Early in his presidency George Bush saw an opportunity to end a long civil war in south Sudan, and in 2001 he asked me to be his special envoy. The war between north and south Sudan had raged for over two decades, with two million dead and over four million displaced. Many believed that peace would be impossible to achieve. Yet on January 9, 2005 the government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
The CPA was a triumph for the government of Sudan and the people of the south. Now the agreement is in danger, strained by rising tensions between north and south and insufficient attention by the international community. The CPA could well collapse this year, restarting an old war and perhaps aggravating the ongoing war in Darfur. However, the incoming Obama administration can reduce this threat by moving quickly to support the CPA.
The war in Darfur in western Sudan broke out in 2003, just as the central government and leaders in the south were starting to come together on the terms of the CPA. Some questioned whether we should continue negotiations with Khartoum while it was committing atrocities in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands of people have died and 2.5 million have been displaced. Far from ignoring the problem, we were the first to take it to the United Nations and made serious efforts to resolve the issue. I argued then, however, and still believe that the Darfur crisis can only be fully resolved in the context of peace for all of Sudan. The prospects for peace in Darfur will decrease if the CPA fails and Sudan slides back into civil war.
Renewed war would also create a new humanitarian disaster, marked by death, destruction and displacement. That became clear in the oil-rich border region of Abyei last March, when fighting broke out between northern and southern forces, leading to massive displacement of the population..
The CPA gives a measure of autonomy to south Sudan and divides wealth and political power between the two regions within a unified Sudan. It also sets out a number of milestones that must be met by both parties, leading up to country-wide elections this year (2009) and a referendum on self-determination for the south in 2011. Despite some progress, both sides are behind schedule in reaching the milestones, and there is enormous distrust between the leaders of the central government and the south.
I am proud of the U.S. role in the brokering the CPA. The U.S. was a catalyst, engaging the warring parties and other concerned countries in finding solutions. Now that the CPA is in danger, the U.S. must play this role again. As president, Mr. Obama should make support for the full implementation of the CPA a priority of the new administration. He should appoint a high-level envoy who reports directly to him to be responsible for U.S. policy towards Sudan and provide this diplomat with sufficient resources and personnel to do the job. The U.S. must again be a catalyst, encouraging help from China, which is Sudan's largest trading partner, Kenya, and other countries that would be hurt by a new war. The CPA established an Assessment and Evaluation Committee to monitor and report on implementation of the agreement. That committee needs to do a better job and to send regular public reports to the United Nations Security Council. We will need strong UN Security Council oversight and action on both Darfur and the CPA.
For the CPA to succeed, both parties need to be strong enough to carry out their responsibilities. After the CPA was signed international donors made huge financial pledges for south Sudan. It was clear that the newly-formed Government of Southern Sudan would need significant support to establish itself and to provide services and access to livelihoods for the millions of people returning to the south now that the fighting was over. But few of the financial pledges were met. Funds were diverted to Darfur, leaving the south short. The U.S. and other donors must be generous in their financial support of the south now and make sure that adequate funds are available for socio-economic reconstruction in the areas devastated by decades of war. At the same time, good faith steps by the Khartoum government to resolve differences and comply with the CPA -- and to stop supporting Janjaweed militias in Darfur-- need to be reciprocated, encouraging the government to shed its pariah status and function as a responsible member of the international community.
When the agreement was signed I said that the world would need to remain engaged and keep the pressure on to make sure that the CPA remained on track. The Obama administration can help to finish the work we started. The U.S. can help save the peace agreement and prevent Sudan from sliding back into all-out civil war.
It is easier to preserve an existing peace, no matter how fragile, than to stop a new war.
John C. Danforth, a former U.S. Senator from Missouri, Special Envoy for Peace in Sudan, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is on the board of Refugees International.