Subscription 790/year or 190/quarter

Norway must mediate in East Sudan

State Secretary Raymond Johansen (Ap) has been secretly asked to mediate in the unknown conflict in East Sudan.


[peace talks] Ny Tid may reveal that Norway has been asked to play a central role in peace talks for East Sudan, where the guerrilla organization East Sudan Front is still fighting against the central authorities in Khartoum. The request has been sent directly to State Secretary Raymond Johansen via the President of Eritrea, who is scheduled to host the negotiations.

- I can confirm that the parties want Norway's involvement in planned peace negotiations, says Raymond Johansen in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Ny Tid.

Norway's and former Minister for Development Aid Hilde Frafjord Johnson's efforts contributed to the rebel movement SPLA in South Sudan and the government in Khartoum signing a peace agreement and ending a 21-year civil war on January 9, 2005. As part of the agreement, SPLA – which also fought with East Sudan Front against the authorities – withdraw from East Sudan.

However, it left the East Sudan Front in a vacuum. The front, which consists of several guerrilla organizations, thus continued its armed – albeit low-intensity – war against the authorities.

- Sudan and the Horn of Africa is one of my most important tasks. If the parties believe Norway can help prevent East Sudan from becoming a new Darfur, it is very positive, says Johansen.

One of several options being discussed is that Johansen is given a role as a witness in the negotiations between the East Sudan Front and the authorities in Sudan. A role as a witness is regarded as a greater involvement from the Norwegian side than was the case in the conflict between the south and the north, where Norway had observer status in the peace negotiations.

In mid-April, the Interior Ministry in Eritrea stated that the Sudanese authorities have asked them to host the peace talks. Sudan has long been on collision course with Eritrea, which they believe supports the East Sudan Front. Sudan's request is seen as a softening of the relationship between the two neighboring countries.

Raymond Johansen himself is well acquainted with the conditions in the Horn of Africa, after working from January to August in 2002 as chargé d'affaires in the Eritrean capital Asmara. It gave him good contacts all the way to the top of the government.

- It is true that I have had meetings with the President of Eritrea about participating in peace negotiations on East Sudan, says State Secretary Johansen.

In addition to its role in the negotiations between the south and the north, Norway has the status of an observer in the peace negotiations in Darfur, which have been stalled in the past week. The deadline for finding a solution for the parties has been postponed several times, most recently by 48 hours now on Tuesday.

Johansen tells Ny Tid that it is completely impossible to say when the peace negotiations in East Sudan can start. Much depends on the outcome of the negotiations in Darfur.

- Time will show. But I am already working a lot on this, says the State Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

- Very positive

Norwegian experts on peace and reconciliation believe that Norway's role in the conflict in East Sudan could be very important.

By Svein Tore Bergestuen

[East Sudan] Anja Kaspersen at the Norwegian Institute of Foreign Policy (Nupi) believes participation is a natural continuation.

- This is very positive. It is especially important that you benefit from the experiences and expertise you have gained so far. The conflict in the east must be seen in the context of the whole process in Sudan and not least the cooperation with the UN, which is the largest player in Sudan right now.

Kaspersen nevertheless emphasizes that everything depends on what is now happening in the rest of the war-torn country.

Sudan expert and chairman of the board of ForUM, Halle Jørn Hanssen, believes Secretary of State Raymond Johansen was asked as a result of the role Norway played in the peace negotiations in the north-south conflict.

- This is very good, and it shows that Norway has gained credibility in Sudan. But if this is to succeed, the political leadership in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs must invest as much time, expertise and money as Hilde Frafjord Johnson did, says Hanssen. He adds:

- The situation in East Sudan is explosive. The Khartoum government has so far handled this conflict as poorly as the other major disasters: divisions and rulers, corruption, rapid military attacks, imprisonment and torture. n

You may also like