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Press Conference in Khartoum

Andrew Natsios, Special Envoy to Sudan
Grand Villa Hotel
Khartoum, Sudan
October 6, 2007

I am Andrew Natsios, the Special Envoy of President Bush to Sudan, and beside me is our Chargé d’Affaires, Alberto Fernandez.

I had a full 10 days in Sudan. We had very good meetings in Khartoum, I visited Nyala and Zalingi in Darfur and that was important but I spent the bulk of my time on this trip in the South and in the border areas.

We visited Bentiu and Thar Jath in Unity State, Malakal, Renk, Rumbek, Torit and Juba. I had two meetings with First Vice President Salva Kiir, visited the South Sudanese Legislative Assembly, the SPLA Headquarters, and we also went to Blue Nile State, in Damazin, one of the three sensitive border areas along with Abyei and Nuba Mountains. I went to Abyei nine or 10 months ago.

The reason for the focus on the South is that we are deeply concerned with the health of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

Important deadlines have been missed, and key issues like Abyei have not been resolved, and trust is slowly being lost and tensions – especially along the border areas where armed units of the Sudanese Armed Forces and the SPLA confront each other – are rising. This, we believe, is very dangerous.

We reject the idea that “nothing has changed” since the signing of the CPA. Much good has happened. Most importantly, the fighting and killing between the North and the South, the terrible loss in innocent human life – even worse than Darfur – has stopped. Fathers and mothers are not burying their sons who don’t come back from the battlefield, who were soldiers in the north and the south. Reconstruction has begun – too slowly – but it’s begun, in the South. You can see that if you go to any of these cities. We saw schools being built, we saw government offices being built. The Parliament building. Institutions have been formed. People in the South are better fed, more prosperous than I have ever seen in the 18 years that I have been coming to Sudan. And the hope in a better future is still there.

But we also reject the view that “everything is fine” with the CPA, that everything is being implemented. With the militarization of border areas the chance for a clash between armed units that is unintended, that could escalate is very high. Abyei needs to be resolved very soon and the U.S. is willing to be helpful in any way we can. Reconstruction is only just beginning and many people have yet to see the benefits of peace and of Sudan’s oil wealth.

The current political atmosphere between the NCP and the SPLM is poisonous. There is blame for both sides. The “war of words” needs to stop and an environment of mutual respect needs to be created. The international community, especially UNMIS, can be helpful here – if we are allowed to be helpful. I might add that we anticipated – and I helped with the negotiations with Jack Danforth, Colin Powell, and Walter Kansteiner when they negotiated the agreement – we expected that enemies at war would be partners in peace and in implementation. That partnership really has not happened. They are not enemies anymore, they are opponents, and that’s not helpful.

We know that the challenges are tremendous. The international community needs to continue to find ways to be helpful toward the CPA implementation. We have a large aid program in the South. We’ve been doing a lot of reconstruction work ourselves, the U.S. Government. Now is the time to make a course correction on the CPA, because the CPA is off track, before things deteriorate further. This means deeds, and not words, by the NCP and the SPLM, to solve outstanding issues now and not leave them for later.

On Darfur, we are focused on preparations for the Darfur Peace Talks in Libya. We strongly condemn the criminal act attacking the Nigerian peacekeepers in Haskanita. This underscores the need for a robust, powerful peacekeeping force immediately – one that can defend itself and provide security for innocent civilians.

We also know that the Darfur talks have to be inclusive as possible – with the rebel movements, IDPs, civil society, women, and traditional chiefs, and marginalized Arab tribes somehow represented and their voices heard. We are calling and pressing for all rebel movements, all rebel movements, to attend the Libya talks on Darfur if they are invited.

We also know that a peace agreement that does not lead to the early voluntary return of refugees and IDPs to their homes, farms and villages – in peace and security - will fail. An agreement that does not solve the heart of the problem – the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa who were driven from their lands – there will be no peace in Darfur.

Thank you very much. I look forward to your questions. If there are no questions, I can leave. Thank you very much.

Question-and-answer period:

Akhbar Al-Youm: (Translated from Arabic) Did any of your meetings result in any initiatives to resolve the Abyei issue?

Natsios: There is a committee between the NCP and the SPLM led by Second Vice President Ali Osman Taha and by Dr. Riek Machar, the Vice President of the GOSS. They have been working, but it appears there is a stalemate. None of the compromise recommendations or the different ideas that are being offered have been accepted by either side. So we are at an impasse. This is dangerous because this is a very emotional issue for many people.

Reuters: Why do you think we have reached this stalemate? It seems that all of the areas (inaudible) are areas where the government will actually have to give up power. This is the crux of the issue (inaudible).

Natsios: I think there are several things. I have been trying to analyze and step back objectively to see what happened. There is a tension in the CPA, and the tension is that the people who are supposed to carry out the peace agreement – the SPLM and the NCP – are going to be opponents, likely opponents, in the elections that are to be held in early 2009. The people who are going to be running against each other are also required to be partners in implementing a peace agreement. Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t have the elections. We need the elections. That is the most transforming event to have multiparty democratic elections that are free and fair and transparent across the country for everyone to participate. That will transform Sudan. But, the same people who are running against each other are also supposed to implement the peace agreement, and that is some of the tension. I must also say that it’s apparent to me the easiest parts of the CPA have been carried out. The hardest parts, which involve power and a transformation of the standards of society, are the ones now that are slowing down. This is, by the way, not unusual in other civil wars in other places of the world. But I just might say that 50 percent, according to a World Bank study, of all peace agreements fail at the implementation stage. I think too many people in the North and the South believed that 90 percent of this whole process was negotiating a peace agreement. That’s 25 percent. The 75 percent is actually implementing it. It’s much harder to implement something than to negotiate something.

Associated Press: You said the United States was willing to help both sides with the implementation. What exactly are you offering to do?

Natsios: I talked to both sides and urged them to step back from this spiraling public rhetoric, which is not helpful, but also I might add that in private, it’s very acrimonious. Poisonous is the word. I have urged them to step back and reconsider whether some confidence building steps could be taken now to arrest this bad dynamic we have at this point.

Associated Press: What could the U.S. actually do?

Natsios: If we did have something, I would not announce it at a press conference. Because then it would be ineffective.

BBC: About Darfur, we heard from the leader of JEM that he would only attend if a unified SLA, JEM and the government are the only ones that go to the peace talks. (inaudible) Do you think the peace talks will start on the 27th?

Natsios: I think they will start on the 27th, but let me just say if you look at other conflict scenarios, you will see that just before peace negotiations are to start, people start making public comments and troops start moving and the conflict temporarily intensifies because people are trying to position themselves in a stronger position for the talks. That is what we are seeing right now. I frankly think all of this we are seeing is a result of the talks that are coming up. If we do not have a cease-fire once the talks start, then it is going to be harder to conduct these negotiations because every time there is an attack, someone will walk out of the talks -- who feels aggrieved by the attacks. So I think one of the early measures we have to take is a cessation of hostilities, which is the only way the North-South negotiations went on.

Thank you very much.

Released on October 11, 2007

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