Clinton's Obstruction of Peace in Sudan

"Instead of working for peace in Sudan, the US government has basically promoted a continuation of the war."

--Former US President Jimmy Carter

For all the good work done in the pursuit of peace and a peaceful solution to the conflict in Sudan, whether internally amongst the Sudanese themselves, through the auspices of the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) or by way of the Egyptian-Libyan peace initiative, it is sadly all too evident that these endeavours have been fundamentally undermined by the Clinton Administration's attempts to encourage and even escalate the war in Sudan.

There is no doubt that the United States is pivotal to a peaceful resolution of the Sudanese conflict. There is also no doubt that the conditions for just such a resolution are better now than they have been for some time. The offer of an internationally-monitored referendum whereby the people of southern Sudan can decide their own destiny is on the table. The former Prime Minister, Sadiq al-Mahdi, the leader of the largest Sudanese opposition party, the Umma party, and himself ousted in 1989 by the present government, has declared in a 1999 interview with AFP that: "There are now circumstances and developments which could favour an agreement on a comprehensive political solution."

The Umma party has left the opposition National Democratic Alliance, and has abandoned the armed struggle against the Khartoum government. The former prime minister returned to Sudan in November 2000.

The Egyptian-Libyan peace initiative, introduced in late 1998, has re-energised the search for peace in Sudan. The IGAD process has been in place since 1994, and was restricted to negotiations between the government and the southern rebel movement, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). IGAD has hitherto been singularly unsuccessful in resolving the conflict, and ignored the fact that the National Democratic Alliance, of which the SPLA was only one component, and which had included major northern Sudanese opposition parties such as Umma and the Democratic Unionist Party, was not party to that negotiation process. The Egyptian-Libyan initiative sought to include both northern and southern opposition parties and movements. The Sudanese stated in an interview with Reuters news service, that "IGAD is for the problem of the south, while the Egyptian-Libyan initiative offers a comprehensive settlement for the whole problem of Sudan."

For all the movement towards a peaceful resolution of the Sudanese conflict, it is clear that the Clinton Administration, however, remains the single biggest obstacle to peace in Sudan. No less a commentator than former President Carter has been very candid about the Administration's attempts to prevent a peaceful resolution of the Sudanese conflict:

"The people in Sudan want to resolve the conflict. The biggest obstacle is US government policy. The US is committed to overthrowing the government in Khartoum. Any sort of peace effort is aborted, basically by policies of the United States...Instead of working for peace in Sudan, the US government has basically promoted a continuation of the war," said Carter in a 1999 interview with the Boston Globe.

This is not the Sudanese government speaking. It is a man respected the world over for his work towards peace in various conflicts. Former President Carter is also a man who knows Sudan, and the Sudanese situation well, having followed the issue for two decades or more.

"If the United States would be reasonably objective in Sudan, I think that we at the Carter Center and the Africans who live in the area could bring peace to Sudan. But the United States government has a policy of trying to overthrow the government in Sudan. So whenever there's a peace initiative, unfortunately our government puts up whatever obstruction it can," said Carter to an Atlanta newspaper.

Carter bluntly stated that the Clinton Administration's US$ 20 million grant in military aid to Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda was "a tacit demonstration of support for the overthrow of the Khartoum government". He also believed that this behaviour by Washington had a negative effect on the SPLA's interest in negotiating a political settlement: "I think Garang now feels he doesn't need to negotiate because he anticipates a victory brought about by increasing support from his immediate neighbors, and also from the United States and indirectly from other countries," the former president told the Washington Times.

The Clinton Administration's military, diplomatic and political support for the SPLA has long been an open secret. In its programme of supporting the SPLA, tens of millions of dollars worth of covert American military assistance has been supplied to the rebels. This has included weapons, logistical assistance, and military training. On 17 November 1996, the London Sunday Times reported that:

"More than $20m of military equipment, including radios, uniforms and tents will be shipped to Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda in the next few weeks...much of it will be passed on to the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which is preparing an offensive against the government in Khartoum."

This was confirmed by the newsletter Africa Confidential: "The United States pretends the aid is to help the governments protect themselves from Sudan...It is clear the aid is for Sudan's armed opposition." The Clinton Administration has used the same covert warfare tactics that the Reagan Administration used against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. As much has been unambiguously stated by the man who should know, John Prendergast, the National Security Council's Sudan expert, who went so far as to make a direct comparison between Sudan to Nicaragua:

"The parallels to Central America in the 1980s are stark. The US provided covert aid to the Contras (and official aid to the regimes in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatamala) and because of domestic public pressure urged numerous reforms on the Contras (and the three Central American governments), especially in the area of human rights and institutional reform (though the pressures were undercut by an administration in Washington not serious about human rights)," wrote John Prendergast in his book titled "Crisis Response: Humanitarian Band-Aids in Sudan and Somalia."

