Sudan's Neglected Peace Agreement

Among the many shortcomings of the opinion-page article "End Africa's Longest War" (May 6) was its failure to mention and attach significance to the peace agreement between the government of Sudan and rebel forces signed on April 21.

We were invited to lead a small team of American specialists on Africa who observed the signing of this agreement in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital.

Having witnessed this momentous ceremony, we were extremely disappointed at the utter failure of the news media, seemingly interested in efforts at peace, to appreciate the real significance of the agreement reached by the government of Sudan and five rebel leaders.

It is regrettable that an editorial note was not appended to the above article updating the status of conditions in Sudan. The article makes the basic assumption that the "recent humiliating defeat of government forces in Southern Sudan" would ipso facto expedite and facilitate the "end of Africa's longest war."

The fervor and enthusiasm that the peace agreement elicited from Sudanese, both north and south, including the five out of six rebel leaders who signed the agreement plus their constituents and followers, underscore a strong belief that the occasion augured well for a "new day" in Sudan.

In a three-hour discussion, these rebel leaders reaffirmed the intensity of their commitment to the peace process, within the framework of the implicit and explicit safeguards contained in the agreement.

The agreement gives reason for optimism. Peace and politico-economic stability in Sudan will not be brought about by militaristic success, as envisioned by the co-authors, but by the strength, motivation, and determination of the people of Sudan, including officials of the Sudanese government and the rebel leaders who were signatories.

Of paramount importance, for example, is the establishment of a four-year interim period culminating in a referendum in the 10 southern states to determine if these states will be independent or continue as an integral part of Sudan. During this interim period, the southern states will be governed by a coordinating council consisting of the president, vice president, 13 coordinating ministers, and the governors of the southern states. This council will be charged with rehabilitating areas destroyed or damaged by war, forging a democratic political system within a federal framework similar to that of the United States, and coordinating and integrating the military forces of the signatory rebel groups with the armed forces of the government of Sudan.

Other highlights of the agreement include:

* Guaranteeing freedom of religion, belief, and worship.

* Establishing the Islamic Sharia and customs as the source of legislation but recognizing also regional, cultural, and ethnic differences.

* Decreeing Arabic as the official language with English as the second language, while also encouraging other languages.

* Creating an independent Supreme Court and entrusting it with final interpretive power of the Constitution.

The present government of Sudan has recognized that its problems, emanating from political and economic instability, could not be meaningfully resolved or ameliorated before the final resolution of the 40-year internal conflict. This peace agreement makes a quantum leap in the right direction. The US should seize the opportunity to be a mediating influence in accelerating peace and development.

Sudan - with a population of more than 30 million, the largest land mass in Africa, and shared borders with nine nations - has the potential will and commitment to facilitate and enhance political and economic stability not only at home, but also in the region with the cessation of its civil war.

Mervyn M. Dymally

Former chairman, Subcommittee on Africa

Stanley H. Smith

Former director, Subcommittee on Africa

House Committee on Foreign Affairs

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