, Sudan's warring parties are still reluctant to take the necessary decisions leading to conditions for peace in the country, a UK-based think tank has said.

Justice Africa, an organisation which works on peace and security issues on the continent, has urged the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) to heed the consolidated pressure for peace in order to reach a lasting solution to the conflict.

"Peace hurts," it said in a briefing note. "The Machakos [peace] process has reached a stage at which the two parties must make serious political decisions...Both sides are vigorously criticising the mediators, in precise proportion to their level of activism."

The next round of talks, expected to begin on 15 January, are due to touch on the issue of disputed regions not geographically in the south, such as Abyei, the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile.

During the last round of talks, which ended in November, negotiations revolved mainly around issues of power and wealth-sharing and resulted in a memorandum of understanding (MOU), in which the parties also agreed to observe a countrywide ceasefire.

However, both sides have recently accused each of attacking the other's positions during the agreed period of tranquility. According to Justice Africa, the Khartoum government in particular is showing "disturbing signs" that it is ready to resume the war.

"The Khartoum government has made a number of bellicose statements, and it is playing provocative games with the southern militias, an indication that Khartoum is ready to at minimum, push the boundaries of what is allowed under the ceasefire, and at worst, return to war," the statement noted.

Last month's extension of the state of emergency for another year was also a sign that Khartoum is reluctant to move seriously towards democracy and respect for human rights, according to Justice Africa. It said Khartoum had recently been involved in a "curious diplomatic gambit" with Nigeria, aimed at undermining the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) process.

In this context, the statement added, "mediators must continue to face a considerable task that demands patience, focus, energy and a thick skin in order to keep the process moving".