It is obvious that the Contras in the Sudanese example are the SPLA. In addition to using surrogates, the United States has also provided military training to the SPLA by CIA and special forces instructors. United States army generals, for example, have been present during Ugandan army exercises held in conjunction with SPLA forces and Eritrean army units. The American military presence in these "front line" states was under the guise that U.S. advisers were providing "antiterrorist" training, according to sevearl news agency reports.

Africa Confidential has confirmed that the SPLA "has already received US help via Uganda" and that United States special forces are on "open-ended deployment" with the rebels. The Sudanese government has also specifically accused the United States of supplying SPLA rebels with landmines.

This American support clearly resulted in the intransigence of the SPLA with regard to a negotiated, political solution to Sudan's conflict. The SPLA have repeatedly paid lip service to the various rounds of IGAD peace-talks, and have rejected other peace initiatives, and offers of cease-fires.

The Clinton Administration's close association with such a gross abuser of human rights as the SPLA has been of particular concern domestically. The New York Times has publicly opposed any American support, describing the SPLA as "brutal and predatory", stating that they "have behaved like an occupying army, killing, raping and pillaging" in southern Sudan,, and callin,g SPLA leader John Garang one of Sudan's "pre-eminent war criminals". Eight US-based humanitarian organisations working in Sudan, including CARE, World Vision, Church World Service, Save the Children and the American Refugee Committee have outlined the consequences of Garang's dedication, stating that the SPLA has "engaged for years in the most serious human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, beatings, arbitrary detention, slavery, etc."

The Economist also summed up the international community's perception of the SPLA when it stated that: "[The SPLA] has...been little more than an armed gang of Dinkas...killing, looting and raping. Its indifference, almost animosity, towards the people it was supposed to be 'liberating' was all too clear."

In 'Civilian Devastation: Abuses by all Parties in the War in Southern Sudan', a 279-page study, Human Rights Watch devoted 169 pages to SPLA human rights abuses (government violations were dealt with over 52 pages). The SPLA has also callously and indiscriminately used landmines within civilian areas. The US Department of State's Sudan Country Report on Human Rights Practices, for example, documented that rebel forces "indiscriminately laid land mines on roads and paths, which killed and aimed...civilians." An Africa Watch report stated that SPLA "land mines are planted at well-heads, on roads, near marketplaces, and close to injured people, so that would-be rescuers are blown up."

It is against this backdrop, that the New York Times said of the SPLA in a 1999 editorial: "[C]hanneling assistance to southern rebels would ally Washington with a brutal and predatory guerrilla army. One of the tragedies of Sudan's war is that John Garang's S.P.L.A. has squandered a sympathetic cause. Though its members claim to be "Christians resisting Islamization, they have behaved like an occupying army, killing, raping and pillaging."

In February 2000, because of unacceptable demands made upon them by the SPLA, eleven international non-governmental aid organisations were forced to leave southern Sudan. These NGOs included CARE, Oxfam, Save the Children and Medecins Sans Frontieres. These NGOs handled about 75 percent of the humanitarian aid entering southern Sudan. The SPLA had demanded that all aid agencies active in southern Sudan sign a memorandum which dictated SPLA control over their activities, and aid distribution, as well as which Sudanese nationals the agencies employed, and which stipulated a swathe of "taxes" and charges for working in southern Sudan. The European Union described the SPLA demands as a serious violation of humanitarian law and suspended its substantial aid program to rebel-controlled areas.

The American government has also sought to give direct food aid to the SPLA. In late 1999 there were moves in Washington, including legislation passed by the United States Congress, and actively supported by key members of the Clinton Administration, which authorised direct American government food aid to the Sudan People's Liberation Army. This provoked considerable controversy in the United States and within the international community. The military implications of such assistance were clear. The New York Times, for example, said in a 1999 editorial that "The plan is designed by its advocates in the State Department and the National Security Council to strengthen the military operations of the Sudan People's Liberation Army."

Prendergast confirmed this motivation: "This is so forces can eat more easily and resupply forces in food-deficit areas." He also said that the Administration hoped that the food aid would allow rebels to "stay in position or expand positions in places where it is difficult to maintain a logistical line." The move has been opposed by the international and American humanitarian aid community for two reasons. Firstly, it would be of direct assistance to an organisation with a,n appalling ,human rights record. Secondly, it would compromise existing food relief operations for civilians in southern Sudan, in particular Operation Lifeline Sudan, the United Nations-directed effort which brings the Sudanese government, the SPLA and over forty non-governmental organisations together. There was also clear dissension within the Clinton Administration itself. The assistant secretary of state for refugees and humanitarian assistance, Julia Taft, went public with her concerns in a 1999 interview with the Chicago Tribune: "This is a departure from the way we should be using food aid."

