Washington -- The State Department's Special Adviser for Sudan, Ambassador Michael Ranneberger, has praised Kenyan Lieutenant General Lazarus Sumbeiywo for his key role as a facilitator in the Sudan peace process.
The U.S. official participated at a February 5 briefing on the renewal of fighting in Sudan, specifically in the oil-rich western upper Nile, and its implications for peace talks taking place in the Kenyan town of Machakos. John Prendergast, former White House Africa director and now co-director of the Africa program at the International Crisis Group (ICG), joined him at the Holocaust Memorial Museum event.
Ranneberger said, "We are at a critical stage" of negotiations threatened recently when the Khartoum government renewed hostilities despite signing a ceasefire with rebel forces last October. But, after both sides signed an addendum to the original ceasefire on February 4, the diplomat said he believed, "We are almost in the end game of the negotiating process now."
One reason for his optimism about the end to one of the world's longest and bloodiest civil wars is "the way in which the negotiations are structured and General Sumbeiywo's role, which has emerged as really central" to the process. The Kenyan Army officer is the chief mediator for the Inter-Governmental on Development (IGAD), which is the regional authority sponsoring the peace talks in Machakos.
According to Ranneberger, "His [Sumbeiywo's] role and his involvement are really helping to create a dynamic process. He played a particularly important role in sorting out this most recent fighting in the western Nile."
Ranneberger, who recently returned from a trip to Sudan, made it plain the United States believed the Sudanese Government "bears the responsibility for the fighting" in the western Nile region and that the Kenyan facilitator played a key role in bringing the Government back to the bargaining table. "Really on his own and without any prodding from us General Sumbeiywo took a tremendously tough line" indicating Khartoum's actions were "outrageous and had to stop."
Sumbeiywo's and others' "concerted pressure on the [Sudanese] Government," Ranneberger said, "led it to take a pretty extraordinary step" and sign the recent addendum to the ceasefire. The Kenyan's influence, in part, "convinced the Government to stop the previous construction of the road it was building through the oil-producing areas, which was a source of a lot of the conflict."
On the day of the discussion, State Department Spokesman Philip Reeker issued a statement welcoming the addendum to the ceasefire in Sudan noting, "At the request of the two parties and General Sumbeiywo, the Civilian Protection Monitoring Mechanism will assist in the monitoring and verification of the cessation of hostilities. This reflects the continuing commitment of the United States to achieve a just and comprehensive peace settlement."
Sumbeiywo's and others' efforts "cleared away some of the underbrush" choking the negotiations, said Ranneberger. And he added he thought the next round of talks, set for late February or early March, "could conceivably progress faster than people think" depending on the political will of the participants.
John Prendergast agreed with Ranneberger's praise of Sumbeiywo and his assessment of the positive trend of the Machakos negotiations. But, he stressed that no peace settlement would ever be sustainable unless it took into account Sudan's "military/commercial complex" represented by an oil consortium "that will rear its head" and influence negotiations "according to its own imperatives."
He said Khartoum's offensive in western Nile was an attempt to control as much of the oil region as possible because it knows that an eventual settlement, based on the Machakos protocol, will not allow further expansion. But it will allow development of land already controlled. And he added, the Sudanese Government "needs to expand oil exploration or perish."
Western nations, including the United States, can contribute toward an eventual peace by "a robust confrontation of any breach of the addendum" as the talks continue later this month, Prendergast said.
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)