- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Sudan's top diplomat says that after nearly two decades of civil war and millions of casualties, the military government is ready to share power and its newfound oil wealth with the southern rebels if the recently signed peace agreement holds.

Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail, in Washington last week for the National Prayer Breakfast, told The Washington Times that the Nuba Mountain peace agreement, negotiated last month by a U.S. special envoy and Switzerland, has put an end to violence in the region.

John Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri, was named by President Bush to seek a truce between the Islamic fundamentalist regime and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

"The effort by the United States through Senator Danforth achieved something," Mr. Ismail said. "We want Senator Danforth to continue to achieve a cease-fire and political settlement to this problem."

Since 1983, an estimated 2 million people have been killed and 4 million displaced by civil war in Sudan.

Mr. Ismail said the peace agreement indicates the National Congress Party, led by Gen. Omar Hassan Bashir, who seized power in a 1989 military coup, is on track to improve its civil rights record. However, a Human Rights Watch report last year found "torture and impunity remained a government policy."

"This year is better than last year, last year is better than the year before and next year definitely is going to better," Mr. Ismail said.

He said the December trial of an 18-year-old pregnant woman sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery, conducted in Arabic, a language she does not speak, was the result of a lower court ruling. He said the decision was subsequently overturned by an appeals court decision, confirmed by a Reuters report on Monday.

The success of the six-month cease-fire could hinge on the distribution of oil found in the contested southern region. A 940-mile pipeline funneling the oil to the north was completed in 1999, marking the first time oil was produced in the country. Today, Sudan produces more than 220,000 barrels a day.

But the wealth has yet to spread to people in the south. Mr. Ismail said the country will share the resources with the south once there is sustained peace. However, not all observers are convinced the leadership is sincere.

"There has been no demonstration this regime is serious about the peace process," said Jim Philips, a Heritage Foundation researcher.

"It could just be buying time to crush the southern forces," he said and noted that the country's military spending has doubled since the pipeline was completed.

Mr. Ismail defended the spending, saying the government must defend itself against the SPLA, which he said is not yet ready for peace.

He said the "warlords" use money provided by humanitarian relief agencies for arms and supplies.

[The U.N. World Food Program said yesterday two children were killed by bombs dropped by a government plane near a spot where it was handing out food. The agency said the incident occurred Monday in the town of Akuem in the southern province of Bahr El Ghazal, where government troops are battling rebel forces, Reuters reported.

["The WFP condemns firmly these bombings," the agency said in a statement. "It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that food aid can be distributed in complete safety to the people who need it to survive."]

Mr. Ismail blamed the former U.S. administration of President Clinton for the prolonged civil war in Sudan.

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