UN Security Council in Africa to push Sudan peace
Staking its prestige on Sudan's troubled peace process, the U.N. Security Council met away from its New York home for the first time in 14 years on Thursday to try to end two decades of war in Africa's biggest country.
Meeting the 15 ambassadors of the world's top security body, Sudan's government and southern rebels promised to complete a peace accord by Dec. 31 to end a 21-year-old civil war and resolve reconciliation efforts dogged by innumerable delays.
But the United States, which organized the meeting in Nairobi, had originally expected more from the two combatants in the oil-producing south -- actual completion of peace talks on the deal by the time the 15-member body arrived in Nairobi.
That has not happened despite efforts to hasten faltering 2-year-old talks in Kenya between the Islamist government and its Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) foes.
Council members now say the two will at least agree a memorandum of understanding in front of the council on Friday, giving a Dec. 31 deadline for completing a peace pact that would radically restructure the Sudan government.
The world body, anxious for an African peacemaking success amid renewed war in Ivory Coast and continuing chaos in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, wants a north-south deal not only for its own sake but also in the hope it will lend momentum to ailing peace efforts in the much younger war in western Darfur.
Sudan's First Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha and SPLM leader John Garang made peace pledges in separate speeches to the Council on the first day of the Council's session.
"They have agreed to sign by December 31," U.S. ambassador John Danforth later said. "This will be beneficial for all the people of Sudan including the people of Darfur."
Garang said earlier he saw no obstacle to completing the accord by the end of the year, although he stressed Khartoum had to agree to pay for his armed forces before and during their integration in a national army.
"Peace has a price and we are prepared to pay that price," he told the council.
OIL AND IDEOLOGY
The southern civil war has killed an estimated 2 million people, mostly from famine and disease, since 1983 when Khartoum tried to imposed Islamic sharia law on the mainly animist south.
Oil and ideology have complicated the conflict, which is separate from the war in the western Darfur region that has also brought tremendous international pressure on Khartoum.
Six preliminary peace accords have been signed on sharing power, integrating the military, and dividing oil revenues. Garang is to be a vice president in Khartoum, along with Taha.
The Council, which spends more than half of its time on Africa's woes, is under fire from rights groups for not ending atrocities in Darfur. But Russia, China, Pakistan and Algeria are hesitant to provoke Khartoum by imposing U.N. sanctions.
More than 1.5 million people, mainly African villagers, have been left homeless by rampaging Janjaweed militia and Sudanese security forces. Thousands have been killed and rape is rampant.
Opening the meeting, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the envoys to give the "strongest warning" to all forces fighting in Sudan against further bloodshed.
Annan complimented the Council for cooperating closely with African mediators such as the African Union (AU) on Sudan, but he reminded the envoys that they had the "primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security."
Short of staff, equipment and funds, the fledgling peacekeeping department of the cash-strapped 53-nation AU is the main international body trying to monitor a Darfur truce.
Rights groups want a final peace deal to probe decades of abuses in the south, which has been brought to its knees by war, but diplomats say the accord will probably not provide for this.
"Unless they are held accountable for abuses in the South, the Sudanese authorities will continue to believe they can get away with murder in Darfur," Human Rights Watch said.