A comprehensive peace deal between the government of Sudan (GoS) and the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) on 9 January capped a year of slow but steady progress in efforts to end the 21-year old civil war in southern Sudan.
The peace deal does not cover the war in Sudan's troubled Darfur region. However, it has been suggested it could become a template for a solution to that conflict too.
President Omar el-Bashir indicated during his annual speech in December that he was willing to enter into power-and-wealth-sharing negotiations with Darfur rebels as he did with the SPLM/A in the south.
"We call upon all the sons of Sudan, inside and outside, to embrace peace - to listen to the voice of wisdom and to give priority to dialogue by making it the only path to solving our problems," the president said.
Still, not everybody shared this optimism. One of the two main Darfur rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), said in a statement, "We warn of the regime's record of violating agreements and promises [and] we would stress that the implementation stage is the most difficult."
Southern Ceasefire Agreement
Although overshadowed by the crisis in Darfur, the peace talks between Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha and the leader of the SPLM/A, John Garang, made steady progress throughout the year.
On 18 and 19 November, the 15 members of the UN Security Council held an extraordinary meeting in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, which resulted in a memorandum of understanding, signed by the GoS and the SPLM/A, in which the two sides agreed to conclude a final peace deal by the close of the year.
Hopeful that the parties to the conflict were making progress, the UN and its partners in Sudan launched their 2005 work plan with an appeal for US $1.5 billion for urgent programmes to support humanitarian, protection, recovery and development activities in Sudan.
In the end, a permanent ceasefire was reached on the deadline set by the Council - 31 December.
The accord requires Sudan's government to withdraw at least 91,000 troops from the south within two and a half years, while the rebels have eight months to withdraw their forces from northern Sudan.
The SPLM/A and government forces also agreed that the SPLM/A paramilitary allies in southern Sudan must either be disarmed or join the SPLA or the government forces in the next year.
Under the accord, Sudan will rewrite the constitution to ensure that Islamic law, or Sharia, is not applied to non-Muslims anywhere in the country.
The new agreement further includes protocols on sharing legislative power and natural resources, changing the armed forces during a six-year transition period, and the modalities of administering three disputed areas in central Sudan.
However, observers said, the peace agreement does not provide for a truth commission, prosecution, or other forms of accountability for past abuses in the southern conflict.
"The peace agreement is an important step, but lasting peace in Sudan will require genuine security for civilians and justice for the atrocities committed both in Darfur and southern Sudan," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Africa division.
Escalating Violence in Darfur
While the situation in the south improved gradually during 2004, resulting in a peace agreement, the situation in Darfur, where fighting erupted in February 2003, continued to be volatile.
Observers said peace could be established at the start of 2004, but peace talks between the GoS and the Darfurian groups broke down, leading to a resumption of fighting in all three states of Darfur.
Janjawid militias, armed by the GoS to fight the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), turned their guns on the non-Arab population in Darfur, forcibly displacing over 1.65 million people. The militias have been accused of committing gross human rights abuses.
Although the SLA, JEM and the GoS signed a ceasefire agreement on 8 April, in N'Djamena, Chad, the Janjawid were neither signatories to the agreement nor specifically referred to in the text, and the accord was repeatedly violated by all parties from its inception.
Increased International Pressure
Under intense international pressure, including high profile visits to Sudan by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and US Secretary of State Colin Powell, Khartoum finally committed, in early July, to disarming the militias and other outlaws operating in Darfur. It agreed to facilitate access by aid workers to people affected by the conflict.
Following this agreement, there seemed to be international momentum to push the peace process forward.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan dispatched his Special Representative to Sudan, Jan Pronk, to Khartoum on 15 July. The same month, the US Congress unanimously passed a resolution saying human rights abuses in Darfur amounted to "genocide", while the UN Security Council adopted a resolution stating it would consider measures - including economic sanctions - if the Sudanese government did not make progress on commitments to disarm the Janjawid militias and restore security in Darfur.
This was followed by the deployment, on 15 August, of the first contingent of an African Union (AU) force to protect an AU observer mission in Darfur.
The Humanitarian Crisis Deepens
In contrast to the general progress in the southern Sudanese peace process, the Darfur peace talks have been taking place in Abuja, Nigeria, since August against a background of continued skirmishes and violations of the April ceasefire.
According to a survey done by the World Health Organisation and the Sudanese government, mortality rates surpassed the mark that aid agencies use to define a humanitarian crisis - which is one death per 10,000 people per day. The survey found that the displaced people were dying at a rate of three per 20,000 people each day in North Darfur, and 29 per 100,000 in West Darfur.
In October, an assessment team of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned that rural communities across Darfur were facing a food crisis that could be worse than the one that hit the region in the 1980s and 90s.
The team concluded that agriculture had collapsed and a combination of insecurity and drought had destroyed the traditional coping mechanisms of communities in Darfur.
Violence Erupts Again
On 9 November, the warring parties signed a series of agreements in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, to end 20 months of hostilities. The protocols were designed to improve security and grant wider access to humanitarian organisations operating inside Darfur.
However, the Abuja Agreement, once again, did not reflect the reality on the ground in Darfur, which was characterised by an escalation of violence that lasted until the end of the year.
In a briefing to the UN Security Council, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast, said November had been characterised by violence and a marked deterioration in the security situation. The number of people affected by the conflict had risen to almost 2.3 million - more than a third of the total population, he said.
Although the GoS and the rebel groups reconvened in Abuja towards the end of the year, they agreed on little more than the need to stop fighting.
Gen Festus Okonkwo, the AU's chief ceasefire monitor, expressed worry that more weapons had poured into Darfur, turning the arid region into "a time bomb that could explode at any moment."
Under these circumstances, and given the violations of previous agreements by both parties involved in the conflict, it remains to be seen whether the modalities of the ceasefire agreement in southern Sudan can be successfully replicated in Darfur.
Southern Rivalries in Upper Nile
Ongoing violence, especially in the oil-rich Upper Nile, has also been a cause of serious concern, observers said.
During the past year, shifting allegiances among southern Sudanese militias have led to direct clashes over territorial control between the Sudanese army and allied forces, on the one hand, and the SPLM/A on the other in the Shilluk Kingdom in Upper Nile, leading to widespread looting.
In April, up to 30,000 people, were displaced by fighting in the garrison town of Malakal, in Upper Nile. Another 75,000 people were believed displaced by conflict in the nearby Shilluk kingdom, which pits government-backed Nuer and Shilluk militias against the SPLA.
In November, a build-up of armed militias, government troops and southern-based SPLA fighters in various areas of the Upper Nile region once again increased tensions between local civilians and armed groups.
"It makes no sense for parties preparing for peace to mobilise such a military arsenal," a humanitarian source in the region observed.
ALSO SEE: Chronology of key events in 2004
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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