SPLA leader John Garang clearly stated that the proposed American food aid would boost the SPLA's military capacity in its war with the Sudanese government. In a December, 1999, Reuters interview, he said that: "We will be able to concentrate more men in bigger units. Concentration is one of the principles of war. If you concentrate your manpower or firepower, you get better results."

The New York Times said of this attempt to assist the SPLA that: "This is likely to prolong the war, ally Washington with one of Sudan's pre-eminent war criminals and enlist America in the conflict's most pernicious tactic - the use of food as a weapon of war."

Unsurprisingly, the Clinton Administration's stated intention to feed the SPLA was heavily criticised. CARE stated that: "It would set a terrible precedent." In a 13 December 1999 press release, Jemera Rone, the Sudan researcher at Human Rights Watch, stated that "Food Aid is inappropriate for human rights reasons. The SPLA has admitted diverting relief food intended for famine victims during the 1998 famine in southern Sudan. Giving them food aid would reward for that abusive behaviour". This followed a 10 December 1999 letter by the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, to Madeleine Albright criticising calls for American food aid to SPLA combatants.

"The SPLA has a history of gross abuses of human rights and has not made any effort to establish accountability. Its abuses today remain serious...This pattern makes the provision of any aid to the SPLA wrong, because it would support an abusive force and make the United States complicit in those abuses. Moreover, what makes supplying food aid to the SPLA particularly inappropriate is the group's routine diversion of relief food away from starving civilians."

This then was the organisation that the Clinton Administration chose to politically, diplomatically and militarily support.

It cannot be said that the Clinton Administration is unaware that the SPLA has a long history of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Indeed, the White House's own National Security Council, and subsequently the State Department's, Sudan expert, John Prendergast, has declared that the SPLA "was responsible for egregious human rights violations in the territory it controlled". Prendergast, for example, has also stated that: "The SPLA has faced a tidal wave of accusations and condemnation from international human rights organizations and local churches over its human rights record."

The Clinton Administration's backing of the SPLA highlights glaring double standards. There is apparently one set of human rights and values for white Europeans in Bosnia and Kosovo and another for black Africans in Sudan. War crimes in the Balkans are condemned by Washington, and those responsible for mass murder and ethnic cleansing are indicted for trial. Almost identical SPLA war crimes such the well-documented shooting, hacking to death or burning alive of hundreds of women and children, are ignored, and their perpetrators given direct American military, logistical and political support. And, in addition, the American secretary of state praises the man ultimately responsible for such crimes, John Garang, as being "very dynamic".

It is also a matter of record that the Clinton Administration has, publicly encou,raged the regional destabilisation of Sudan. This encouragement took the form of political, financial and military support to several of Sudan's neighbours, including Uganda, Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Boston Globe reported in a 1999 article that: "To the peril of regional stability, the Clinton Administration has used northern Uganda as a military training ground for southern Sudanese rebels fighting the Muslim government of Khartoum."

The tip of the iceberg in respect of encouragement to Sudan's neighbours was the American government's grant of $20 million in military assistance to Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda. This was in effect a public statement of intent on behalf of the United States government that it encouraged or certainly envisaged a violent solution within Sudan, especially given that it was widely known that Sudanese armed opposition groups would be the direct recipients of this military aid. This policy was incorporated into the Clinton Administration's broader Africa policy, which welcomed the leaders of Uganda, Eritrea and Ethiopia as the leaders of a new African "Renaissance".

Washington's attempts to destabilise the biggest country in Africa, a politically delicate country made of several ethnic groups, hundreds of tribes and languages, and an Islamic/Christian fault line, can only but be viewed with incomprehension. Sudan has ten neighbouring states. A successful attempt to destabilise and fragment Sudan would very likely lead to the "Lebanonisation" of the country, with all the grave consequences that would entail. Alternatively, Sudan might become another Somalia, an anarchic patchwork of clan and tribal allegiances.

The Clinton Administration's policy is also deeply questionable given the example of the genocidal fury that broke out within Rwanda and Burundi when those states imploded. Yet this was the policy so avidly pursued by Washington.

While encouraging war, the American government's then regional allies also impeded Sudanese attempts to secure peace. The American government has repeatedly declared that the IGAD peace process is the only one they recognise. Given that three of the IGAD countries, with seats on the IGAD peace committee, are Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda, it is unsurprising that the IGAD process spent much of the mid-to-late 1990s in what might be seen as deliberate stalemate. And, as we have seen, the Clinton Administration publicly opposed any new initiatives to resolve the Sudanese civil war, including the Egyptian peace plan. U.S. opposition to this plan has also gone hand-in-hand with public attempts to logistically assist the SPLA, by, for example, direct food aid to combatants.

This then has been the legacy of the Clinton Administration. One awaits with interest the position on Sudan to be taken by the incoming Bush Administration.


Dr. David Hoile is director of the European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council in London.

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