Sudan woefully unprepared for referendum

Sudan is woefully unprepared for a crucial referendum scheduled for January, according to a new report. Riots continue in Belfast as police and politicians insist on their unity. Indo-Pak talks are touted as progress but overshadowed by accusations that Pak security forces masterminded the Mumbai attacks. A Rwandan opposition politician found dead as another independent is arrested. All this and more in today’s briefing.
Josephine Whitaker
15 July 2010

The Sudanese government and its international backers are “alarmingly” underprepared for crucial referenda on the country’s future scheduled for January 2011, says a report released yesterday.

“Renewing the Pledge”, published by a coalition of 26 rights and humanitarian organisations, says that the government of Omar Hassan Ahmed Al-Bashir has done little to prepare for the referendum on southern independence. A number of key deadlines in preparation for the vote have already been missed, jeopardising the forthcoming elections. Moreover, the process’s international backers have done little to meet their pledges to support the referenda. As the report says, “the clock is ticking fast towards what might be the most important date in modern Sudanese history.”

The report was released to coincide with a vital African Union summit in Uganda later this month, as well as a meeting of international envoys to Sudan in Khartoum.

The openSecurity verdict: January 2011 should see two referenda held in Sudan. One will be on the question of whether South Sudan should secede from the north; the other will be held at the same time in volatile, oil-rich Abyei province, to decide whether it will join South Sudan in secession. As the report’s authors’ point out, these referenda are highly likely to lead to the break up of Africa’s largest state.

Although almost all international observers conclude that the South will vote to secede, as yesterday’s report makes clear, what happens next is an issue that should be causing serious international concern. The referenda on southern independence were stipulated as part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, a peace deal brokered in 2005 bringing an end to almost a quarter century of civil war in Sudan that left some two million citizens dead.

The Agreement, which expires on 9 January 2011, established a clear framework for peace building. Both the forthcoming referenda and national elections held in April this year are a on its timetable. However, the complex elections – the country’s first multiparty vote in almost 25 years which saw Bashir and his Southern counterpart Salva Kiir re-elected – were overshadowed by allegations of fraud and intimidation. According to the report, lessons from April’s vote are yet to be learnt, either by the government or by international observers.

Many crucial logistical steps that will pave the way for January’s referenda, such as establishing commissions to oversee voter registration in the south and in Abjei, have yet to be taken. More importantly, a number of outstanding issues, such as control of oil wealth and border disputes, which were to be resolved after signing of the accord and before the referenda, have not yet been addressed.

The issue of oil control was always going to be a thorny one for Sudan. South Sudan depends on oil revenues for 98 percent of its income, and the north also depends heavily on the country’s oil wealth. Concern has shifted over the past few months from fear that Khartoum will simply deny independence to the south, to fear that the government will slowly strangle the newly independent state. If the south does secede, it will be entirely landlocked and dependent on a pipeline running through the north to export its oil. Unless the issues of oil and borders are addressed before the referenda, they risk creating severe humanitarian crises or even a reversion to a state of war, international rather than civil, as it would then be.

Meanwhile, as the Sudanese government and its guarantors struggle to meet the Comprehensive Peace Agreement deadlines, other problems risk being forgotten. Violence in Darfur has intensified in recent weeks, suggesting that the national elections did little to address the situation in the west.

As well as criticising Khartoum for failing to make preparations, the report also criticises the United Nations, which has yet to deploy a mission to monitor the run-up to referenda. Many states and international organisations agreed to act as guarantors of the peace agreement, and to help Sudan implement it. But with only six months to go before the referenda are scheduled, it is unclear if all outstanding issues can be addressed in time.

The most important point is, as the report suggests, that the challenges facing Sudan are addressed holistically. However, more concerted international efforts to support the timetable set out in 2005 and support the security of the Sudanese population from the probable predations of its rulers are required if the forthcoming referenda are not to plunge this fragile state into war once again.

Riots continue in Belfast

Two men have been arrested in connection with rioting that rocked Northern Ireland’s capital, Belfast, for a fourth consecutive night yesterday. According to local security forces, petrol bombs and fireworks were thrown by protestors and one car was set on fire in the nationalist neighbourhood of Ardoyne. Security forces used water cannons to disperse protestors. Over the past four days, police have come under sustained attack as they tried to contain violent protests at flashpoints across Northern Ireland. More than eighty police officers have been injured, and seven arrests have been made.

