Sudan's moment of truth.

Author:Versi, Anver

As we entered 2004, it appeared that one of Africa's most longed for New Year wishes would come true: peace would descend on Sudan, bringing to an end the longest war in modern history. Now it seems, we might have celebrated a little too soon.

"The Sudanese peace process is irreversible," said a beaming John Garang, leader of the southern Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) as he shook hands with the country's Vice President, Ali Osman Taha in Naivasha, Kenya early in January.

"This moment, in which we have signed an agreement on wealth sharing, spells the end of a long episode of war and conflict in our country," responded Taha.

The talks, a marathon session lasting almost a year, and brokered by the US, Norway and Kenya, reached a climax of sorts in October when US Secretary of State, Colin Powell flew to Naivasha to reinforce the efforts of John Daneforth, George Bush's Special Envoy to Sudan. Offering more carrots than sticks, Powell dangled the lifting of trade sanctions and removing Sudan from its list of countries supporting terrorism as rewards for a swift and lasting peace agreement.

Whatever private pressure Powell exerted--and his presence there was clear evidence that the US was determined to get a speedy resolution--appeared to work.

In January, delighted delegates announced that two of the major sticking points, security and revenues from oil, had been resolved. Other disputed issues, seemingly minor in comparison, would be settled rapidly.

On security, the two sides had agreed that a 39,000 strong military force, incorporating the SPLA, would be set up as part of the cessation of hostilities.

The most important breakthrough however was on the agreement to share oil revenues on a fifty fifty basis. A presidential commission to oversee future exploration and the fair division of oil revenues would be created.

As soon as a comprehensive agreement was signed, the south would begin an autonomous administration for six years after which there would be a referendum on whether it wanted to remain as part of Sudan or go its own way.

The vexing issue of Islamic Sharia law was also quickly dealt with. Sharia law, including Islamic banking would continue to operate in the north while the south would be secular with Western style banking. A new national currency would be issued.

There were several outstanding issues at this juncture but the consensus was that the main obstacles to peace--power sharing and oil revenues--had been...

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