- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 9, 2005

NAIROBI, Kenya — One of Africa’s oldest and bloodiest civil wars may be nearing an end as the government of Sudan and southern-based rebels today formally sign a peace deal strongly backed by the Bush administration.

The architects of the deal, Sudanese First Vice President Ali Osman Taha and rebel military commander John Garang, said yesterday they hoped the complex pact to end a 22-year-old insurrection also would boost prospects for peace in Darfur, the western Sudanese region where a government-backed campaign to crush a separate rebellion was called a “genocide” by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in September.

Mr. Powell, who will witness the signing of the agreement at a soccer stadium in the Kenyan capital, finessed questions yesterday over whether the Khartoum government was still guilty of genocide, despite a new U.N. status report that found violence in Darfur was increasing and the government was beefing up its forces in the region.

“I hope that this government will show to the people of Darfur and to the belligerents of Darfur a new face,” Mr. Powell said, “and that the new unity government can persuade the rebels to enter a political process and not keep attacking.”

He sidestepped a question on whether government-supported Arab militias remain engaged in the genocidal campaign against Darfur’s black-African population.

“My judgment [in September] was that genocide was taking place,” he said, adding he had not seen the latest U.N. report.

The accord would end a war that has claimed an estimated 2 million lives and bring a measure of stability to a country that has known only 11 years of peace since independence in 1956.

While the ethnic, religious and political crosscurrents in Sudan are fluid and bewilderingly complex, the crux of the various disputes has been resentment by Sudan’s various regions to dominance by a small Arab Muslim elite based in Khartoum.

Disputes over territory, government jobs, revenues and oil — much of it located in the rebellious south — have only intensified the conflict.

U.S. human rights and Christian conservative groups also have pressured the U.S. government to act to protect black Christian and animist groups in the south from the Islamic north.

Key points in the agreement include the formation of a 39,000-strong national army melding government troops and forces from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), sharing of oil revenues and key government posts and a six-year period of autonomy for the south, followed by a referendum in the south on independence.

The two sides were thought to be close to a deal repeatedly over the past eight months, but disputes over implementation delayed the final deal until Dec. 31.

Mr. Garang, who has led the southern rebellion for two decades, is supposed to replace Mr. Taha as first vice president, but he cautioned that a new constitution still must be drafted and would not even give a date yesterday on when he might move to Khartoum.

“I still command an army that could not possibly get to Khartoum right now,” he said.

Khartoum has fiercely resisted international pressure over Darfur, but Mr. Taha said the Islamic government has “made up its mind to join hands to resolve the situation in Darfur so we can finally have a national, comprehensive peace.”

Private analysts are divided over how the north-south pact will affect the separate conflict in Darfur, where a government battle with two rebel groups has led to some 70,000 deaths since March.

Some think if the north-south deal holds, it could prove a model for Darfur, and allow the government to focus on a political settlement there.

Mr. Powell said the United States would provide new aid to Sudan with the signing of the peace deal, but it would be targeted to reconstruction and infrastructure in the war-battered south. He said sanctions would remain on Khartoum, adding that he hoped the peace process in time would lead to a normalization of relations.

But Rep. Frank R. Wolf, the Virginia Republican who visited Darfur last summer and has been a leading critic of Khartoum on Capitol Hill, said the United States should not reward Sudan for making peace with the south until the atrocities in Darfur stop.

“This is a wonderful event, and the government should be applauded. But what about the 70,000 dead and all the women raped in Darfur?” Mr. Wolf said yesterday in an interview.

Mr. Wolf said the United Nations faced a critical test in Darfur.

“The international community [and] the United Nations should be devoting as much attention to Darfur as they have to the [Indian Ocean] tsunami,” Mr. Wolf said. “We in the United States can’t be giving new aid to the government of Sudan until the Darfur violence is stopped.”

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