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Donald Booth to Asharq Al-Awsat: We Support Khartoum in Building Democratic Model

Donald Booth to Asharq Al-Awsat: We Support Khartoum in Building Democratic Model

Saturday, 22 May, 2021 - 07:30
Booth meets Sudan's sovereign council head General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Khartoum in March. (Getty Images)

US Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan Donald Booth revealed that Washington was seeking to increase American investments in Sudan in the agriculture, infrastructure, energy and information technology fields.


He added that Congress has dedicated $716 million to support the country, adding that relations will be boosted on all levels to support it in its democratic transition.


In an interview to Asharq Al-Awsat, Booth said the US strongly supports Khartoum in building a democratic state and improving its investment environment so that it can serve as a model for the region.


The three greatest challenges in its democratic transition, stated Booth, are providing a security in conflict zones covered in the Jube peace agreement; declaring the results of the investigations in the killing of protesters on June 3, 2019; and restructuring the Sudanese economy.


He remarked that authorities are behind schedule in reforming the security and military agencies. “So we continue to see outbreaks of violence, which is often ethnically based. Greater security is needed that would allow refugees and IDPs to return. So that's the challenge on the peace side,” he noted.


“I think on the justice side the challenge is really going to be coming to grips with accountability for what happened on June 3, 2019,” added the envoy.


Over 150 protesters rallying in front of the military headquarters in Khartoum were killed that day when security forces dispersed the rally.


“There's been a commission that has been sitting for almost two years, but not issued conclusions. I think the Sudanese people are getting tired of that. So that's something that needs to be done,” remarked Booth.


“Just recently there were some peaceful protesters who were killed when army elements fired live rounds. We're very pleased to see that the Sudanese military has actually turned over a number of the soldiers involved for civilian prosecution,” he added.


“This seems to be an important step towards countability, something that has brought many Sudanese back out to the streets again to demand this. So in general we see a positive progress, obviously, much still needs to be done in terms of implementing the Constitutional Declaration that was signed in August 2019,” he stressed.


The biggest challenge facing Sudan, however, continued the envoy, is restructuring the economy and trying to make it more equitable. He cited the obstacle of reducing the role of the state enterprises, particularly the military-owned enterprises and enterprises owned by the former ruling party in the economy.


Commenting on the conference on Sudan that was held in Paris earlier this week, Booth said: “I'd like to commend President Emmanuel Macron and French officials for organizing the event. I think the conference did an excellent job of recognizing that the peaceful transition, mainly led by women and youth in Sudan, really has provided the country a once in a generation opportunity for achieving peace and a democratic future.”


The summit really highlighted Sudan's new course and really cemented the international support for debt relief, he added.


There was also a business event in Paris that was attended by a number of prominent American companies, including General Electric and Bechtel and Baker Hughes, looking at opportunities in the areas of infrastructure, energy, agriculture and information technology.


A US Treasury official was present at that event to encourage Sudan to open up a conventional banking sector, along with Islamic banking that has existed there for the past 30 years. He noted how this can be helpful in getting foreign investment into Sudan, continued Booth.


He also noted the work that still needs to be done in terms of bank supervision and regulation and countering money laundering and activities like that.


“But overall, I think the conference really did a great job of highlighting the progress that Sudan has made in meeting the aspirations of the Sudanese people for peace, freedom and justice,” he stressed.


The envoy stressed that the US has been “very supportive of this transitional government. We have increased our system's funding considerably for Sudan. Congress for this year has appropriated $716 million for Sudan, so that's a considerable increase from where we have been.”


“We have also been a leader in the debt relief process. We cleared the arrears for Sudan at the World Bank to pay a $1.1 billion dollar bridge loan. We have contributed to the clearance of arrears at the IMF and have appropriated funding to begin the reduction of debt to the United States,” he stated.


“We have actually been calling creditors together and then leading that process. We have also been providing support to the government institutions and several ministries, so that they can become more effective in providing services to the Sudanese people, and implementing the policies of the government, including trying to make Sudan more attractive for foreign international investment and trade,” he revealed.


“The revolution in Sudan and under the civilian-led transitional government really led to a new era in reforming US-Sudan relations in terms of respect for the human rights of the Sudanese people for religious freedom, some fairly difficult but very necessary economic reforms, such as unifying the exchange rate, and reducing the unsustainable subsidies, renouncing terrorism and settling claims of US victims,” he went on to say.


Asked about the military meddling some Sudanese militias are accused of in regional conflicts, he said: “The concern in Libya has been not just with Sudanese fighters but with all foreign fighters, and who were supposed to leave by last October.”


“We know there have been elements, particularly of some of the Sudan revolutionary groups in Libya. And we have continued to engage their leaders, and made it clear that now that they are in the government, they cannot play both sides. They can't be government officials and yet have some of their fighters there,” he stressed.


“We have seen a return of many of those fighters and we continue to focus on that issue,” he stressed.


On tensions between Sudan and Ethiopia, Booth said they are focused on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the Fashaqa border region.


“The short-term unilateral first filling of the reservoir last summer resulted in some damage to the Roseires Dam in Sudan and some shortages of water,” he said. The Biden administration is “very, very keen on reaching an agreement with Ethiopia to make sure that that Sudan doesn’t get caught by surprise again.”


Moreover, he noted that Washington recently appointed Jeffrey Feltman as special envoy for the Horn of Africa. He has been tasked with working on the GERD dispute, as well as the other flashpoint between Sudan and Ethiopia, which is the Fashaqa region “that has become a very heavily militarized.”


“We certainly do not want to see the two countries, two key countries in the region by some mistake, end up shooting at each other there. So that's also something that Special Envoy Feltman is dealing with,” he added.


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