Washington, DC — President George Bush signed into law, Monday, a tough new act passed by Congress aimed at pressing the government of Sudan to settle the 20-year conflict that has cost two million lives.
The act becomes law against a backdrop of both continuing peace efforts and continuing armed conflict in Sudan The first round of talks being held in the Kenyan town of Machakos under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) has been proclaimed successful by both sides. The government and rebels had reached agreement that the Sharia law governing the North would not be imposed on the South and for southern self-determination after a long interim period.
But those talks collapsed in September after rebels seized the key southern garrison town of Torit in a surprise attack. The government recaptured Torit 37 days later and a truce was signed that restarted the peace talks.
Now, however, renewed fighting in the East that began minutes after the truce was signed, clouds those talks. On October 3, the leader of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), John Garang, said troops of the National Democratic Alliance, which groups his organization with northern opposition groups, had captured the towns of Hamashkurb and Shallob and were moving on to the important regional center of Kassala.
The fighting in the East was launched by "an unprovoked military attack by Eritrean forces", a government statement claimed on Friday. The border shared by the two countries has long been tense, with each government accusing the other of permitting armed opposition groups to cross and launch attacks.
Despite the resumption of talks in Machakos, Presidential Advisor on Political Affairs, Gutbi Mahdi said on October 18 that "the government is firm on the exclusion of the East from this truce." The Machakos Agreement, he continued, "does not preclude the government of Sudan to repulse the Eritrean aggression."
But whether conflict in this region could trigger punitive actions from the U.S., as prescribed by the legislation, is not clear. The Act is written in terms of the North-South conflict. The Sudan Peace Act requires the President to certify every six months that the Sudanese government and the SPLM/A are negotiating in good faith.
If the President finds that the Khartoum government is not negotiating in good faith, or has been intefering in aid efforts, it can seek sanctions from the United Nations that include an arms embargo, actively oppose loans and credit and take steps to deny oil revenue.
The punitive action that might be taken if the SPLM is found not to be negotiating in good faith is not specified in the legislation. but a State Department fact sheet notes that: "If the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement is found not to be negotiating in good faith, none of the above provisions shall apply to the Sudanese Government."
The legislation also calls on the President to seek an end to "Sudan veto power" over, and manipulation of, United Nations humanitarian relief efforts carried out through Operation Lifeline Sudan.
The legislation, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives on October 7 with a 359-8 vote and by unanimous consent in the Senate two days later, also authorizes US$300m over three years "for assistance to areas outside government control." Additional legislation is required to make the money available.
In a Sudanese radio report, Sudan President and Chairman of the ruling National Congress Umar Al-Bashir was quoted as saying that the act undermines the peace efforts in his nation. "Why should such an act be issued at a time when we are negotiating and when we have overcome major obstacles? ...We are saying that the objective of this act is to ensure that the people in Sudan do not achieve peace."