Old tensions fail to disappear in Sudan

As Sudan splits, the issues that caused the bloody civil war will not be easily consigned to history

If anybody thought that the success of the January referendum on the secession of South Sudan from the north meant that the hard work was over, recent events will have forced them to reassess.

The backdrop to what was an overwhelming vote in favour of separation was one of peace and political stability. In the south, personal ambitions and tribal rivalries were set aside to enable the greater goal of independence to be achieved. On 6 January, three days before voting began, a truce was signed with key rebel leaders, and it held.

Omar al-Bashir, president of Sudan and leader of the National Congress Party (NCP), the ruling party in the north, also committed himself to the process. Despite statements from some NCP officials that secession would never be allowed to go ahead, in the week before voting started, Al-Bashir visited Juba to declare his support for the forthcoming referendum.

Barely six months later, the atmosphere could hardly be more different. The creation of the Republic of South Sudan on 9 July was accompanied by much jubilation in the south, and Al-Bashir was in attendance at the official ceremony. But beyond that it is hard to find a bright spot.

Sudan border conflicts

In late May, 20,000 people were forced to flee the town of Abyei, near the north-south border, when clashes between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army – respectively the armies of the north and south – culminated in the capture of the town by the SAF. Since 5 June, in South Kordofan, another border state, the SAF is alleged to have been carrying out a systematic campaign to expel those with sympathies for the south.

On 22 June, the south’s ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the government of Sudan signed an agreement in Addis Ababa to draw a line under the hostilities in Abyei. Mechanisms to administer the region and ensure its security were agreed, and a security force composed of troops from Ethiopia, known as the Interim Security Force for Abyei, was established.

But in South Kordofan, the problems have continued to escalate. On 15 July, Valerie Amos, undersecretary-general of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, issued a statement saying that 73,000 people are known to have been displaced by the fighting, but that the actual figure is probably “much higher”. Many of the 1.4 million residents in areas affected by the fighting “will increasingly need humanitarian aid”, said Amos.

The UN Missions in Sudan (UNMIS) has called for the UN and the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate accounts of mass graves, extra-judicial killings and the slaughter of large numbers of civilians by the SAF. If proven, they “may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity”, said an UNMIS report in late June.

To view this article in full, please visit meed.com

Leave a Reply

Richard Nield is a freelance journalist, photographer and filmmaker covering the Middle East and Africa. In 10 years covering the region, he has been published and broadcast by clients including the BBC, Reuters, Al Jazeera, The Economist, The Financial Times, The Independent and Foreign Policy magazine. He has reported from throughout the region, including Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, South Sudan, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.