- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 6, 2004

The humanitarian crisis in Darfur threatens to distract the international community from the Sudanese government’s failure to sign off on a peace deal aimed at ending the country’s civil war, some policy analysts said.

“While all our attention has been focused on the dramatic unfolding events in Darfur … the [peace] process is in jeopardy,” John Prendergast, special adviser to the president at the International Crisis Group, said at a recent press conference. The ICG, a nonprofit organization geared toward preventing deadly conflicts, issued a briefing paper on Tuesday calling on the international community to pay more attention to the peace process.

Although international action is necessary to stop the genocide in Sudan’s western region, Mr. Prendergast said, pressure also must be applied on the government in Khartoum to conclude the tentative peace deal it negotiated in May with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, a negotiating arm of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

“This bifurcated approach to policy-making in Sudan increases the risk that the country will plunge back into civil war,” Mr. Prendergast said. “We have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, diplomatically.”

A civil war has raged for 21 years between the government and the mainly southern insurgency led by the SPLA. An estimated 2 million people have died in the war — 40 times the number killed in the Darfur crisis, Mr. Prendergast said.

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has spent the past several months trying to broker a deal between the two forces that would grant the SPLA greater participation in Sudan’s government.

The two parties tentatively agreed in May at Naivasha, Kenya, to a draft peace agreement, but talks have stalled.

Negotiations are scheduled to resume today, but with international attention focused on Darfur, Mr. Prendergast said, the peace process could slip through the cracks.

Hilde F. Johnson, Norway’s minister of international development, who has been involved in the Naivasha negotiations, echoed Mr. Prendergast’s concerns in a recent press conference in Washington.

“This is my greatest fear — that the promises of Naivasha will die in the horrors of Darfur,” she said.

To force Khartoum back to the negotiating table, Miss Johnson said, the United Nations must be willing to enforce sanctions against the government. The U.N. Security Council last month approved a resolution threatening sanctions if the Sudanese government did not act to stop the mass killing.

“We need significant international pressure to make the parties move,” Miss Johnson said. “The threat of sanctions in that resolution is necessary.”

Mr. Prendergast agreed, saying the United States must be willing to apply sanctions on the Sudanese government if it fails to address the Darfur crisis and move forward with the peace process in a timely manner. Sanctions, he said, could include a weapons embargo, a freeze on the assets of government-owned companies and an enforcement of travel bans against senior Sudanese officials.

A bill backed by Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would impose sanctions against the Sudanese government if it failed to disarm militias attacking civilians, provide full access to the region for humanitarian assistance and abide by the negotiated peace agreement.

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