More than 100,000 people have been displaced and countless numbers killed in the north Sudanese government’s latest offensive in the region bordering south Sudan.
South Sudan is set to formalise its secession on July 9 after a near-unanimous vote for independence in the January referendum.
Human rights group Sudan Democracy First described the impact of the brutal aerial and ground military assault in South Kordofan, just north of the border with the south, in a June 13 statement: “Last week, the Sudan Armed Forces supported by the Popular Defence Forces [Islamic militias] committed atrocities, including summary executions, wanton killings, arbitrary arrests, torture, arson and disappearances in addition to destruction of physical infrastructure.”
In 2005, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed between the National Congress Party (NCP) government in Khartoum, and the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in the country’s south.
The ceasefire ended a three-decade long civil war that killed about 2 million people.
The agreement mandated national elections, which took place in April 2010, and the January referendum on self-determination for the south.
Under the peace agrement, South Kordofan and Blue Nile State were provided with interim power-sharing arrangements including joint military forces and “popular consultations”, but no right to self-determination.
The army has also reportedly been massing soldiers in the Blue Nile State.
The Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan was largely aligned with the SPLM during the most recent civil war, and was a source of many SPLA fighters.
The Nuba are made up of many different ethnic, language and religious groups. The region contains most of the north’s remaining oil reserves after the south’s secession.
In the early 1990s, the army and militias armed by Khartoum waged a large-scale campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Nuba, killing up to 500,000 people.
The government has exploited conflicts over water and land between the Nuba and Baggara. The Baggara, including the Misseriya and Hawazma, are cattle herders who enter Nuban farming areas to graze livestock and find water. They are descendant from Arabs who came to the area more than two centuries ago.
Throughout the 1990s, many attempts between the two groups to negotiate peaceful arrangements for co-existence were thwarted by the government in Khartoum. The NCP government finally agreed to a ceasefire in the Nuba Mountains in 2002.
In a late-2009 interview with News From Africa, Younan al Barout, chairperson of the SPLM in Rashad County, said the power sharing arrangements established under the 2005 CPA had not been implemented in the Nuba Mountains.
Barout said: “As it is now, we have been left as orphans, belonging neither to the South nor to the North.”
Barout said disarmament had not occurred. “It is impossible to disarm people without guaranteeing peace. In the Nuba Mountains the so-called peace is only on paper.”
Elections in South Kordofan took place in May, deferred from April 2010. The NCP candidate Ahmed Haroun won governor.
Haroun was a major figure in the slaughter of Nuba in the 1990s and one of the masterminds of the genocide in Darfur — for which he is wanted by the International Criminal Court.
International monitors deemed the elections credible, but the SPLM said they were rigged.
Khartoum’s latest military offensive in the area began on June 6, when the army began forcibly disarming local SPLA fighters. The government had demanded the fighters “withdraw” to the south.
In a May 31 Sudan Tribune interview, SPLA spokesperson Colonel Philip Aguer Panyang said: “We have no forces to be withdrawn because they are not South Sudanese ... Why should we bring northerners to South Sudan? … It is [a] northern conflict and we are not part of it.”
On June 12, Reuters reported Aguer as saying: “There is no link between southern Sudan and the rebels in Southern Kordofan … We have the same name, that is it.”
Khartoum claims its operations in South Kordofan are a response to attempts by the SPLA to create a “second Benghazi”.
Reuters said on June 21 that the previous day, defence minister Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein told parliament: “Up to this moment, our forces are continuing their efforts ... to clean this area and nip this sedition in the bud.”
Just weeks before, the Sudanese Armed Forces used a May 21 attack by the SPLA on a United Nations convoy escorting northern army forces in the oil-rich region of Abyei, south of the Nuba Mountains, as a pretext for occupying the area and launching a major military assault.
Abyei’s status was a major point of tension in the CPA negotiations. It was eventually decided the area would be granted special administrative status and a separate vote to determine its future alongside the referendum in the south.
However this never occurred. The SPLM argued that only local Ngok Dinka residents had the right to vote, while Khartoum insisted on including Misseriya pastoralists who cross into Abyei during the dry season.
Abyei has been a centre of conflict since the signing of the CPA. Khartoum armed groups among the Misseriya to attack Ngok Dinka, who the SPLM sided with.
On June 20, Khartoum and the SPLM signed an agreement to end the conflict in Abyei.
Both northern and southern troops are to withdraw and replaced by a UN force comprised of Ethiopian troops.
A temporary council will be established to oversee Abyei’s administration and pave way for final negotiation of the region’s status.
Under the agreement, Misseriya “shall enjoy rights of migration and access to pasture and water”.
However, reports of violence have continued.
The Sudanese Communist Party’s newspaper Al Midan said on June 16 that “before the ink was dry” on the agreement, the army launched its aerial bombardment in South Kordofan, “opening the door to a horrific humanitarian disaster”.
It described Khartoum’s actions in Abyei and South Kordofan as “a complete reversal of the dialogue, negotiations and political solution” achieved through the CPA.
On June 16, US President Barack Obama voiced his “deep concern” about the situation. However the US administration helped legitimise the NCP’s undemocratic rule by endorsing the fraudulent election results in April last year and praising Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for his alleged commitment to fulfilling the CPA.
Aggression from the north is not the only problem facing the new republic in the south. Disaffection with the SPLM government, which is seen as favouring the dominant Dinka group, has led to conflicts claiming more than 1000 lives so far this year.
A new UN report, “The Hidden Crisis: Armed Conflict and Education”, found children in south Sudan were more likely to die before age five than finish basic schooling.
Arrangements for dividing oil revenue between the north and south are also yet to be agreed upon. Up to 80% of Sudan’s oil output is in south Sudan, but most of the infrastructure for refining and exporting the oil is in the north.
AFP said Bashir told supporters in Port Sudan, Sudan’s major oil export terminal: “I give the south three alternatives for the oil. The north is to continue getting its share, or the north gets fees for every barrel that the south sends to Port Sudan …
“If they don't accept either of these, we're going to block the pipeline.”