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Breaking ranks

"Breaking ranks" Continued...

Issue: "Crossing borders," June 23, 2007

Working for peace with Darfuris, and attaching themselves to their cause is crucial for southern leaders ahead of national elections slated for 2009. The south's leader, Vice-President Kiir, has appointed a special southern envoy on Darfur to unite the balkanized rebel groups in talks in Juba, the south's capital.

Much is at stake, says Roger Winter, a Sudan expert and former assistant administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). "They see both humanitarian reasons to be involved, and their own political standing and imagery, but also if they succeed they would be a truly national party, with implications for the election."

If Darfur's chaos prompts Khartoum to delay the election, Winter says that could lead to "an abortion" of the North-South peace agreement. A delay could push back other important deadlines, including a 2011 referendum, in which the South will decide if it wants to stay part of Sudan or become independent. So much already has gone undecided-such as taking a census or defining important north-south borders-that Gartkouth says "99 percent" of southerners would vote to secede today.

That does not mean southerners are ready to return to war, even if they blame Khartoum for little development despite two years of peace. High expectations came with the peace agreement, but rebuilding what he says was the world's "most devastated" place is slow. On a visit to his home village in 2005, Gartkouth said little had changed since the war: Refugees were returning, but the village still needed clinics, schools and a clean drinking water.

Still, the early fruits of peace do appear. On a trip to Juba last month, Winter noticed "a thousand points of light" as his plane landed in the city-the sun reflecting off of new iron roofing as buildings and homes sprout. Travelers now drive a paved road from the Kenyan border to Juba and beyond, trucks hum on the roads, and international banks have opened.

These are encouraging signs in a region once obliterated by war, and officials like Gartkouth want to keep them-but not at the price of false unity. At the press conference, he took a direct hit at Sudanese ambassador Ukec: "For your information, we have gum africa, not gum arabic in southern Sudan. . . . No one can threaten the people of the United States and the international community to stop [its] exportation." Sometimes even the smallest jabs in a war of words land a punch.

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