US removes kid gloves in its dealings with Sudan

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John Danforth, the US president’s peace envoy to Sudan, arrived in Khartoum on November 12 with four proposals that favour the southern warlords and seem to be designed for partition of the country rather than for the peace his mission is supposed to be working for.

Declaring that Sudan had to choose between peace or partition, he insisted that his proposals and his five-day visit sought only to discover whether both sides to the eighteen-year conflict were serious about concluding a peace accord. Adding that he was pessimistic, he said that he would advise president George W. Bush not to seek peace in Sudan if the parties failed to show their good intentions within two months – giving the impression that he favoured partition to peace in a united country. And president Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, thinking along the same lines, called for the partition of Sudan into a Muslim North and a Christian South, while Ethiopia, another US ally in the region, warned Khartoum to restrain the al-Qaeda terrorists in its territory or expect invasion.

Danforth, who is himself an episcopal priest and a former Republican senator, was appointed by Bush as his peace envoy in September, after US Church groups had put strong pressure on him to intervene in the Sudanese conflict on behalf of southern Christians. Pro-Bush churchmen and republican senators and congressmen had accused the northern and Muslim-dominated government of bombing Christians in the south, seizing them as slaves and preventing UN humanitarian aid from reaching Christian areas.

The proposals unveiled in Khartoum by Danforth were clearly tailor-made to address those manufactured concerns. They called for: humanitarian access to the Nuba mountains, an isolated rebel-held territory surrounded by government troops; an end to the shelling of civilians by aircraft or helicopter gunships; ceasefires to allow humanitarian access to zones of tranquillity, particularly for immunisation programmes; and an end to the abduction and enslavement of civilians.

Critics were quick to point out that the proposals failed to call for a comprehensive ceasefire, largely covering only areas held by the forces of Colonel John Garang’s Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). The proposed ceasefire, for instance, does not extend to government-held areas and territories that are host to oil installations or pipes that are frequently attacked by SPLA fighters. The regime of president Omar al-Bashir favours a comprehensive ceasefire while the SPLA opposes it, and Church groups and politicians in the West accuse Khartoum of using the proceeds from oil to finance its war on Christian southern Sudan.

Danforth’s proposals came just in time to save the SPLA’s forces from imminent defeat in the Nuba mountains, where they had been preparing to evacuate before the US envoy’s arrival in Khartoum. The ceasefire in the area and the frequent flights of aircraft carrying UN humanitarian aid there meant that the pressure on the SPLA was off. Danforth himself visited the area before leaving Sudan for Nairobi, where he conferred with John Garang. Sudanese commentators also criticised the envoy for visiting only rebel-held areas during his five-day visit, saying that even during his stay in the north of the country he only visited “migrant workers from the south.”

Washington’s hostility towards Khartoum was demonstrated recently when Bush extended American sanctions for a year, despite the Bashir regime’s strong support for the US-led ‘war on terrorism’. The regime even supplied the US with intelligence agencies information on “terrorist groups allied to Usama bin Ladin’s al-Qaeda network.”

The Bush administration declared its satisfaction with Khartoum’s break with its ‘terrorist past’ but said that the time was not ripe for taking Sudan off the US list of countries supporting terrorism. The administration not only prefers to secure Khartoum’s allegiance on the cheap, but it also wants to please the Church leaders and legislators allied to it, who want Sudan to be partitioned into a Muslim north and Christian south.

Just how hostile those churchmen and legislators are to Islam, and Muslims in general, was shown in recent speeches by reverend Franklin Graham, who is close enough to Bush to have spoken at his inauguration, and representative Saxby Chambliss, chairman of the House sub-committee on terrorism and homeland security. Graham said recently: “We’re not attacking Islam, Islam has attacked. The God of Islam is not the same God. He’s not the son of God of the Christian or Judeo-Christian faith. It is a different God and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion.”

Chambliss, who is also a senate candidate in his native Georgia, made the following proposal to deal with Muslims in the US: “Just turn the sheriff loose and let him arrest every Muslim that crosses the state line”.

Mr. Iqbal Siddiqui is Editor of Crescent International and Research Fellow at the Institute of Islamic Contemporary Thought.

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