By Brian Adeba
Jan 11, 2007 (OTTAWA) — An attempt by the autonomous government of south Sudan to open a liaison office in Canada appears to have hit a snag after Canadian officials cooled to the idea, on the premise that two missions cannot represent one country.
The government of Sudan has full diplomatic ties with Canada and maintains an embassy in Ottawa.
But Peter Both, the man chosen by the government of south Sudan to explore the possibility of establishing the liaison office in Canada, says he hopes ongoing dialogue with Canadian officials will eventually clear any doubts about the intended role of the liaison office.
“The response is not a ‘yes’ or ‘no,'” he said.
“Basically, what they wanted to know is how two missions will represent one country, and it is a legitimate question.”
The government of south Sudan was established in 2005, a few months after former rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and the Sudanese government signed a peace deal that ended 21 years of fighting.
Both says the peace deal, known as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), mandates the government of south Sudan establish liaison offices abroad without compromising the roles of embassies or foreign missions of the national government of Sudan.
“This is a function well established in the CPA,” he said, elaborating that the agreement also gives the south Sudan government the mandate to initiate, negotiate and conclude international and regional agreements on issues like sports, culture, trade and investment.
“I emphasize the fact that this is not a consulate or embassy, but rather a liaison office which will facilitate communication between the government of south Sudan and the international community,” he said.
Rodney Moore, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs, confirmed that Both had written a letter in early May 2006 asking to meet officials on the department’s Sudan desk, but said the letter did not contain a specific request about opening a liaison office in Canada.
“It’s not in limbo, unless he’s written another letter which we have not received,” said Moore.
However, Moore stressed that such requests should come through the normal diplomatic channels.
“Anyone approaching the department will have to come through the embassy or high commission of his or her country,” he said.
The embassy of Sudan did not return calls to determine if it had been approached to convey the request to open the liaison office.
Amir Idris, an assistant professor of African studies at Fordham University in New York City and author of the book Sudan’s Civil War: Slavery, Race and Formational Identities, said the south Sudan government hasn’t clearly defined the role of its liaison offices.
“Without an official statement from the government of south Sudan outlining the mandate of these offices, many foreign governments may not allow them to operate in their countries,” said Idris in an email to Embassy.
Elsewhere, the government of south Sudan plans to open liaison offices in the United Kingdom and Ethiopia, said Both.
Next week, staff from a newly opened government of south Sudan liaison office in Washington D.C will host a ceremony to mark the launch of the mission. Andrew Natsios, President George Bush’s envoy on Darfur, will attend the ceremony together with Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Lauren Landis, senior representative on Sudan at the Department of State, and Congressman Donald Payne, chair of the sub-committee of international relations on African affairs.
Both said the intended role of the liaison office in Canada is to attract businesses, co-ordinate development assistance and encourage skilled Canadians of south Sudanese origin, who number about 40,000, to contribute to the development of the war-ravaged region.
South Sudan has haboured secessionist ambitions dating back more than 50 years. The CPA gives the people of south Sudan the right to decide through a referendum, scheduled for 2011, whether to remain in a united Sudan or become a sovereign state. However, it also stipulates that efforts be made during the six-year interim period, which started in 2005, to make the unity of Sudan attractive to the people of the south.
“If the north fails to make unity attractive during the interim period, and the people of southern Sudan decide to become an independent state, of course, these liaison offices could be transformed into full diplomatic missions,” said Idris.