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Africa

Johnson: Sudan crisis 'difficult to assess'

The presidents of Sudan and South Sudan met in Addis Ababa on Friday. The meeting was the latest attempt to revive stalled agreements between the two sides. DW spoke to Sudan analyst Douglas Johnson about the talks.

DW: What progress, if any, have the two sides made since the signing of the September deals?

Douglas Johnson: It's very difficult to assess what progress there has been. Each time there has been a meeting there has been a deadline for an agreement and all of those deadlines have passed without either a firm agreement or implementation. The basic problem seem to be the wars that have been going on in the Nuba Mountains and in Blue Nile. Former SPLA (Sudan People's Liberation Army) soldiers, who are now independent of the SPLA in the south, are continuing a war because of the failure of the CPA (Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed in 2005) to address the issues in those two areas.

Khartoum keeps on insisting that Juba should withdraw these troops or disarm them, even though they are not South Sudanese. They are North Sudanese, they are Nuba, they are from Blue Nile. In fact the retiring US envoy Princeton Lyman has himself said that this is an unreasonable demand. So as long as this demand is placed on Juba by Khartoum, a demand which they cannot meet, there will be no real progress in the implementation of the basic agreement.

Can the two leaders succeed where negotiators failed?

The negotiators have failed because they are representing the attitude of their two governments. So unless there is a major change of attitude at the highest level then the negotiations will fail.

How likely is it that President Bashir will compromise bearing in mind the pressure he is facing back home?

Theoretically it will go two ways. Think back to President Gaafar Muhammad an-Nimeiry. He was almost overthrown in a coup. So he needed some way of stabilizing his power. That motivated him to come to a peace agreement with the Anyanya guerrillas of the first Sudanese Civil War in 1972. I don't think that the same sort of scenario is going to play out with Bashir. I think because he is facing pressure both frim inside his party, and more widely in the country, he is less likely to compromise. He seems to be acting in a desperate way. There is not just the war along the border with the south, it is not just the war in Nuba mountains or the Blue Nile, there is also still a war going on in Darfur, where there doesn't seem to be any prospect of any resolution. So I think this sort of desperation, both internally and externally, is going to make him much less likely to compromise, to bring about a real peace. 

Why is it so hard for Sudan and South Sudan to agree on implementing a deal they both signed?

If you look at the history of negotiations between the SPLM and various regimes in Khartoum, you will see that especially if there is an international pressure to reach an agreement, there is always a way in which agreements are reached, but not implemented. So it's a way of kicking the problem down the road.

I think that is what you are seeing right now. You have a simple agreement, say on Abyei, and you got a new demand. For instance, the legislative assembly must have 50 representatives from the south and 50 from the NCP (National Congress Party, governing party of Sudan), while the original agreement was 60 people from the south and 40 from the NCP. You have an agreement on demilitarization on the border and security, then you have a new demand for Juba to disarm troops that they do not control. So it is a way of stretching out the conflict, stretching out the negotiations in the hope that something will change on the ground, in the battlefield.

Douglas Johnson is an independent expert on Sudan and author of  the book "Sudan's Civil Wars."

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