Early this week, reports emerged that Uganda has not invited the Sudanese President, Omar El-Bashir to next month’s summit of the African Union scheduled for Uganda. Media reports had suggested that the Sudanese leader risked arrest on war crime charges in Uganda. Uganda is signatory to the ICC, and the International Criminal Court had issued an indictment of the Sudanese president over alleged war crimes in the war in Darfur. As a signatory of the ICC, Uganda was obliged to arrest el-Bashir, and the original statement of invitation from President Yoweri Museveni’s office had stated that Sudan would be represented at the conference by “other government officials” and not the president. Western media circles had seen the statement as the crack in the African refusal to arrest the Sudanese president, since the March 2009 warrant of arrest was issued by the ICC against President El-Bashir, on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur; charges which the Sudanese president rejected, given that Sudan is not even signatory to the ICC.
Ever since the warrant of arrest was issued, the African Union had maintained the position that it be deferred because it complicated the peace process in the Darfur region. In response to the apparent snub from Uganda, the Sudanese had made it clear that they will seek that the African Union moved the conference out of Uganda and it similarly demanded an apology from Uganda. In fact, a leading member of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Sudan, Rabie Abdulatti Obeid warned that relations between the two countries were set to deteriorate as a result of the initial Ugandan decision to exclude the Sudanese president from the AU conference. Obeid was quoted by VOA as condemning President Yoweri Museveni’s government, adding that Kampala’s announcement was unacceptable because it undermined the integrity of the African Union.
“I think this will go against the African Union Charter and humiliate, also, this African Union organization as this organization does not belong to Uganda. This belongs to member states. And, I think if the African Union authorities allow such a decision to be in effect, this will diminish and remove respect from this (continental) organization”, Obeid was quoted as saying. He further stated that the ICC arrest warrant had nothing to do with the forthcoming conference of the African Union in Uganda. “This is not relating to the authorities of the Ugandan government. And, even the African Union has already taken a stance supporting Sudan and rejecting that warrant of arrest issued by ICC against (President El-Bashir). Like this Africa-French summit that already convened in France, President Bashir didn’t go. But, the Vice President, Ali Osman Mohammed Taha, attended that meeting”, Rabbie Abdulatti Obeid said.
But later this week, AllAfricadotcom reported that Uganda had apparently backtracked from the decision to exclude the Sudanese strongman from the conference, “President Bashir of Sudan was actually invited for the AU summit scheduled to take place in Kampala from the 19-29 of July 2010”; AllAfricadotcom quoted a statement issued to the media on Tuesday this week, by the Ugandan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Sam Kutesa, the Ugandan Foreign Minister told RFI that the government had initially been misquoted. Kutesa said “We invited Suadan, we invited all African countries”, which clearly contradicted the initial statement that “President Museveni has disclosed that his Sudanese counterpart General Omar Hassan Beshir has not been invited to attend the African Union conference”.
The African Union invitation incident had followed the leakage of a report that stated that clashes in Darfur in the month of May 2010 alone, led to the death of 600 people, the highest monthly death toll since peace keepers were deployed in 2008. This was according to a UN-African Union document, which was seen by AFP. The new surge in violence in Darfur followed the breakdown of peace talks between the main rebel groups in Darfur and the Government of Sudan (GOS). The casualty figures released included deaths from both ethnic violence and the clashes. The fighting between rebels and GOS came when the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) walked out of the peace talks taking place in Qatar. “The parties to a much-applauded Framework (peace) Agreement (in February) could now be defined as ‘belligerents’ and it is not anticipated they will convene peacefully in the short term”, according to the confidential document. It went on to state that 440 people died in fighting between the rebels and the government while another 126 were killed in ethnic violence and 31 in other forms of violence, including murder.
The failure of the February agreement between Khartoum and JEM “culminated in military confrontations leaving in its wake the biggest number of fatalities ever recorded in a single month”, including the ethnic deaths. Two rival Arab tribes, the Rezeigat and Misseriya, have also clashed in Darfur since March. In May, the GOS dislodged JEM rebels from their Jebel Moon stronghold in West Darfur on the Chadian border. This was the previous line of supply and support from Ndjamena used by the rebels. The document added that “JEM’s ability to move from Jebel Moon to locations including el-Daein, Adila, Umm Sauna, Abu Darmilla and Babanosa in Southern Kordofan, possibly a current headquarters-confirms the extent of their knowledge of the terrain….More importantly this suggests some local support along the way”. The document similarly voiced concern over human rights abuses against civilians and a “total lack of humanitarian access to conflict areas” and “indications that the already tense situation is likely to escalate further”.
As a matter of fact, a new round of peace talks was expected to begin in Doha this week, but JEM has continued to boycott the negotiations. It was in apparent frustration at the stance of the rebel group, that Sudanese president Omar el-Bashir stated that the current round of talks will be the last with any armed group. On Monday, this week, GOS resumed peace talks with a minor rebel group in Doha, in the absence of JEM. Government’s chief negotiator, Amin Hassan Omar said Khartoum was “optimistic” about signing a final agreement with the Liberation and Justice Movement, a rebel group that is an alliance of splinter factions. The Qatari Foreign Minister and negotiator, Ahmad Abdullah al-Mahmoud also called on other rebel groups to join the negotiations. JEM had signed the framework accord in February, and it was hailed by the international community as a major step toward achieving peace in the region, but there was no final comprehensive peace agreement by a March 15 deadline, because JEM broke off from the talks that same month, claiming ceasefire violations and it resumed attacking government forces.
The situation in Darfur is very central to the political health of Sudan. It is the conflict that led to the ICC indictment and subsequent issuance of an arrest warrant for President Omar El-Bashir. It started in 2003, when rebel groups took up arms, accusing the central government of having neglected that part of the country. The war has been very vicious and the United Nations has estimated that 300, 000 people have been killed since the beginning of hostilities while over 2.7 million people have been displaced. The GOS disputes the figures, saying that only 10, 000 people have lost their lives in the conflict. What is clear is that efforts need to be intensified to achieve the comprehensive peace that can allow the people of Darfur return to their homes as well as unlock the development potentials of the region.