Date: Thursday, 06 August 2020
KHARTOUM – Peace negotiations between the Sudan Revolutionary Front, representing armed movements, and Sudan’s transitional government are challenged by leaders’ links with other regional powers.
External actors are making mediation talks led by South Sudan more difficult as Juba hopes to hold bilateral negotiations excluding parties that could jeopardise a final resolution.
Most leaders of the Revolutionary Front, which is currently engaged in negotiations with Khartoum, have close relations with neighbouring countries. Through Abdelaziz Adam Al-Hilu and Malik Agar, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North has maintained special relations with South Sudan. There are also historic links between the Beja Congress in eastern Sudan and Eritrea, as well as relations between the Justice and Equality Movement and Qatar. The Sudanese Liberation Movement-Minni Minnawi (SLM-MM), meanwhile, has good relations with Chad.
Ethiopia has good relations with almost all armed movements, in addition to links with the government and some political forces. Addis Ababa played a major role in Sudan in the critical period following the fall of Omar al-Bashir’s regime.
The transitional government in Khartoum tried to take advantage of its relations with neighbouring countries to diffuse conflicts in some marginal Sudanese towns and governorates situated near the border, but it was unable to cut links between the armed movements and foreign countries.
Peace negotiations continued in Juba while leaders of the movements turned their attention to other countries while still attempting to influence the talks. Peace negotiations faced violent shocks that made a final agreement impossible.
The main sticking point is that the security arrangement is necessary to secure the common borders of the margin states with neighbouring countries Eritrea, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Chad and Libya. This opens the door for regional parties to enter the negotiating process, as the issue of securing borders requires joint efforts between the government, margin movements and countries seeking to participate in the border-control process.
Observers agree that problems in the marginal states flare up whenever peace approaches its final stage, due to diverging interests of many powers that believe their influence in these states will be threatened unless they guarantee significant gains for the key parties that support them.
The already established relations between Bashir’s regime and external parties that directly intervened in margin crises are pushing for more coordination to disrupt the peace process. This is evident in the frequent incidents caused by armed groups previously linked to Bashir’s forces, especially in Darfur, where they committed various crimes within the troubled region, as well as in eastern Sudan, which is close to the growing conflicts in the Red Sea that many regional powers seek access to.
New tribal clashes took place in south Darfur on Friday, as armed militias burned and looted farms owned by citizens living in the area. The attack on these lands continued despite the arrival of reinforcements to the area, which cost many their lives.
It is difficult to separate the tribal clashes from Qatar’s recent attempt to enter the negotiations through Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani, the Qatari foreign minister’s special envoy for counterterrorism and mediation of conflict resolution. Last week, Qahtani held some discussions in Juba about peace negotiations between the transitional government and the Revolutionary Front.
According to activist Suleiman Sirri, the closer the parties move to a final peace agreement, the more tensions rise in Sudan as a result of Doha-backed factions’ interference.
He told The Arab Weekly that some parties’ interests shift during wars, as they start to be driven by a desire to achieve peace in the marginal areas as long as it does not affect their already established goals. The increase in tribal tensions during this phase confirms the presence of such forces and highlights the fact that they cannot be ignored in ongoing peace negotiations.
He explained that the fragility of the transitional phase, the gaps between the revolutionary forces and the lack of consensus regarding the continued presence of military forces have prompted more regional intervention in the marginal areas because armed movements backed by foreign powers realise that the security forces will be unable to effectively deal with the clashes that have repeatedly broken out and that the current phase is appropriate to regain what these forces have lost since the overthrow of Bashir’s regime.
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The developments in some countries neighbouring Sudan and the increase in parties’ involvement after they lost influence in Sudan following Bashir’s fall have led to increased tensions in margin states due to the geographic expansion of the Sudanese regions and guerrilla wars.
Observers confirm that one of the factors of these interventions lies in the presence of more than 80 armed movements in Darfur. But the investment of some leaders in Doha against the government reveals Qatar’s efforts to aid the militia at the expense of the Fur and Masalit tribes, which constitute the majority of the people of Darfur.
Some parties are taking advantage of the current state that has affected several movements that united under the banner of the Revolutionary Front in November. This has divided the movement into two factions, one led by El-Hadi Idris Yahya that includes the largest number of movements, and another led by Minni Minnawi, head of the Sudan Liberation Movement.
Some observers see this as a result of pressures that the movements are facing due to their relationship with various powers that follow different directions and goals.
The consensus reached after negotiations between the Revolutionary Front, Egypt, Ethiopia, Chad and South Sudan has started to fade, as various efforts and attempts to hold talks in a neutral country or even transfer them to Khartoum have failed. Southern Sudan was chosen as it is close to the country and relatively far from political conflicts.
Tamadir Al-Tayeb, an international relations professor at the University of Khartoum, said that several crises hinder peace negotiations, notably the failure to withdraw weapons from militias supported by the former regime in Darfur, and the transitional government’s inability to effectively deal with ongoing clashes. This has opened a window for some forces to intervene and exploit the current situation.
Tayeb told The Arab Weekly that it is impossible to openly point at direct support for the armed movements, as it was clear during Bashir’s tenure, but some factions chose to move away from the current negotiation process and sided with regional parties that supported them in the past because there was no real desire to reach a final comprehensive agreement.
She noted that these movements seek to internationalise the issue to gain sympathy and prolong negotiations to obtain more weapons. Therefore they are trying to cause the worsening of the situation, but will not get what they want because the international scene that once supported their kind of war is now different.
The desire to achieve peace is widespread, making the countries supporting militias in Darfur necessarily aware that they will not succeed in any attempts to fuel the conflict.