Newspaper article International New York Times

Optimism Fades for Sudan Peace Talks ; Many Analysts Question President's Commitment to Agreement with Rebels

Newspaper article International New York Times

Optimism Fades for Sudan Peace Talks ; Many Analysts Question President's Commitment to Agreement with Rebels

Article excerpt

Failed peace talks that ended in December prompted analysts to question whether the divided government can, or even wants to, reach a deal.

Up and down the stairs of the five-star Radisson Blue Hotel, they moved from one meeting to another. Some wore suits, some came in traditional white clothing with turbans, some dressed casually. One rebel leader wore a baseball cap.

In a rarity, anyone who is anyone in Sudanese politics -- government officials, rebels, politicians, activists and international observers -- was in one place, to talk peace.

For a moment, it seemed like the momentum in this country -- fractured by chronic instability in Darfur, violence in provinces like South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and simmering political tensions in the capital, Khartoum -- was finally shifting.

But for all the initial optimism surrounding this round of peace talks, which ended here in the Ethiopian capital in December, Sudan's clashing politicians and rebels failed to reach an agreement. Talks are supposed to resume later this month.

"It is therefore deeply disappointing that the recent peace talks in Addis Ababa ended without agreement," said a joint statement by the United States, Britain and Norway. "We call on all parties to return."

So how did the momentum evaporate so quickly? And what are the chances of regaining it?

The prospects for peace had been building for months. In a notable speech in early 2013, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir called on the opposition and rebels from across the country to engage in a national dialogue. His call for reconciliation came only a few months after deadly antigovernment demonstrations in the capital, a split in the governing party and a major cabinet shuffle.

Along with mounting economic pressures, it seemed that the government was willing to give ground for the sake of stability.

Similarly, the rebels, who form an alliance known as the Sudanese Revolutionary Front, came to the talks under a new political reality. The regional dynamics that once bolstered them have shifted. With the fall of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya and a civil war consuming South Sudan, the rebels no longer seemed as able to garner support from neighbors.

Yet some analysts question whether the divided Sudanese government can, or even really wants to, reach a deal.

"The question is whether the government of Sudan, comprised of the ruling National Congress Party, the military and National Security under President Bashir, is cohesive to make the bold steps, which involve politically difficult sacrifices," said Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation.

With the end of the rainy season, fighting is expected to resume. Commanders in the Sudanese Army still believe that a military victory over the rebels is possible, and they seem to want to delay negotiations until further gains can be made. …

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