Of primary interest to Tamils in the Sudanese peace talks are 1.) the agreement for an internationally supervised referendum in the rebellious southern areas on 'unity or separation' in 6 years and 2.) an agreement on security issues that calls for the withdrawal of the majority of government forces from the south during this test period of autonomy. In return for the acceptance of the right to self-determination in the south, the rebels gave up their demand that the entire country be secular and accepted that the north, except the capital, could be ruled by Islamic religious law.
Current issues under debate are a 'national unity government,' i.e. powersharing at the center, during the transition and its
relationship with the separate southern administration, the exact boundaries of each entity and the sharing of the country's oil wealth. Southern negotiators are pushing for a separate central bank, so the contours of autonomy must still be in contention.
Contested areas in Sudan
Of great interest to Tamils, also, is the "international community's" attitude toward the Sudanese conflict, which is diametrically different from the world's attitude towards Sri Lanka, although many of the issues are precisely the same. When writing about the conflict, for instance, there is a tendency to talk about the 'liberated' areas of the south! There was vigorous opposition to the Sudanese government's efforts to block aid to civilians war-affected areas, with a UN mission set up specifically to provide aid to the south. Notwithstanding the hostility toward the Sudanese government's policies and personalities by Westerners, there remains an ingrained deference to the 'government' and a suspicion of non-state actors, particularly militant ones. Descriptions of John Garang, the resistance leader, can sound eerily similar to those of Prabakaran. As if we needed it, comparing Sudan to Sri Lanka is a good reminder that interests often trump principles.
Also interesting is how the number of casualties is dealt with. In Sri Lanka only those directly killed by fighting are counted as casualties, while - as in East Timor - in Sudan the number of those killed in fighting PLUS an estimate of those who died through war-induced deprivation are counted as casualties of the war.
Excitement over the Sudanese peace talks is high after US Secretary of State Powell's visit with the negotiators, but reviewing the negotiations from our perspective shows just how much more ground must be covered before a solid deal is cinched. Implementation, of course, is even more important than handhakes and signatures.
Posted October 22, 2003