The government of Sudan should halt its military attacks in border regions adjacent to newly independent South Sudan and meet all of its obligations under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said during a conference at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on July 14.

July 18, 2011

The government of Sudan should halt its military attacks in border regions adjacent to newly independent South Sudan and meet all of its obligations under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said during a conference at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on July 14.

Though lauding Khartoum’s willingness to be the first country to formally recognize the independence of South Sudan as of July 9, Carson used a keynote address at the conference to focus on the unfinished business of the CPA and on internationally backed efforts to end violence in Abyei and South Kordofan. “They must turn those commitments [to negotiate peaceful resolutions to those crises] into action,” he said.

Carson cited attacks by Sudanese forces in the disputed Abyei area as one such key issue. An estimated 100,000 people have been displaced by the attacks, and a CPA-mandated referendum on Abyei’s future in either the northSudan or the southSouth Sudan has not yet happened. Sudanese forces have also been on the offensive in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan state. Meanwhile, fundamental issues concerning sharing oil revenue between the northSudan and the southSouth Sudan and determining the citizenship of southerners in the northSudan and northerners in the southSouth Sudan remain unresolved, too.

“The government of Sudan now has a historic opportunity to end its international isolation and redefine its relationship with the international community,” said Carson.

As part of a U.S. “roadmap” to normalized relations between Washington and Khartoum that is intended to re-energize the peace process, a review of Khartoum’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism is underway and the United States is prepared to consider international debt relief of Sudan’s heavy $38 billion burden of external debt, he said. The U.S. government has also permitted several U.S. companies to participate in Sudan’s agricultural sector.

But Carson emphasized that Khartoum had to act positively if relations with Washington are to move forward. “In line with our roadmap, we can only implement this support if Sudan lives up to its CPA obligations and demonstrates its commitment to peace within its borders.” He added, “We’re not there yet.”

The Obama administration, Carson said, had “repeatedly” demanded that Khartoum cease aerial bombings and heavy artillery attacks on populated regions in the border areas. Carson noted internal political problems in South Kordofan state, which will remain inside of Sudan. Still, he said, “None of them justify the indiscriminate killing of civilians or justify aerial bombing.”

Carson, who attended the July 9 ceremonies in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, said, “The eyes of the world will indeed be on South Sudan in the weeks and months ahead….South Sudan has achieved its independence, but it has not secured its future.”

He also pledged continued U.S. involvement with Sudan and South Sudan. “The United States is committed to being a steadfast partner as they continue to work out their remaining differences,” he said.

The USIP conference began with assessments of South Sudan’s prospects by three leading analysts and activists.

Traci Cook, senior advisor to the National Democratic Institute’s Southern and East Africa programs, summarized the findings of focus group conversations in South Sudan conducted in March and April this year. With the arrival of independence, South Sudanese are turning their attention to internal problems, she said. They see armed rebellions, underdevelopment, corruption and tribalism as the main barriers to progress. And though they generally want good relations with the northSudan, they anticipate instead a “hostile border” and insist that Abyei must be part of the southSouth Sudan by “any means necessary.”

Jok Madut Jok, a senior fellow at USIP who is currently on leave and serving as undersecretary in South Sudan’s Ministry of Culture and Heritage, said via Skype that amid the recent independence celebrations, “there was another voice”—a reference to the killing of civilians in South Kordofan and Abyei. He cautioned that internal tensions within South Sudan have been stoked because “Juba is seen as stealing from everybody else.” He called the southern army itself “a source of insecurity.” And on the fate of Abyei, he warned, “This is probably something that southerners are willing to go back to war over.”

John Prendergast, a longtime Sudan expert and co-founder of the Enough Project, noted that “the joy that people felt [at independence] was tinged with great sadness.” In both Sudan and South Sudan, he warned of “a classic greed and grievance cesspool. There are matches everywhere.” Prendergast also criticized what he called a “stove-piped” international approach to Sudan’s various conflicts, which fails to stop an “endless cycle of crisis.” He urged stronger international action to protect civilians under attack.

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