Last week peace-talks were set to resume between the Sudanese government and armed groups known as the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF). The South Sudanese government asked for more time before holding the next round of talks which have now been re-scheduled for December 10th. Despite the delay, Sudan’s rebel groups remain committed to bringing peace to a country which has seen the secession of South Sudan in 2011 and constant warfare since 1983.
“The armed movement is going to observe the situation with the government of Sudan and are fully committed with what we signed,” said Ahmed Tugod, a senior negotiator for the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).
Behind the scenes, the Trump administration has maneuvered to try and close the gap between the SRF and the un-armed opposition groups whose weeks of street protests brought down President Omar El Bashir who had ruled the country since 1989. American diplomats have met with representatives of both groups numerous times in recent months to help bolster Sudan’s transition.
The Trump administration is also said to be considering steps to remove Sudan from the list of state-sponsors of terrorism. Sudan was placed on the list in the 1990s during a period when it gave harbor to terrorists like Osama Bin Ladin and Carlos the Jackal, a policy encouraged by Hassan Al-Turabi — the power behind the throne in Bashir’s government. Yet, times have changed in Sudan. Turabi was removed from power in 2001 and died in 2016. Bin Ladin was killed in 2011 and Carlos the Jackal was later captured in Sudan by French special forces with the assistance of the Bashir government.
“Removing Sudan from the state sponsorship of terrorist list has been on the agenda of the State Department for some time and reflects the changing realities in Sudan,” a U.S. State Department official told the author in 2017.
Shortly after Bashir stepped down from power on April 11th, 2019 JEM announced it would be observing a unilateral ceasefire with the Sudanese government during this period of transition while retaining the right to unilaterally withdrawal.
That ceasefire was tested in early June when the government imprisoned Ibrahim El Maz Deng, a senior JEM leader in Khartoum. “He has no ties to South Sudan other than as a place of origin. He is married to a Sudanese lady, and his home is in Khartoum,” said Tugod.
Until it declared independence in 2011, South Sudan was part of Sudan. Since 2011 El Maz Deng has been considered an illegal immigrant in a foreign country. The situation regarding El Maz is not different than the fate of thousands of South Sudanese who fled north to escape the South Sudanese Civil war. A conflict that has waxed and waned since 2013 but, is responsible for some 383,000 deaths.
While El Maz was later freed the fate of hundreds of fighters associated with JEM remains unclear.
“We have more than 285 POWs that are held by the government and hundreds more missing… and we don’t where they are, and the government should release all POWS from the war immediately,” Tugod said suggesting that such a policy should be undertaken on humanitarian grounds.
In 2011, the Sudan Revolutionary Front was formed to provide an umbrella group for a variety of anti-government rebels in Darfur, South Kordofan and the Blue Nile regions of Sudan. JEM is considered one of the better organized of the armed rebel groups in the SRF coalition. Since its founding in 2000, JEM has consistently advocated for a democratic and pluralistic Sudan. JEM’s strength has waxed and waned over the past two decades but, famously launched an assault on the Sudanese capital of Khartoum in 2008 that captured large portions of the city. JEM remains capable of being able to put thousands of fighters in the field. Tugod was one of the signers of the joint declaration which created the SRF in 2011.
“Peace for the people in the refugee camps is more important for them than democracy and freedom at present and to achieve peace and to move toward the second stage of this transition remains an important goal,” Tugod said.
The Transition Military council continues to negotiate with the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces and representatives of other Sudanese opposition groups over the future of Sudan and future elections. Meanwhile, protests, though admittedly of smaller scale continue to be a fact of life in Khartoum.
“The successful realization of peace is integral to the continuity of democracy in Sudan,” says Ahmed Khair, co-founder of the Sudan Research and Consultancy Group, “I say this because democratic reforms may be seriously undermined by stagnation– in the economic and social spheres of life, particularly due to the effect it has on public confidence in government. A ubiquitous state of conflicts is a major contributing factor to such stagnation because of the large toll it takes on human, economic and physical resources.”