Sudan Nears 'Milestone' in Peace Plan; National Unity Government Will Be Sworn in Saturday; Former Rebel Gets Key Post

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Byline: Nada Amin, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The creation Saturday of a national unity government in Sudan will signal the end of Africa's longest-running civil war and the success of two years of negotiations between the central government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) led by John Garang.

"This peace agreement will change Sudan forever. Sudan will never be the same again, because this peace agreement will engulf the country in a democratic and fundamental transformation," Mr. Garang said at the signing of the accord in Kenya in January. He is expected to be sworn in as first vice president at a ceremony this weekend in Khartoum, making him the first southerner to hold this position since Sudan's independence from British rule in 1956. Mr. Garang was last in Khartoum in 1983.

The fundamental problem of Sudan lies in the Khartoum-based Arab-Islamic regimes that have dominated the state and ignored the country's diversity, leading to the exclusion and marginalization of other groups.

The current fundamentalist government emphasized the ethnic and religious differences of Sudan's populations. The National Islamic Front took power in 1989 after a military coup overthrew the democratically elected government. Since then, it carried out human-rights violations that provoked worldwide outrage. In an effort to repair its image and start over with a clean slate, the government in Khartoum has undertaken major steps to win the trust of the United States, which was a major critic of Sudan for the past 15 years. Now, Washington and Khartoum have improved relations and Sudan has undertaken an intelligence partnership with the United States to combat terrorism.

Ambassador Michael E. Ranneberger, principal deputy assistant secretary of the State Department's Bureau of African Affairs, said in an interview at his office last week that the visit to Washington early this year of Salah Gosh, chief of Sudan's security services, was not a secret.

"Mr. Gosh met with top CIA and State Department officials because we wanted to use that opportunity to deliver a message to him to end the violence in Darfur," Mr. Ranneberger said. "The Sudanese government showed very good cooperation in our war against terrorism, and we want to continue doing that as we have mutual interest."

The SPLM took up arms against the Sudanese government in 1983, demanding autonomy and access to resources and opposing efforts to introduce Islamic law throughout the country. The fighting raged for more than two decades and destroyed entire communities, killing at least 2 million people and uprooting 4 million. In addition, 600,000 Sudanese fled the country and became refugees in neighboring countries.

Most of the internally displaced refugees are southern Sudanese living in shantytowns on the outskirts of Khartoum, the capital.

"July 9 will be a milestone in our modern history," Ambassador Khidir Haroun Ahmed, head of Sudan's mission in Washington, said in an interview at his office last week. "It is the first time in Sudan's history to bring the entire country on the right track and it could serve as a model for other countries of the region."

The peace agreement specifies a transition period of six years, after which the people of southern Sudan are to decide by referendum whether to remain part of Sudan or to separate from it.

Mr. Ahmed accused Mr. Garang of igniting the revolt in Sudan's western Darfur province. He said Mr. Garang told National Public Radio that the SPLM in southern Sudan has relations with the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) in Darfur, and "it is not a coincidence that the two rebel groups have similar names."

Mr. Ahmed said Mr. Garang's aim was to help the Darfur rebels start a rebellion to weaken the government and compel it to make compromises in the peace agreement.

Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, the SPLM representative in North America, called that connection baseless. …