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Britain on Sudan: Selling out or cashing in?

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Britain’s new coalition government made its priorities on Sudan very clear as Henry Bellingham, the minister for Africa, used 90 percent of his opening remarks at his first press conference in Khartoum to outline how Britain could increase trade with Sudan. The other 10 percent dealing with the run-up to the south’s referendum on secession which is likely to create Africa’s newest nation state and the International Criminal Court arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide all seemed like just an after thought. On first glance many would say Britain was selling out — engaging economically with a government whose head is a wanted man would destroy the global divestment campaign’s years of efforts to make investing in Sudan a poisoned chalice no one wants to touch in the hope of isolating Khartoum to pressure it to stop rights abuses and allow democratic freedoms. Many Darfuris and rights activists who have been victims of torture and harassment will be dismayed by the move which clearly extends a hand of friendship to Khartoum who had until now been reduced to almost pariah status since the ICC warrant for Bashir last year which propelled him to international fame — for all the wrong reasons. Is Britain selling out? In fact many ordinary Sudanese say no. They say U.S. sanctions, imposed since 1997 has had little effect on the government who took control in a 1989 bloodless coup and was elected in expensive and heavily disputed April elections. The economy has grown on average eight percent a year, Khartoum extracted the oil pretty much without Western companies, built hundreds of miles of tarmac roads, and erected high-rise government buildings which sparkle so much in the sun the rays mock the Americans even far out of town in their heavily secured embassy compound. But sanctions have made life almost impossible for any normal Sudanese to do business abroad or at home. It’s those struggling to become an emerging middle class who welcome initiatives Bellingham suggested to use the 35,000 Sudanese living in the UK to facilitate small and medium sized businesses investments in Sudan bringing much-desired jobs and training with them. Britain is the former coloniser of Sudan and many families have close links with the country often visiting to shop and visit family there. They would welcome British products instead of the often cheap and poorer quality Chinese goods flooding the market here in Khartoum. It would certainly lessen their excess baggage bills. But Bellingham went one step further saying British companies were lagging behind Chinese companies and missing out on great investment returns in Sudan, emerging from decades of civil war. He also mentioned the unmentionable. Oil. Most Western oil companies pulled out of Sudan citing rights abuses during the north-south civil war which ended in 2005 with a shaky peace deal which has just about held if only partially and reluctantly implemented. Some firms were even implicated by rights activists in those rights abuses. But for example a battered British Petroleum, a move into an oil industry in a country whose government has historically shown scant regard for its population or the environmental effects of exploration might be a silver lining to the clouds gathered over its HQ of late. So is Britain cashing in? Only if they can make it happen. Western oil companies have been reluctant to enter to a post-war Sudan. Oil exploration is a long-term and costly venture and the stability of the country is far from guaranteed. Many are waiting to see what will happen after the southern referendum on independence in five months because the oil lies mainly in the south. They worry contracts signed with a united Sudan may not be honoured post secession by a new nation fighting to survive as a country in its own right. British banks in the past five years all but stopped transactions to/from or those with any mention of Sudan, no matter what the currency and no matter who the recipient. Sudanese abroad had their bank accounts closed down regardless of who they were, foreigners working in Sudan received similar treatment and mortgage companies turned down anyone whose work brought them to the war-torn nation. Lloyds TSB, which also owns Halifax and Bank of Scotland, last year paid a massive $350 million fine to the United States for fraudulent transactions to U.S.-sanctioned Sudan, Libya and Iran. So how will Whitehall convince them it’s a good idea to facilitate investment in an opaque Sudanese economy dominated by companies many of which have been hijacked by government organs or ruling party officials? They will need considerable help from Sudan’s government to increase transparency and allow private businesses to flourish free from government interference. The jury is not only out on the moral implications of Britain’s new policy but also on whether London can convince UK businesses and banks to invest in a country which regularly ranks in the top five of failed states indices.

Britain’s new coabellinghamlition government made its priorities on Sudan very clear as Henry Bellingham, the minister for Africa, used 90 percent of his opening remarks at his first press conference in Khartoum to outline how Britain could increase trade with Sudan.

The other 10 percent dealing with the run-up to the south’s referendum on secession, which is likely to create Africa’s newest nation state, and the International Criminal Court arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide all seemed like just an afterthought.

At first glance many would say Britain was selling out — engaging economically with a government whose head is a wanted man would destroy the global divestment campaign’s years of efforts to make investing in Sudan a poisoned chalice and to pressure Khartoum to stop rights abuses and allow democratic freedoms.

Many Darfuris and rights activists who have been victims of torture and harassment will be dismayed by the move, which clearly extends a hand of friendship to Khartoum, virtually a pariah since the ICC warrant for Bashir last year.

One step forward. How many back?

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SUDAN-ELECTIONS/Sudan has witnessed the end of what was supposed to be a historic event.

