26 December 2003
Publication Date: 
Fri, 2003-12-26 03:00

The conflict in Sudan may be on the verge of ending after 20 years in which neither side has achieved anything much except making work for gravediggers.

This is not, however, the time to analyze why this tragic civil war, which has cost at least two million lives since 1983, has been so pointless. What is important now is that both sides press on along the path of negotiation and peace, so that at long last the blood will stop flowing and Sudan can turn to the challenge of building a prosperous future for all its citizens.

However, the idea that the talks should have deadline at the end of this month is deeply unwise. That it came from Washington and Secretary of State Colin Powell is extraordinary. Powell should know better than to interfere at this late and crucial stage of the negotiations. It is not as if both sides have been dragged to the negotiating table.

These talks have come about thanks to a mutual recognition that the confrontation was going nowhere. The Kenyan government has done its best to facilitate the bargaining, while outside powers have sought merely to encourage both parties.

The very reason a peace deal in the Sudan now seems realistic is because the negotiations were born in Sudan itself. Such talks would seem to be of greater potential than negotiations imposed from outside. This being the case, it is important that at this late minute outsiders do not seek to interfere. This will be a better peace when it is brokered by the Sudanese themselves.

The outside world should only offer to become involved in the event of a serious last-minute breakdown. And were that to occur, every effort should be made to work within the heads of agreement already hammered out by the Sudanese.

This deal gives considerable autonomy to the south while ensuring that any oil revenues from that region are divided fairly between both parts of the country. There are clearly some arrangements to do with the mechanics of power-sharing that are going to be harder to implement than others. But the Sudanese have come thus far. There is clearly a will here, on both sides, to overcome the final disagreements and barriers to peace.

At some point soon we must hope that a savage conflict which has seen famine and disease used as weapons of war — and, even worse, was one of the first in which heavily armed children were deployed in the front line — will come to an end.

There need be no artificially imposed deadlines and no recriminations over the horrors of the past, just a dogged determination to move all Sudanese toward a different and peaceful future. The rest of the world, including Washington should stand back and let the two parties get on with it.

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