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As Secession Nears, Will Sudan’s North, South Manage to Cooperate?

June 28, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
South Sudan is set to become the world's newest nation, seceding from Sudan, but the regions have recently seen an increase in violence. Margaret Warner discusses the likelihood that the rival regions can reach a long-term peace settlement with Ambassador Princeton Lyman, the U.S. special envoy for Sudan.

MARGARET WARNER: I spoke about all this yesterday with the U.S. special envoy for Sudan, Princeton Lyman, on the lobby overlook at the State Department.

Ambassador Lyman, thank you for joining us.

PRINCETON LYMAN, United States special envoy for Sudan: I’m glad to be here.

MARGARET WARNER: The South is due to gain its independence on July 9, less than two weeks from now. But now we have seen conflict erupting, bloody conflict, in these two other regions. Is the basic timetable for the South achieving independence still on track?

PRINCETON LYMAN: The South will definitely declare independence on July 9. I don’t think anything will stop that. The question is will they have their independence at a time when the North and South are in a cooperative relationship with each other? That’s the key.

MARGARET WARNER: And what’s your bet on that?

PRINCETON LYMAN: I think it’s possible.

We have just reached agreement today at the Security Council on the withdrawal of Sudanese forces from the region of Abyei that you mentioned, which they took over, and a new peacekeeping force going in there. There are talks under way to stop the fighting in Southern Kordofan. But there are big issues…

MARGARET WARNER: The Nuba Mountains area.

PRINCETON LYMAN: The Nuba Mountains area, right.

There are big issues still to be resolved over which negotiations continue, borders, oil-sharing, other issues. Those are under way, and we have to hope that they will be resolved by July 9.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, these 4,200 Ethiopian peacekeepers who are going into Abyei, is that really sufficient to protect civilians there and to restore peace there? And is the North going to honor it?

PRINCETON LYMAN: Well, the addition of the Ethiopian troops is very important, because the previous U.N. mission there wasn’t capable of doing the things you mentioned.

This is going to be a very well-armed and equipped brigade. And the mandate is very clear. All forces from the Sudanese government side or from the South are to withdraw from Abyei. And this peacekeeping force will monitor that no such forces are there.

Without those forces there, civilians can return who are displaced, and the area should remain peaceful.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, this new area that, six months ago, most people knew nothing about, where the Nuba Mountains are, Southern Kordofan state, suddenly, you had the North Sudanese going on a rampage there, going after rebels there, people who had fought with the South.

What is going on there? Why is the North suddenly attacking with such ferocity?

PRINCETON LYMAN: You’re absolutely right that this is an area where much of the civil war was actually fought, even though it’s in the North.

And many people in the Nuba Mountain area fought with the South because of their own political grievances. And they have more than a division of troops from those areas. What the Sudanese government did, for reasons we’re not entirely sure of, decide that they would try to forcibly disarm those forces before July 9, even though there were supposed to be political discussions on how to do it.

That caused a major conflict.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, there, there are reports of tens of thousands of civilians being forced to flee. They’re using aerial bombardment.

Do you think this is a campaign — would you go so far as to say it’s ethnic cleansing? Are they trying to drive these people out?

PRINCETON LYMAN: I don’t think they can drive the people out of the Nuba Mountains. The Nuba Mountain peoples have been fighting very hard in this campaign.

But there’s no question that we have had reports of targeted ethnic attacks, killings, kidnapping, displacement. Out of the fighting, oh, more than 70,000 people have been displaced. So, we’re very concerned about getting humanitarian aid into those areas. So far, the World Food Program has reached about 40,000, but we need to get a lot more aid.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, there’s speculation that the North is doing this either to gain leverage with the South in the negotiations over oil revenues and borders, or maybe as a signal to other restless regions in the country that, hey, just because the South is getting independence, don’t get any ideas about breaking away yourself.

Do you put any stock in either of those analyses?

PRINCETON LYMAN: I think, to some extent, both the government’s takeover of Abyei and their movement in Southern Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains was designed to strengthen their position in negotiations over the issues, not so much over oil, but over those two areas.

In the Nuba Mountains, they’re very concerned after July 9 of having an army inside those areas that is not theirs. And even though that should be negotiated, they decided to take military action. It was a mistake. It was wrong. And now we have got to move it back.

MARGARET WARNER: What does all this tell you about North Sudanese President Bashir’s real commitment to following through on the agreement with the South, that they voted for independence, to let them go their way peacefully?

PRINCETON LYMAN: There’s a great deal of mistrust, distrust between the two.

MARGARET WARNER: But what’s the U.S. view of the North? I mean, is — do you also mistrust his intentions?

PRINCETON LYMAN: I think what you see and what we have seen over the last six months is a good deal of ambivalence. When the referendum took place in Jan. 9, and the South voted for independence, President Bashir had flown to Juba and said I will be the first to recognize you.

And it looked like everything was going to go smoothly. Since then, you hear with and see and — in my conversations there, a great deal of unhappiness: Why did we do this? What did we get for it? Why doesn’t the world treat us better? Why don’t the Southerners show more gratitude?

And, gradually, you see a number of people in the government saying: We gave away too much, too soon, too easily.

And that has led to a more militarized policy.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, one of the carrots for the North to go along with the Southern secession was, in fact, the prospect of normalized relations with the U.S., the so-called road map to normal relations.

But the question is, if they’re doing what they’re doing in, say, South Kordofan, which, as you say, is not part of South Sudan, would the U.S. ever normalize relations with — with Sudan itself, Sudan proper?

PRINCETON LYMAN: The — addressing the political grievances of the people in the Nuba Mountains is part of the comprehensive peace agreement. So, failure to do that would make it impossible for us to implement the road map.

MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Princeton Lyman, thank you very much.

PRINCETON LYMAN: My pleasure. Thank you.