London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Britain has declared that “Sudan is a priority” for it in 2006 with its Foreign Secretary Jack Straw underlining the need to improve “the very serious situation” in the Darfur province.
This came at a press conference held Friday at the Foreign Office with his Sudanese counterpart Lam Akol where the two ministers discussed a number of issues, including Britain’s plan to establish peace in Sudan and the possibility of sending foreign forces to it. Straw said the appointment of Akol “as the foreign minister in the national unity government is an illustration of the progress being made in Sudan to implement the peace agreement and the harmony between the north and south of the country” since Akol belongs to the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement that previously was in opposition.
He however expressed “the frustration that we feel because of the lack of progress in the peace process efforts in Abuja” where the warring forces are talking to reach a peace agreement over the disputed region of Darfur. Straw attributed the stalling of these efforts “to lack of coherence by many of the rebel groups, more than anything else, to come together and to be serious and sensible interlocutors with the government of Sudan”.
The two ministers discussed the possibility of sending international forces to Sudan but did not divulge the outcome of these talks. Akol said his country was waiting for the African Union’s decision about the possibility of referring the matter to the United Nations and added, “The Union has not made a decision and we are waiting for things to start rolling”. Asked whether his country prefers the dispatch of international peacekeeping forces, he answered: “We do not want to cross the bridge before we reach there”.
Akol went on to say “there is a need to press ahead on three fronts in Sudan, to establish peace on the ground, continue the humanitarian aid to those who suffered from the war, most importantly the peace talks in Abuja which is the single exercise that will put to an end all the difficulties in Darfur.”
Following the two ministers’ talks, the British Government presented to its Sudanese counterpart a plan under the title of ‘Seven Steps for Peace in Sudan’? Akol refrained from commenting on these recommendations, declaring he did not have a chance to study them before coming to the press conference. However, he did say that, “We are a government of national unity and determined to work seriously to solve these problems that we inherited from the past. The road is open for progress.” He added, “Our talks were positive and it is our duty to see security prevail. Anything in that direction is something that we are ready to discuss.
One of the points in the British proposal is the Sudanese Government’s compliance with the clauses of the peace agreement and others are the disarmament of the “Janjawid” forces, the building of personal relations with the rebels’ leaders, and the willingness to deploy UN forces in the country without the Sudanese Government imposing any conditions on them.
In response to a question about the British Government’s meetings last week with international officials, including the rumor that former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam had visited London, Straw said: “Many figures pass through London and we try to meet with those who want to meet us. There are sometimes meetings which take place which we don’t give publicity to, so I can give you a running commentary on the meetings to which we do give publicity, but not in respect of those which we don’t”. On the developments in Syria and Lebanon, Straw said “the talks are continuing” while Akol asserted that the Sudanese initiative for reconciliation between the two countries “is still ongoing.”