The government of Sudan has refused to cooperate on all fronts of the International stage: While it has agreed to allow humanitarian aid agencies back into the country, it has, on the other hand, deterred a conference planned to bring together some 400 people from Darfur’s diverse ethnic groups in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.
Speaking on behalf of the Sudanese government on Thursday, Haroun Lual Ruun, Sudan’s minister for humanitarian assistance, said: “We have agreed to further improve the NGOs operating environment in Sudan by easing travel and visa restrictions, by reviewing the need for NGOs.”
Mr. Ruun went on to confirm that the government in Khartoum would allow UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) remaining in Darfur to expand their existing operations.
The UN’s humanitarian chief John Holmes and US envoy to Sudan Scott Gration welcomed the move which comes 2 months after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir expelled 13 foreign aid groups in March. According to Mr. Holmes, if trust were restored between the humanitarian community and Sudanese authorities, capacity lost after the expulsions could be recovered.
Sudanese civil war (North versus South) has been mostly about the oil rich town of Abyei in the south of Sudan. Abyei is where the most lucrative oil fields are found and the ethnicities of the North have laid claim to the land where a pipeline that funnels oil to the Red Sea coast runs. However, the Southern ethnicities have insisted that the land is theirs and would stand to be marginalized from its riches. Reports have claimed that as a result of the disputed territory, a genocide of the southern ethnicities was orchestrated by the Arab led government backed janjaweed militia.
On 9 January 2005, a Comprehensive Peace Deal to end the civil war was signed but the two sides could not agree on the boundary for Abyei. They are still at war over the issue and the matter has been handed over the International Court of Arbitration. But while the two sides wait for a judgment from The Hague, the situation on the ground remains unstable and precarious.
However, another peace conference is being funded by the Sudanese expatriate and telecoms entrepreneur Mr. Mo Ibrahim, which also has the backing of the UN, the African Union and the Arab League.
Recent reports from Sudan claim that the feasibility of the peace conference has been deterred by the Sudan government in Khartoum.
Mr. Ibrahim has claimed that appointed delegates (from all Sudan’s ethnic groups, and warring factions) were being harassed, their passports withdrawn and that some have been warned they were engaging in activities against the state. According to Africa analyst Martin Plaut, work to prepare for the conference has been under way for nearly a year, and UN planes and helicopters are on standby to help airlift the delegates to Ethiopia.