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An Opportunity for Peace in Sudan

October 28, 2003|Colin L. Powell

Today we stand on the brink of an agreement to end Sudan's cruel civil war and bring one of the greatest and longest-running humanitarian tragedies in the world to an end.

Almost since gaining independence from Britain in 1956, Sudan has been engulfed in conflict between its central government, dominated by northern Arabs, and the Christian and animist population of its south.

The ongoing strife has made Sudan synonymous with tragedy -- the tragedy of 2 million lives lost and of millions more disrupted by war.

The ongoing suffering has made Sudan synonymous with despair -- the despair of more than 4 million people driven from their homes, most to seek refuge in squalid camps elsewhere in Sudan and in neighboring countries.

Decades of insecurity, infighting and bloodshed have exacerbated the state of chronic famine in Sudan, as families have been divided and displaced from their farmlands.

The United States has provided more than $1 billion in aid for the Sudanese people over the last 10 years. Yet, without peace and development, millions still go to bed each night hungry, sick and afraid.

But now we have arrived at a moment of promise in the history of Sudan. The parties to this terrible conflict are poised to reach an agreement that could turn Sudan into Africa's new symbol of hope.

President Bush came into office determined to do everything possible to bring peace to Sudan. Over the last two years, special envoy Sen. John Danforth, Assistant Secretary of State Walter Kansteiner and other members of President Bush's administration have worked hard to advance the negotiations between the government of Sudan and the opposition Sudanese People's Liberation Movement, or SPLM.

With our support and the strong leadership of the Kenyan mediator, Lt. Gen. Lazaro Sumbeiywo, the two sides have overcome many hurdles.

Last year, they agreed to an internationally monitored cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains region and to a civilian protection monitoring team to investigate attacks on civilians.

In July 2002, they signed the Machakos Protocol, which resolved critical issues of state, religion and the right of Sudan's south to self-determination.

In October 2002, the two sides recommitted themselves to cooperate in providing unhindered humanitarian access to all areas of Sudan and to a cessation of hostilities.

And just last month, the Naivasha Agreement resolved thorny security issues standing in the way of peace.

Now, after this progress, the way is open to a final and comprehensive settlement. The way is open to an end to the torment of the Sudanese people.

To get there, the parties must reach final agreement on sharing power and wealth, especially oil revenue. In addition, the two sides must finalize the relationship between three of Sudan's regions and the central government.

To help them take these steps and conclude a peace agreement by the end of this year, President Bush asked me to travel to Kenya last week and meet the leaders of the two sides, Sudanese Vice President Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha and SPLM Chairman John Garang.

At these meetings, both leaders committed themselves to reaching the goal of peace by the end of the year. Each said the two sides were close to agreement on the remaining issues.

Once a peace accord is signed, we will begin normalizing our bilateral relations with the Sudanese government. Together with our international partners, we will promote reconstruction and development. Indeed, we are already planning for coordinated donor assistance to get peace off to a good start.

In addition, the United Nations Security Council issued a presidential statement earlier this month that laid the groundwork for monitoring the peace accord.

Peace in Sudan will bolster regional stability in Africa and reinforce our efforts against terrorism. What's more, President Bush believes that the dawn of peace in Sudan will send a powerful message throughout the world that even the most intractable conflicts can be resolved through negotiation.

To demonstrate his support and commitment to a peaceful Sudan, President Bush has invited Sudan's President Bashir and Chairman Garang to the White House once they have signed the final agreement.

With the Muslim celebration of Eid al-Fitr and the Christian celebration of Christmas drawing near, the Sudanese have the opportunity to send a welcome message of hope to Africa and the world.

They can provide a powerful example of a democratic Sudan, in which human rights are respected, and in which Muslims, Christians and people of other faiths are free to worship in a spirit of tolerance and respect.

And they can end decades of suffering.

Time is of the essence for the war-weary people of Sudan. They have an opportunity for peace.

This is an opportunity that must not be lost.

Colin L. Powell is secretary of State.

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