Dr. Lawrence Wongo: Current Developments in Sudan

In 2003 two main rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) took up arms against the government of Sudan to compel it to address political and economic marginalization, and underdevelopment in Darfur. Since then Darfur has been in a perpetual state of turmoil, resulting in over 500,000 dead and 2.7 million displaced people in refugee camps inside Sudan and Chad. On June 5, 2011 fighting began in South Kordofan (Nuba Mountains) when Sudan Armed Forces military aircraft artillery engaged in relentless, widespread, and systematic attacks on civilian targets throughout the state, killing and displacing thousands of unarmed innocent civilians.

The fighting was triggered by the election of Ahmed Haroun as the governor of South Kordofan in what were largely rigged elections and the refusal of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) fighters to surrender their arms. Haroun, like Bashir, is a National People’s Congress hardliner, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, violation of human rights and crimes against humanity, committed in Darfur. Similarly, following a sustained build up, Sudan Armed Forces launched an attack in Blue Nile on September 1, 2011 with indiscriminate bombing and ground attacks against innocent civilians. Since then, three hundred thousand civilians have been displaced from South Kordofan and 405,000 from Blue Nile, in addition to 150,000 refugees who have fled across the border into Unity State and Upper Nile State, respectively.

The refugees survived on boiled grass and twigs in dirty water for nourishment until the World Food Program made food airdrops in the area, since rains had washed out the roads. Sudan Armed Forces aerial and artillery bombardments have followed the refugees into South Sudan, where many of them suffer from malnutrition, malaria, skin and respiratory diseases due to lack of food, shelter and proper sanitation. The continuous bombing of the refugee camps by Antonovs, MIGs, long-range artillery fire and intense ground fighting in December, forced NGOs to temporarily evacuate their staff from the area compelling them to scale back operations. The current situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile has been described as ethnic cleansing that could soon become genocide as it continues to deteriorate further. Despite the humanitarian catastrophe, Sudan has since June 2011, barred aid workers and supplies from reaching the area.

South Kordofan and Blue Nile were in 2005 part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that provided for the right of popular consultations that would allow the citizens of the two states to determine the nature of their relationship with Khartoum. However, before the popular consultation process would begin, Bashir undermined and succeeded to derail the process. The brutality of the conflict in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile mirrors that during the war in South Sudan (1983-2005). The root causes of fighting in Sudan include the ban on the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) to operate in Sudan; the removal of the elected governor in Blue Nile; the arbitrary arrests of SPLM-N leaders all over Sudan; and death sentences passed against 19 members of the SPLM-N, including 400 missing victims of extra-judicial killings. Bashir views the ongoing fighting as a mere continuation of the previous war in South Sudan and refers to the three areas sarcastically as the “New Southern Sudan”. It is no surprise then that Bashir is employing the same brutal war strategies in the present conflict as he did against the gallant people of South Sudan.

Meanwhile, Sudan Armed Forces has deployed more troops in Abyei in addition to the ones who have already occupied the oilfields in Unity and Upper Nile states. Over 120,000 of the inhabitants of Abyei have fled to South Sudan for safety. Sudan Armed Forces continue to bomb towns and villages on a daily basis in violation of South Sudan’s air space. Worse still, there are reports that government of Sudan has reinstated all South Sudanese soldiers who were relieved from their army duty in July 2011 and redeployed them to fight in South Sudan and recruited Arab tribes as militias to fight along Sudan Armed Forces. Clearly, Sudan plans to sustain continuous military attacks on South Sudan and this provocation greatly increases the potential for direct confrontation between Sudan and South Sudan.

In a new development, the SPLM-N, JEM, SLM and other opposition political groups have formed the Sudan Revolutionary Front, whose objective is the overthrow of the Bashir regime. This is a formidable broad based opposition force to emerge against the government of Sudan since the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement / Army (SPLM/A). The U.S. has strongly condemned the aerial and ground attacks by the Sudan Armed Forces, saying that those responsible must be held accountable will be made to face justice before the International Criminal Court. It has demanded an immediate halt to the bombardments and urged South Sudan to exercise restraint to prevent further escalation of hostilities. The U.S. has also called on the warring parties to resume negotiations on cessation of hostilities and hold talks towards on political and security arrangements for South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The international community, aid agencies, international and local NGOs have urged the government of Sudan to establish humanitarian relief corridors to the conflict-affected areas. The Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Organization, the humanitarian wing of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), has called on the international community, the U.S. and the UN Security Council to enforce a no-fly zone over South Kordofan, Blue Nile, Abyei, Darfur and along the border between Sudan and South Sudan to protect, not only innocent civilians, but also aid workers who are trying to help them. In my opinion the U.S. should actively pursue a carrot-and-stick approach with Sudan to resolve the Sudan-South Sudan issues and find a negotiated settlement to the fundamental problem underlying marginalization and conflict within Sudan. The stakes are too high and the threat of renewed war between the two Sudans is all too real.