Sudan may stop food shipments for famine victims in the rebel-held areas of Ethiopia's Eritrea and Tigray provinces in an effort to end Ethiopian aid to Sudan's own insurgents in the south, Sudanese officials said today.
Speaking before a high-level Sudanese delegation returned from a good-will visit to Addis Ababa, the officials acknowledged that stopping food aid transportation across Sudan to rebel areas could tarnish the new transitional government's international image.
But the ruling transitional military council and the interim civilian Cabinet are convinced that the Sudan's national interest lies in increasing pressure on John Garang, the Ethiopian-based leader of the insurrection calling itself the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement, the officials said.
Analysts noted that the potential for reaching an agreement between Ethiopia and Sudan by mutually ending support for their insurrections long has existed on paper. But they added that the various rebels and their causes have acquired a life of their own that could prove difficult to snuff out by political accords alone.
Sudan's rebels in the south receive funds from Ethiopia and have used Ethiopian territory as a base, while Ethiopian rebels have been operating out of Sudan.
Sources close to the Tigray and Eritrean People's Liberation fronts fighting the Ethiopian central government said stopping the food shipments from Sudan would result in more of their people starving and would increase the flow of refugees heading toward Sudan.
Under Jaafar Nimeri, deposed as president earlier this month, Sudan welcomed refugees from Ethiopia and other neighboring countries but also backed the cross-border feeding operations in order to reduce the flood of refugees.
Last week it was learned that the ruling military council in effect had decided not to increase the cross-border feeding operations as had been proposed by the U.S. government two months ago before the Reagan administration, too, apparently lost interest in the idea.
But at the same time as the new Sudanese authorities have renewed diplomatic ties with Libya and sought to improve their long-difficult relations with Ethiopia, they also claimed that Garang is dealing with them despite his reiterated denials on his Ethiopia-based clandestine radio.
Sudanese officials said "indirect contacts" had existed with Garang even before Nimeri was overthrown April 6. Now "direct contacts" are under way in Addis Ababa, Khartoum and other capitals, they said, describing them as "very encouraging."
If and when "full, direct dialogue" leads to negotiations, the officials added, those talks would be held in public and should take no more than six weeks to complete.
They added that the government was "quite hopeful" that Garang would come to Sudan and participate in the transitional government.
A planned national roundtable -- grouping academics, soldiers, diplomats and other concerned parties from both the Moslem north and the Christian and animist south -- could help clarify this and other problems, they added.
However, the officials indicated that the talks with Ethiopia and Garang were at an early stage, and they said they expected Garang to make "very high demands" since he will not "give in easily."
"We have not put all our cards on the table," the officials said, noting that they did not expect Ethiopia to stop all aid to Garang and that "much depends on what the Ethiopians offer us" in determining Sudan's position.
Should all efforts at talks fail, the officials said, Garang still would have "no chance to become a real threat to Sudanese security without Libyan and Ethiopian support."
The officials sought to dispel increasing western concern that improved relations with Libya and Ethiopia may be bought at the expense of loosening ties with Egypt and the United States, which had very close links with Nimeri.
"We made clear to the Libyans," the officials said, in commenting on the resumption of ties last week, that "normalizing relations does not adversely affect our relations either with the United States or Egypt."
"We hope all our friends will understand and appreciate our extremely delicate situation," they added.
They argued that Nimeri's downfall and other developments in Khartoum have pleased southerners and weakened Garang's arguments for continuing the two-year-old insurrection until the military council is swept from power.
The officials said that "the Ethiopians know we can do a lot of damage if they continue to help Garang," but they declined to spell out what they meant.