Fingers crossed a peace deal should be signed earlier next week with at least some of the rebel groups, notably those from Darfur as well as a breakaway group from SPLM-N led by Malik Agar, all grouped under the umbrella of the Revolutionary Front (RF) that includes some small groups from other parts of Sudan.
This is not the first deadline to be announced to seal a peace deal. At least two deadlines have been missed before, so it remains to be seen whether this new one will be honored. The Constitutional Documents that provides the legal base for the transitional set up committed itself to a 6-month period to achieve peace.
And even if it really takes place as announced some hard questions will be up in the air. First whether the faction led by Minni Minnawi will join the signing ceremony given the fact that he broke with the RF and asked to be treated independently, so it is not clear whether he was committed to the latest rounds that discussed the thorny issue of security arrangements.
Moreover, there are the other two factions of SPLM-N-Alhilu, whose talks with the government hit a dead end after initial rounds, then was shelved altogether; while the faction of Abdel Wahid Nur refused from the start to get into peace talks. Both are seen to have some weight militarily and in terms of followers more than the others who grouped in Juba for these peace talks.
While SPLM-N-Alhliu does not mind getting into negotiations, but it insists that the issue of the secularity of the state be settled or his people be given the right for self-determination. The government insists that such issue should be dealt with in the proposed constitutional conference.
Abdel Wahid Nur on the other hand continue to boycott any peace talks and of late he called for an inclusive conference inside Sudan.
It is the same old story, even with unilateral ceasefires, that has been going on since the defunct Ingaz regime and continued till now, though all groups are supposed to be members of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) that have inherited the previous regime.
And it remains to be seen whether some of these peace pledges will be honored or it is yet another maneuvering tactic.
However, a new factor is getting into the scene. The UNSC has issued its decision earlier this month to establish a peace mission for Sudan to help with the transitional period. UNITAMS as it was called was given a number of strategic objectives high among them is the issue of peace, which was mentioned under sub title of, “support peace processes and implementation of future peace agreements and that includes helping in securing meaningful participation of civil society, youth, women, refugees and IDPs, in addition to support in implementation like carrying out DDRs, weapons management, accountability and transitional justice.
The UN is no stranger to peace issues and talks in Sudan. In fact they have their envoy overseeing what is going on. The new factor is that there is now a UNSC decision that spells out specific responsibilities as far as peace is concerned.
However, despite that and assuming that a highly skilled UN staffer was dedicated to this particular issue, there remains two potential stumbling blocks. The first is what kind of leverage UNITAMS will have to push the parties to adopt the tough decisions and also whether the Sudanese government come up and stick to a peace plan more than the generalities that have been dominating the scene so far and that it is willing to take whatever measures to push for peace.
For instance it is well known that some of Darfur rebel groups were fighting with various factions in the Libyan civil war. It was a fact that have documented by the UN panel of experts in official documents. However, Khartoum decided not to use this as a pressuring card and only asked that a para be added to the decision establishing UNITAMS urging those groups who have not engaged in peace talks to do so without pre-conditions. And that is where the issue of leverage crops up.
It has been a good omen that unilateral ceasefire decisions have been in place for some four years. The question now is how to turn them into proper permanent ceasefires, which will be the first test for UNITAMS.
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