 The first multi-party polls in almost quarter of a century to elect leaders on all levels, including the presidency held by Omar Hassan al-Bashir for 21 years.

But far from joy in the streets or pride in a job well done, there was just a sigh of relief.

Washington and Sudan’s elections: When interests collide

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SUDAN-ELECTIONS/The talk of the town for Sudanese is the position of Washington’s envoy Scott Gration after he met the National Elections Commission, the body accused of irregularities and bias towards the ruling National Congress Party.  
 
“They have given me a lot of information that gives me confidence that the elections will start on time and that they will be as free and fair as possible,” Gration told reporters.

“This has been a difficult challenge but I believe they (the NEC) have stepped up and met the challenge,” he added.

A new dawn for Sudanese press freedom?

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SUDAN-DARFUR/

Hosting a rare debate between Sudan’s much-maligned National Elections Commission (NEC) and opposition parties, the privately owned Blue Nile television was taking a risk broadcasting live to the nation.

In a country where, ahead of April’s first multi-party elections in 24 years, party political broadcasts are pre-recorded and censored, the evening promised to be fun.

Sudan’s elections brinkmanship – can the opposition unite?

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SUDAN-OPPOSITION/

In a shock unilateral announcement, the leading south Sudanese party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), withdrew its presidential candidate, Yasir Arman, and said it would also boycott elections on all levels in  Darfur.

It paved the way for incumbent President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to win the April 11-18 polls. Arman was viewed as his main challenger, with much of south Sudan’s support – about 25 percent of the 16-million strong electorate.

Searching for reasons to be cheerful in Sudan

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sudanOnly the most foolhardy commentator would dare to say anything optimistic about the coming year in Sudan, four months away from highly charged elections and 12 months from an explosive referendum on southern independence.

So here goes — five reasons why Africa’s largest country might just manage to reach January 2011 without a return to catastrophe and bloody civil war, despite the worst predictions of most pundits.

Is the new U.S. policy on Sudan the dawn of a new era of engagement with Khartoum?

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On Monday U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration announced its new Sudan policy after months of speculation and lobbying from those opposed to any positive overtures to Khartoum and those who said further isolating Sudan would derail years of peace efforts.

U.S.-Sudanese relations have seen many ups and down in recent years. U.S. sanctions were imposed in 1997 and the United States bombed a Sudanese pharmaceuticals factory in 1998. There was praise for a 2005 north-south peace deal ending more than two decades of civil war, but it was overshadowed by outrage over atrocities in the 2003 Darfur uprising where Washington accused Khartoum of genocide.

How long could it take for Sudan’s Bashir to be arrested?

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is being sought for war crimes in Darfur. Judges at the International Criminal Court in the Hague issued his arrest warrant last week, but if he is indeed to be arrested, long would it take.   It could be a while, if history is any guide.   Slobodan Milosevic, perhaps the most famous of sitting leaders indicted for war crimes while still in office, was indicted on May 24, 1999 and arrested nearly two years later, on April 1, 2001. Milosevic, who was being tried for war crimes during the messy breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, died in 2006 before his trial ended.   Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia being sought for war crimes and crimes against humanity, was indicted on March 3, 2003 and arrested three years later on March 29, 2006. Taylor is currently being tried in the Hague by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.   Milosevic and Taylor were still in power when they were indicted and arrest warrants issued, but they were both out of office by the time they were arrested. And with the 65 year-old Bashir still holding a firm grip on power in Sudan, it could take even longer for him to be arrested.   The ICC Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, accepted as much, after Bashir’s arrest warrant was issued, saying it  could take two months or two years, but he would still face justice.   Bashir has made it clear that he has no intention of surrendering to the court, which he refuses to recognise.   If arrested, Bashir would most likely be held in the Scheveningen detention centre in the Hague, where Taylor is cbeing held along with other detainees being tried by the various international courts in the Hague. Most detainees say they are well-treated and comfortable in detention, but one complaint that seems to crop up is the Dutch food.

 

Will Bashir warrant worsen war?

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Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has seen off other challenges in almost 20 years in power and there is no sign that he is going to give in to the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Some supporters of the court’s move hope it will eventually persuade Sudan’s politicians to hand over their leader in a palace coup, end the festering conflict in Darfur and do more to repair relations with the West.

Putting Africa on trial?

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Look down the list of the cases the International Criminal Court is pursuing – Congo, Central African Republic, Darfur, Uganda – and it doesn’t take long to spot the connection.

Of the dozen arrest warrants the court has issued, all have been against African rebels or officials. On Monday, the court begins its first trial - of Thomas Lubanga, accused of recruiting child soldiers to wage a gruesome ethnic war in northeastern Congo. Earlier this month, former Congolese rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba was in court for a decision on whether to confirm charges of ordering mass rape to terrorise civilians in the Central African Republic.

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