KHARTOUM – A rebel group that’s waged a six-year war against Sudan’s government will ask the U.S. to postpone a sanctions review on the African country beyond a July deadline as it accuses President Umar al-Bashir’s forces of breaching a cease-fire and blocking aid to civilians.
The Obama administration in January ordered the reversal of some of the economic sanctions the U.S. imposed on Sudan in 1997, four years after it was listed as a state sponsor of terrorism. The leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, which has fought in the country’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile provinces since 2011, said the U.S. should link lifting sanctions with democratization and allowing full humanitarian access.
Al-Bashir “shouldn’t be given a free lunch,” Yassir Arman, the SPLM-N’s secretary-general, said by phone from a location in Sudan he wouldn’t disclose. He accused Sudan’s government of a recent “continued military and air offensive” in part of its western Darfur region and “a limited offensive” in Kordofan’s Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile.
Calls to Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman seeking comment on the allegations didn’t connect. Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour over the weekend said that Darfur rebel groups are trying to draw his government into military confrontations and invalidate the cease-fire, Sudanese broadcaster Ashorooq reported on its website.
Arman described the cease-fire in the conflict areas as a “unilateral gesture” al-Bashir wants to use to have the sanctions lifted. The rebel leader said the SPLM-N will meet U.S. officials Monday to discuss a U.S. proposal for humanitarian access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and he will raise the issue of sanctions. The SPLM-N won’t accept the U.S. relief proposal without “certain improvements” that make it “sustainable,” he said.
“We want to make sure Bashir won’t control any humanitarian operations and that such operations will be linked to international standards and to international law,” Arman said. “The Americans link the humanitarian situation with a cessation of hostilities,” so the SPLM-N is also linking them, he said.
A State Department official said the U.S. continues to work with all sides, including the SPLM-N, toward reaching a comprehensive peace. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is due to report to President Donald Trump on the sanctions lift by July 12. The State Department declined to comment on whether the review period will be extended. Al-Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Darfur, where an insurgency has raged since 2003.
Former President Barack Obama’s January executive order said the U.S. recognized “positive actions” by al-Bashir’s government, including a “marked reduction in offensive military activity, culminating in a pledge to maintain a cessation of hostilities in conflict areas in Sudan, and steps toward the improvement of humanitarian access throughout Sudan.”
The U.S. knows “the government has negotiated peace with rebels, SPLM-N in particular,” Ghandour, the foreign minister, said in an interview in late January, after Sudan announced it was extending its cease-fire. The country’s army spokesman, Ahmed Khalifa, told the state-run Sudan News Agency over the weekend that his forces fought and defeated rebels from another group that entered Darfur from neighboring Libya and South Sudan.
The SPLM-N has been “as obstructive on an agreement on humanitarian access” as the government, U.S. diplomat Princeton Lyman, who mediated talks between Sudan and Southern Sudan before the latter’s independence in 2011, told the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa in an April testimony.
©Alleastafrica and agencies