Northern Ireland’s political leadership has been quick to reassure the public that this week’s violence will not plunge the restive state back into violence. Martin McGuinness, deputy first minister, of Sinn Féin, said “they will not succeed because we are determined to stand together and use all of our resources to ensure that they do not achieve their worst aim...”. His comments followed a meeting at Stormont, the Northern Ireland Assembly, between First Minister Peter Robinson and police chief Matt Baggott.

Rumours of a rift between Northern Ireland’s political leaders and its police force began circulating earlier this week, after the father of a seriously injured police officer spoke out against restrictions on police powers in combating rioters. Yesterday’s statements from McGuinness and Baggott attempted to dispel fears of a division over tactics.

The unrest this week marks 12 July, an important day in the Unionist calendar which commemorates the victory of the Protestant William of Orange over the Catholic King James in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Traditionally, the 12th July fortnight sees a number of Unionist Orange Order marches commemorating the battle, some routed through or near Catholic-majority areas. While Orange Lodges insist that these and other marches are an essential part of their tradition, opponents see them as intentionally triumphalist and sectarian. The parades have often triggered clashes and violence that has spread across Northern Ireland. In 1998, protests over attempts to ban one of the marches led to widespread fire bombings of Catholic homes, leaving three children dead. Senior officers have promised “significant arrests” of those involved in the violence over the coming weeks.

Indo-Pak talks overshadowed by Indian accusations

Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers today began talks in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, in their first meeting since the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2008.

The talks between Shah Mehmood Qureshi and SM Krishna follow on from a number of high-level meetings between officials of the two countries over the last few months. Their prime ministers met in Thimphu, Bhutan, earlier this year, in a move that has kick-started a thawing in Indo-Pakistan relations.

Although a foreign office spokesman in Delhi earlier said that the talks had no formal agenda, according to Krishna, India hopes to discuss “issues of mutual interest and concern that contribute to restoring trust and building confidence in our bilateral relationship.” Pakistan is expected to raise its concerns that India is diverting water from rivers that cross into Pakistan, while India is likely to raise its concerns about terrorism, and ongoing violence in Indian-administered Kashmir. However, the meeting has been overshadowed by comments in an Indian newspaper attributed to GK Pillai, India’s home minister, suggesting that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence masterminded the 2008 attacks.

Islamist attacks in Mumbai left more than 160 people dead, leading to severe strains to the often-troubled Indo-Pakistani relationship. India blamed the attacks on militants based in Pakistan, and claimed that the Pakistan government was harbouring militant Islamists. After initial denials, Pakistani officials were later forced to concede that the attacks were at least partially planned on their soil. In response to Indian demands, Pakistan has since prosecuted seven men for their involvement in the attacks, but says it needs more evidence to try others.

Rwandan opposition politician found dead as another journalist arrested

The body of a senior Rwandan opposition politician, reported missing on 13 July, was found yesterday in Butare. The body of Andre Kagwa Rwisereka, first vice-president of Rwanda’s Democratic Green Party, was found beside his car. According to Frank Habineza, chairman of the Green Party, Rwisereka’s head had been almost completely severed from his body.

The Green Party has been denied registration for the forthcoming elections, and there are now suspicions that the government may have been behind Rwisereka’s murder. Habineza called on the government to “use all means possible to find out the cause of his death.” A police spokesman suggested that robbery may have been the motive.

Many opposition parties have claimed in recent months that the government is clamping down on them in the run up to next month’s presidential elections. Victoire Ingabire, leader of the United Democratic Forces, appeared in court in April, charged with denying the genocide and collaborating with a terrorist organisation. The UDF maintains that the charges were trumped up by the government to undermine support for the party. The shooting last month in South Africa of exiled military officer General Kayumba Nyamwasa came after an alleged quarrel with President Paul Kagame. His family have alleged this was a government-sponsored assassination attempt, although the government have strenuously denied this.

Several human rights and press freedom organisations working in Rwanda have lent weight to opposition claims. Press freedom organisation, Reporters Without Borders, on Tuesday called on the European Union and foreign governments to suspend assistance to the Rwandan government “following a series of grave press freedom violations.” Independent journalist Agnes Uwimana, editor of Umurabyo newspaper, was arrested earlier this month on charges of defaming the president and espousing genocide. Hers is the third case of an independent newspaper facing charges over publishing critiques of government policies in the run up to presidential elections. Umuseso and Umuvugizi , two other leading independent newspapers, were also shut down earlier this year. Umuvugizi editor, Jean-Léonard Rugambage, was murdered last month, in another case in which the government is suspected to have been involved. The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) slammed Uwimana’s arrest, saying that “silencing an independent media voice one month before a presidential election smacks of an attempt to control the media.” Last year, Rwanda was ranked 157th out of 175 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom rankings.

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