Since I would find it unnerving to think that the Bush administration hasn't done anything good in six years in office, I cling to the two genuinely good things I know of that it has accomplished: the peace accord in the North-South civil war in the Sudan, and the designation of 140,000 square miles of ocean as a national monument. Now, unfortunately, the first of these seems to be unravelling.
"A peace agreement that two years ago ended Africa's longest-running conflict -- and that the White House considers one of President Bush's signature achievements -- is in danger of unraveling because of inattention by top U.S. officials and growing tensions between Sudan's government and the former rebels who signed the deal, according to experts and congressional officials.
The two-decade civil war, which pitted the Islamic government in the north against rebels based in the mostly animist and Christian south, left 2 million people dead, primarily from famine and disease, and 4 million homeless. Christian evangelical groups -- a key part of Bush's political base -- had pressed hard for a resolution, and the administration made a peace agreement one of its top diplomatic priorities. (...)
But now experts warn that the Khartoum government's unwillingness to abide by the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) could lead to a new outbreak of war. "The CPA is eroding," said Roger Winter, a former State Department official who was involved in the negotiations. "It is not dead by any means, but it is eroding and Khartoum wants it to erode." He said he sees signs that the Sudanese government is no longer interested in the peace deal and has taken steps to prepare for another conflict.
Many experts said the administration, distracted by war in the Middle East and an unrelated conflict in Sudan's Darfur region, has failed to recognize the peril lurking in the south. (Similarly, many now believe that the administration let the Darfur conflict spiral out of control in 2003 because it was so focused on reaching a peace accord in the south.) (...)
Barnaba Benjamin, minister for regional development in the government of south Sudan, told a House Foreign Affairs panel last week that "the country can break up unless the CPA is implemented in spirit and in letter."
Winter said that an area known as Abyei, between the northern and southern parts of Sudan, is a particular source of tension. Under the peace agreement, Abyei, which has a huge oil field, can vote in 2011 on whether to be part of the north or the south. But Bashir has rejected the findings of a boundary commission and has refused to allow the creation of a local government, convincing the local population that war will break out again in the territory. Winter faulted the administration for failing to publicly pressure Khartoum on this critical issue.
Though Garang was long an advocate of Sudanese unity, his death and the Darfur disaster have made it increasingly likely that the south Sudanese will vote overwhelmingly for independence, according to focus group surveys conducted by the National Democratic Institute.
Winter said Khartoum appears ready to break the peace deal before the election takes place, so the administration needs to help the south prepare for independence.
The administration official acknowledged that south Sudan is moving toward independence. "We have to plan for that," he said. "The idea behind the CPA was that there would be a transformation of Sudan, that it would become a responsible player in the international community. Many south Sudanese would say they have not seen that.""
"Many south Sudanese"? Is there anyone on earth who would say that he or she has seen Sudan becoming a "responsible player in the international community"? Was I off at a meeting when Sudan suddenly transformed itself into some sort of desert Switzerland?
More to the point: this civil war lasted for over 20 years. During that time, over 2 million people were killed, over 4 million were made refugees, and over 600,000 fled the country. (The population of Southern Sudan is 5-6 million.) South Sudan was largely destroyed.
Moreover, the civil war helped to destabilize other countries. For instance, the hateful Lord's Resistance Army terrorized northern Uganda from bases in southern Sudan. It was reportedly funded by the north in order to destabilize the south, and as a way of getting back at the Ugandan government for (allegedly) supporting the southern Sudanese in the civil war. The LRA is truly one of the world's most nightmarish groups:
"The LRA continued to kill, torture, maim, rape, and abduct large numbers of civilians, virtually enslaving numerous children. Although its levels of activity diminished somewhat compared with 1997, the area that the LRA targeted grew. The LRA sought to overthrow the Ugandan Government and inflicted brutal violence on the population in northern Uganda. LRA forces also targeted local government officials and employees. The LRA also targeted international humanitarian convoys and local NGO workers. (...)
In particular, the LRA abducted numerous children and, at clandestine bases, terrorized them into virtual slavery as guards, concubines, and soldiers. In addition to being beaten, raped, and forced to march until exhausted, abducted children were forced to participate in the killing of other children who had attempted to escape. Amnesty International reported that without child abductions, the LRA would have few combatants. More than 6,000 children were abducted during 1998, although many of those abducted later escaped or were released. Most human rights NGOs place the number of abducted children still held captive by the LRA at around 3,000, although estimates vary substantially."
Tens of thousands of children all over northern Uganda trek to cities every night to avoid being abducted. (There's a good photo essay about them here.) Horrible things happen to the children who are abducted:
* "Early on when we were captured, the LRA explained to us that all five brothers couldn't serve in the LRA because we would not perform well. So they tied up my two younger brothers and invited us to watch. Then they beat them with sticks until the two of them died. They told us it would give us strength to fight. My youngest brother was nine years old." -- Martin P., age thirteen.
* "A twenty-year-old woman, abducted in March 1996 by the LRA from Pabbo in Kilak County, was held by -or "stayed with," as the ex-captives describe it-the LRA for more than six years. She was forced to kill four people with sticks, and was threatened that if she refused to kill them, she would be killed herself.
Some of the children, while too afraid to refuse the orders of the LRA, nevertheless spoke later with difficulty about performing these killings. They feared the spirits of the dead children and possible revenge. They had recurring memories of the brutality they were forced to perform. James K. told Human Rights Watch:[A] group of children escaped. Two girls, aged fourteen, were [re]captured. They were given to the group of child abductees and we were told that we must kill them with clubs. Every one of the new recruits was made to participate. We were warned that if we ever tried to escape, we would be killed in the same manner."
* "Godfrey lies in pain in the dressing room of St. Joseph's Hospital, in Kitgum Mission. I can see the terror in his eyes. In the evening of May 30th  the [LRA] rebels came to his home in Mucwini and subjected him to a most horrible mutilation which left him without ears, lips and fingers. It is the fourth such incident I have seen over the last month. His torturers wrapped his ears in a letter and put it in his pocket. The blood-stained piece of paper gave a strong warning to whoever wants to join the local defence forces (LDU): "We shall do to you what we have done to him". -- Father Carlos Rodriguez, Kitgum, Uganda, June 2003"
Presently, the LRA is engaged in peace talks with the Ugandan government, but these are also in danger of collapsing. If they do, that would imperil the north-south Sudanese peace, along with the stability of the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the LRA seems to be holed up. Conversely, the collapse of the north-south peace talks would probably doom the Ugandan peace talks, plunging northern Uganda back into hell.
There's plenty of blame for the problems with the north-south accord to go around. (More background here.) As far as I can tell, no one is really behaving responsibly, and heaven knows the Sudanese government is no one's idea of an ideal political partner. However, this region of Africa has been in such terrible shape for so long, and the north-south accord is one of the most hopeful things that have happened there in decades. We can't let it fall apart again for lack of attention. If it does fall apart, that will be an absolute tragedy. And if we don't do whatever we can to keep it from falling apart, shame on us.