Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Sudan threatens to occupy two more border states

The northern Sudanese Army is planning on seizing two more areas on the north-south border, just weeks before the south is set to become an independent country.

According to a letter from the Sudanese military's high command, the northern army plans to take over Blue Nile and South Kordofan states in the next few days.

A letter, dated 23rd May, which the New York Times is in possession of, said the northern Sudanese army will “redeploy its forces to all areas north of the 1/1/1956 borders starting from 1 June 2011.”

The letter is from the chief of staff for the Sudanese military, Ismat Abdul Rahman Zain al-Abideen.

Blue Nile's Governor Malik Agar said on 29th May that northern forces had moved "dangerously close" to the bases of southern-allied fighters.

The Voice Of America reported on 30th May that the north Sudanese government has given the south until Wednesday, 1st June to withdraw its troops from the two states.

On 21st May, northern Sudanese forces took over the disputed border region of Abyei.

South Sudan held an independence referendum in January, in which an overwhelming majority of people voted to secede.

Under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended decades of civil war in 2005, Abyei was meant to have its own referendum to decide whether to join the north or the south, but it was postponed after disagreements on voter eligibility.

Blue Nile and South Kordofan were supposed to have “popular consultations” on their future, however the process was poorly defined, and southerners say it has not be completed.

South Kordofan is the north's only oil-producing state.

Many fear that border disputes could lead the country back into civil war, although southern political leaders have said that will not happen.

“It is not our priority now to get involved in a war”, information minister for the government of South Sudan, Barnaba Marial Benjamin was quoted in the New York Times as saying.

Analysts however say the situation may be more difficult than that. Firstly, there are many more southern-allied troops in Blue Nile and South Kordofan than there were in Abyei.

Secondly, there would be no easy way for fighters in these states to flee south, even if they wanted to. Perhaps most importantly, Blue Nile state is clearly part of northern Sudan, according to boundaries established before Sudan became independent in 1956.

The issue of Blue Nile and South Kordofan states shows the difficulties in characterising the conflict in Sudan as simply a north-south fight or an ethnic fight. It is far more complex than that, and resentment of Khartoum was shared by a variety of groups throughout the country.

Many in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states joined the Southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the fight against Khartoum, but did not gain the same right to secession as those in the south.

A northern government spokesman, Rabie A Atti, said on 29th May that like Abyei, “Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains in Southern Kordofan are part of the north, and nothing else.”

On the issue of Abyei, neither side appears willing to compromise on its claims to ownership; they did, however, agree on 30th May to establish a joint committee to try to defuse tension.

South Sudan's Vice President Riek Machar said he and his northern counterpart Ali Osman Taha had the political will to resolve the dispute, and said that the south would never return to war with the north.

"During the meeting we have reiterated the SPLM position calling for withdrawal of the Sudanese army from Abyei. We have reiterated our commitment not to return to war and demanded that the UN peacekeepers remain in Abyei and the popular consultation areas in Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains," Machar told reporters in Khartoum.

The northern government has given conflicting statements about their intentions in Abyei. Some have said the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) will stay until new security arrangments have been reached, while others have said they will be there until the long-delayed referendum takes place.

South Sudan is set to become independent on 11th July, 2011.

Sources: Bloomberg, New York Times, Sudan Tribune, VOA

For more information, please see the Menas Borders website, here.

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