Reconstruction Amidst Conflict in Sudan

Article excerpt

An Interview with Andrew S Natsios

ANDREW S. Natsios served as the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy to the Sudan from September 2006 to December 2007, an appointment announced by President George W. Bush in his remarks at the United Nations General Assembly on September 19, 2006. From May 1, 2001 to January 12, 2006, he served as Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) the lead U.S. government agency doing international economic development and humanitarian assistance. During this period he managed USAID's reconstruction programs in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan which totaled more than $14 billion overfouryears. President Bush has also appointed him Special Coordinator for International Disaster Assistance and Special Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sudan. Natsios served previously at USAID, first as director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance from 1989 to 1991 and then as assistant administrator for the Bureau for Food and Humanitarian Assistance (now the Bureau of Democrag, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance) from 1991 to January 1993. After serving 23 years in the U.S. Army Reserves as a civil affairs officer, Natsios retired in 1995 with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He is a veteran of the Gulf War.

JIPO: What are some of the fundamental issues in Sudan that must be resolved in both the near and long-term future to prevent Sudan from sliding once again into civil war?

Andrew Natsios: You have several major issues currently. The first is the situation in Abyei, which has to get resolved before it explodes into a larger conflict.

Secondly, we have to have some set of arrangements around the elections next year. Elections can either greatly stabilize or destabilize a fragile political situation, and with the February election coinciding with a new U.S. administration taking office and a likely long transition, it could not be a worse time to have failed or fraudulent elections for U.S. policy makers to have to deal with.

Thirdly, we have to deal with the issue of the referendum in 2011 in terms of whether the South will secede from the North, and what quiet negotiations should be done ahead of time to avoid that referendum destabilizing the country. These are three critical issues that will have to be dealt with over the next three years. And failure to resolve any one of those things could potentially result in war.

JIPO: What do you think are the future prospects for engagement between the North, the South and outside intermediaries in light of current Special Envoy Richard Williamson's recent suspension of talks involving both the Northern and Southern Sudanese governments?

Andrew Natsios: Rich Williamson is a very skilled and able diplomat working in an extremely difficult situation, and the initiatives that he is taking are exactly the right thing to do in my view. He is putting pressure on both the North and South to try to come up with a solution to Abyei and on other issues related to the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Both sides were proving extremely inflexible. There are hardliners in both the North and the South that are making it difficult for the moderates to reach a consensus. By calling off talks and criticizing both sides, I think he is showing that he is an independent mediator who is looking to both sides to moderate some of their demands to come up with a compromise.

The U.S. and the international community must continue to focus on facilitating a series of political solutions to get the Comprehensive Peace Agreement back on track and deal with the three main issues mentioned earlier. Progress is being made in the South, and to have it all erased because of another war would be a catastrophe. There is some evidence from Khartoum that President Bashir, who has the past couple of years sided with the hardliners in the National Congress Party, is shifting his position to support more moderate forces in his party, but he has not got enough support within the National Congress Party yet to be able to see that an accommodation actually takes place. …

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