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Sudan’s Truce: A turning point or a simple pause?

February 26, 2010

Last weekend’s signing of the truce between Omar al-Bashir’s government and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebels in Darfur is a good first step. The government will commute the death sentences of some of the JEM rebels and will release several others. The JEM will hold to a truce and the two sides will resume more comprehensive negotiations in March.

However, the problem is, as Laura Heaton from Enough Project notes, this is essentially a bilateral agreement between the government and JEM. It does not include the dozens of other rebel groups that have been fighting over the past seven years. JEM has long demanded it be considered the central voice for Darfur.

Excluding groups from peace processes is often done out of diplomatic expediency. It is easier to get a deal between two major warring groups than to open the process up to several factions. However, as we frequently see, this often creates significant downstream problems. For example, the Naivasha Agreement (Comprehensive Peace Agreement CPA) that helped end the war in Southern Sudan limited the negotiations to SPLM and the Sudanese Government. Other groups, including many fighting in Darfur since 2003, also had grievances against the government in the 1990s but were largely excluded from the CPA process. Similarly, the Kosovar Albanians had hoped to get support from the international community for their grievances against Slobodan Milosevic in 1995 but were shut out at Dayton. In both instances, unresolved conflicts between governments and aggrieved groups ultimately led to additional violence.

To mitigate against this potential in Darfur, the Obama administration has been working with other international negotiators to unite a disparate group of other factions under the umbrella of the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) and negotiating a parallel track between the LJM and the govenrment. It seems we may see a similar truce between the government and LJM in the coming days.

The question, of course, is how will the JEM respond to the joint track with LJM — especially if a final agreement includes government power sharing with Darfuris. Who will represent Darfur? Furthermore, not all of the other factions have joined forces under LJM. What happens if they balk? And, how will the government respond if there are outliers in the process?

Finally, neither the first track between the government and JEM nor the second track between the government and LJM include a wide range of civil society groups. To be sure, a cease fire is the first step, but the long-term sustainability of any cease fire as well as successful post-conflict transitioning will require the active participation and incorporation of civil society groups into the process. But, if they are shut out from the beginning when the initial power-sharing rules and structures are parceled out, it’s hard to see how they will be able to join the party later.

(cross-posted at The IR Blog)

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Jon Western has spent the last fifteen years teaching IR in liberal arts colleges at Mount Holyoke College and the Five Colleges in western Massachusetts. He has an eclectic range of intellectual interests but often writes on international security, U.S. foreign policy, military intervention, and human rights. He occasionally shares his thoughts about professional life in liberal arts colleges. In his spare time he coaches middle school soccer, mentors the local high school robotics team, skis, and sails.