Seeking an End to Sudan's Agony

But a US-brokered bid to ease deadly rebel infighting stalls over last-minute dispute

DESPITE a US attempt over the weekend to bring together two rival rebel groups in Sudan's ten-year civil war, the two sides are still far apart, according to rebel spokesmen here and other analysts.

The two rivals agreed to an eight-point plan to end their feud, but neither side signed, with both claiming to be the only legitimate representative of the Sudanese rebel movement.

The negotiations, held in Washington, were arranged by Rep. Harry Johnston (D) of Florida, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Africa subcommittee and Edward Moose, US undersecretary of state for African affairs. Another round of talks was scheduled to start today in Atlanta under the auspices of former President Jimmy Carter.

Analysts say a lack of groundwork for such talks leaves a breakthrough unlikely. But Paul Donohue, an American Catholic priest who has been involved in negotiations between the two factions here, said before the talks: ``If the two [rebel leaders] are in the same room, things could happen.''

Other talks may occur soon under the aegis of a committee set up recently by governments in this region and chaired by Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi.

But these efforts are exceptional; there has been little international effort to end the war in Sudan, which has caused a human tragedy that rivals the one in Somalia. Some three million people have been uprooted from their homes, and several hundred thousand, mostly civilians, have died from war and war-related famine in Sudan since fighting began in 1983, according to a recent report by the human rights organization Amnesty International.

The war began when southern-based rebels felt their political clout in a united Sudan was being reduced. Soon after, when the government in Khartoum instituted Islamic law nationwide, the rebels called for a secular constitution for Sudan. The war has dragged on because neither side has had the strength to win a decisive military victory in the vast southern part of the country.

Relief agencies, including those run by the United Nations, have reduced famine in the south this year, but the war is far from over. And according to Amnesty's report, issued late last month, ``tens of thousands'' of those killed in Sudan's civil war have been killed by infighting between the two rebel groups, prompted by an August 1991 split over various issues.

Sudan's Islamic, military government has close links to Iraq and Iran, and has openly stated its aim of creating an Islamic state in Sudan. On Aug. 18, the US State Department announced it had added Sudan to its list of ``terrorist'' countries, because of alleged connections between Sudanese diplomats at the United Nations and individuals under trial in New York for the attempt to blow up the World Trade Center last February.

Mr. Carter last week told reporters in Atlanta that the US branding of Sudan as a terrorist state could backfire, causing Sudan to rely almost exclusively on nations such as Iraq and Iran.

The two, mostly non-Muslim, Southern-based rebel groups have some common ground: both seek greater southern political clout, though one group appears more supportive of an independent south. If Sudan remains united, both groups insist on an end to Muslim religious laws and on a secular Sudan.

But the leader of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA), Col. John Garang, accuses his rival, Riak Machar, of siding with the Sudanese government.

Machar ``is getting assistance [from the government] enough to weaken us,'' claims Justin Yaac Arop, a senior member of the SPLA. He says the government, however, is just using Mr. Machar. The government wants ``to weaken us, and then take Riak [Machar],'' he says.

But Karlo Madut, director of Machar's relief operations in southern Sudan, calls such claims ``mere propaganda.'' He says the main difference between the two rebel groups is one of ``management.'' Dr. Madut claims Garang is ``trying to make the movement a one-man show.''

But the split is also mostly along ethnic lines, with the Dinka primarily behind Garang and the Nuer and some smaller groups, including the Shiluk, behind Machar.

Much of the killing in Sudan's civil war, according to the Amnesty report, has been of an ethnic nature. Machar's forces have slaughtered many Dinka, and Garang's forces have killed many Nuer, the report says. ``In some parts of Sudan, ethnic difference appears to have become a reason for killing,'' Amnesty states.

Amnesty also concludes that civilian loss of life in the war is not accidental, but is a strategy of the fighting. ``The destruction wrought on the rural population of Sudan's war zones is not simply a by-product of conflict, but the result of deliberate tactics integral to the fighting.... All parties [including the government] have been ruthless in their assault on civilians.''

The government, Amnesty notes, has tortured and killed many non-Arab civilians in the war, including, for example, ``thousands'' of Nuba in central Sudan. After some Nuba began siding with the rebels, the government began forcible relocation of thousands of Nuba to so-called ``peace villages'' in central Sudan where they live in destitute conditions, the report says. Rape and torture of Nuba by government troops has become common, Amnesty charges.

The Sudan government claims it is criticized because it is Islamic, and denies abuses of civilians, as do the rebel leaders.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.