Sara Pantuliano, a research fellow at the Humanitarian Policy Group of the ODI think-tank in London, said the decision by Southern Sudan’s former rebel group and now leading party to withdraw from the central government was a “badly needed wake-up call for the international community", which has neglected the North-South peace process, partly because of the Darfur conflict.
The Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) announced on 11 October that it was boycotting the national unity government, accusing the north of violating the terms of the 2005 peace deal. However, the party ruled out an imminent return to arms.
Her research in Southern Kordofan and northern Bahr el Ghazal had contributed to Pantuliano's view that "the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] is collapsing ... tension is escalating, even at the local level". There is "very little international support" to keep the process on track, and the humanitarian consequences of a return to war would be "an unimaginable level of suffering ... people have already suffered through many years of war".
Even so, she told IRIN, the move may send a useful signal internationally. "I can't see an immediate confrontation unless an incident sparks it off on the ground." Key flashpoints, she said, are Abyei, Southern Kordofan and the southern oil-producing areas.
"The SPLM has recalled all ministers and presidential advisers from GoNU [Government of National Unity]," said SPLM Secretary-General Pagan Amum. "They will not report to work until these contentious issues are resolved."
Amum said the decision was prompted by the failure of SPLM’s counterparts in the unity government – dominated by the National Congress Party – to comply with the peace accord obligations to withdraw 15,360 northern troops from the South's oil fields and to implement a protocol on the oil-rich Abyei area.
If these key issues were resolved, the SPLM would reconsider its boycott, Amum added, stressing that its “disintegrating” relationship with Khartoum, the seat of government in the North, would not lead to a return to war.
A Southern Sudan analyst, who wished to remain anonymous, told IRIN that while things were as yet unclear, the announcement could be a "continuation of the rhetoric" of the Southern partner in the peace deal regarding "fundamental issues that need to be addressed", including the status of the Abyei region, the north-south border and oil-revenue sharing. In his opinion, the SPLM was "not ready for a fundamental break" but was "raising the stakes".
Photo: Tim McKulka/UNMIS
|Traditional dancers perform at the airport in Juba, south Sudan, September 2007 as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrives|
He added: “They don’t want to be seen as the one giving up on the process first … No one wants to go back to war ... Not yet."
Oxfam's Sudan country spokesperson Alun McDonald said that although it was too early to judge what kind of impact the move could have on the peace agreement, he hoped it would be a wake-up call to the international community.
"We have said quite frequently the CPA is wobbling, and the international community has taken its eye off the South, understandably, because of Darfur," said McDonald.
He said the problems with the North-South peace agreement were a “growing concern”.
"And not just for the South; there can be no peace in Darfur in the east unless the CPA is implemented fully," he added.
A senior SPLM official told IRIN by telephone that the move would “unite the SPLM and remove recalcitrant officers [and] engineer a real unity. [It was] an opportunity for SPLM to reassert itself."