Sudan’s transitional government and most of its main rebel groups signed a peace deal on Monday in the hope of ending a long conflict that has left hundreds of thousands dead and displaced millions. The signing makes a significant step towards achieving reform.
The Sudanese military-civilian government, which took power after the army overthrew the 30-year dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir in April 2019, has been holding talks in neighbouring South Sudan since October last year with large rebel groups operating under the umbrella of the Sudan Revolutionary Front.
Abdalla Hamdok, the civilian prime minister who has vowed to bring democracy and peace to Sudan, and rebel leaders agreed in Juba, capital of South Sudan, to enable displaced peoples to return to their homes, among other issues.
Giving the victory sign, Mr Hamdok dedicated the peace deal “to our children who were born in displacement and refugee camps to mothers and fathers who long for their villages and cities”. The deal comes only weeks after protesters took to the streets of Khartoum to demand swifter political reforms on the anniversary of a power-sharing agreement signed between the country’s generals and a pro-democracy movement.
“The agreement is key as it seeks to address the root causes of conflict. It is the first step in getting a comprehensive and inclusive peace process,” said Jonas Horner, a senior analyst on Sudan at Crisis Group. “This agreement includes a commitment to security sector reform, which is absolutely crucial for the [democratic] transition as a whole.”
In a potential hitch, two rebel groups did not sign the deal, which aims to halt the fighting in Darfur in western Sudan and in the southern regions of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
A powerful faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu, has held back from peace negotiations, partly through concern over the role in the transitional government of Lt-Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. Also known as Hemeti, Lt-Gen Hamdan is widely regarded as the most powerful member of the sovereign council. He once ran the Janjaweed horseback militia that carried out atrocities in Darfur.
A senior Sudanese official acknowledged that there might be “shortcomings in the process” of implementing the agreement, adding that it would be wiser to have, at some point, “a more comprehensive agreement including all groups”.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, called on the splinter rebel groups to “join peace efforts for the benefit of the local communities who deserve to benefit from the changes under way in Sudan”.
A conflict in Blue Nile and South Kordofan erupted around the time that South Sudan gained independence in 2011. Darfur was ravaged from 2003 by a conflict that left 300,000 people dead and 2.7m displaced, according to the UN, with militia formed by Mr Bashir blamed for the worst atrocities, including murder and rape.
Sudanese officials have hinted that they might be prepared to see Mr Bashir face prosecution by the International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur. However, some generals in the transitional government are understood to be reluctant to have the former president tried by an international tribunal.
Darfur suffered a fresh bout of violence in July during which “dozens of people were killed”, the UN said.
Last week Mr Hamdok discussed the possibility of the US removing Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, during a historic visit to Khartoum by Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state. This could open the way for investment in its battered economy.