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Some rebels disarm, but no sign of olive branches – analysis

A female soldier from the Sudan People's Liberation Army
(SPLA) marches during a ceremony to mark a massive demobilization programme in Southern Sudan, before surrendering her weapon and becoming a civilian Peter Martell/IRIN
A key stage in Sudan’s peace process began this week - converting former rebels in the south into civilians - but the two parties to the 2005 accord are a long way from burying the hatchet.

The UN-supported disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) began at a ceremony in Juba, capital of Southern Sudan, on 10 June. It targets initially some 35,000 people designated as members of “special needs groups” – the disabled, veterans and women associated with armed forces and groups.

The process began in February in the North. In all, some 180,000 people across the country are slated to leave military life and start again as civilians. Assistance in various fields will be available: agriculture and animal husbandry, vocational training, establishing small businesses and formal education. Successful DDR and providing sustainable livelihoods are seen as key to ensuring the country’s long-term security.

Ashraf Qazi, who heads the UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan (UNMIS), has called the programme “one of the most complex and largest DDR operations of its kind in the world”.

But there are many challenges ahead, with experts warning that DDR depends on implementation of other parts of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA), which put a formal end to a conflict that claimed some two million lives.

“DDR is one of the many components of the peace process: its success depends also on the achievement of all the other benchmarks of the CPA,” said Lise Grande, the UN’s Deputy Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Southern Sudan, pointing out that north and south had yet to start discussions on the “critical process” of downsizing their respective forces.

“Given the importance of DDR to CPA implementation as a whole, we feel that it’s extremely important that these negotiations begin without further delay,” said Grande at the launch ceremony in Juba.

More than four years after the CPA was signed, animosity and mistrust still pervade relations between the two governments, especially over the distribution of power and oil wealth.

Tensions

Few rule out the possibility that this animosity, or indeed tensions within Southern Sudan, where rival communities have clashed on numerous occasions in recent months, could degenerate into renewed major armed conflict.

In such a context, questions have been raised about the contribution the oft-delayed DDR process can make to durable peace.

“The Government of Southern Sudan’s security decision-making continues to be driven by what it perceives to be the unresolved conflict with the North,” warned the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey in a report released in May.

“Security continues to be understood in terms of the need to prepare for a possible future war, which includes the need to address perceived proxy forces and other destabilizing groups and individuals operating in the South,” it added.

At the same time, the UN is working hard to persuade donors to part with the cash needed to bankroll the DDR programme, which will cost US$385 million over three years.

Donor pledges of about $88 million were made during a February conference in Juba, while in April, the UN Budget Committee in New York agreed to triple resources of UNMIS for DDR operations.

But a hefty funding shortfall remains.

“The United Nations is ready, in fact enthusiastic, about supporting the DDR process, but to make it happen we are very much dependent on contributions from the international community,” said Grande.

“We wish to encourage donors to continue with their generous support.”

Southern Sudanese soldiers from the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) parade through Juba in May 2009 for celebrations to mark the 26th anniversary of the start of Sudan's civil war 200906041131150523
Photo: Peter Martell/IRIN
Key to implementing the peace accord is reintegrating soldiers to civilian life (file photo)
Internal finances

Sudan’s Government of National Unity is also meant to contribute, but drastic drops in the price of oil – the country’s main source of revenue – have severely reduced state resources.

Southern President Salva Kiir recently said the economic situation was biting “very hard and very deep”.

Kiir told a conference of traditional leaders on 17 May that projected revenues in 2009 are “down by 50 percent”.

However, at the DDR launch, Kiir announced $30 million funding to support the programme in the south.

“This funding will be specifically for the provision of good-quality, environmentally sustainable, low-cost homes for ex-combatants,” said Luka Monoja, Southern Sudan’s Minister of Cabinet Affairs, speaking on behalf of Kiir.

“The money will enable suitable ex-combatants to gain the skills they need to take the lead in building such homes for their colleagues.”

Those signing up in the first batch echoed a common Sudanese sentiment of a simple desire for peace – and exhaustion at the prospect of renewed conflict.

“There is a big difference between war and peace, because right now it is good,” said Michael Taban, who switched to the then rebel Southern army in 1990 after deserting the Northern government force.

“I just want to become a mechanic, because that is what I know what to do,” he added.

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