The government of Sudan continues to seek a road toward unification, despite overwhelming support for independence in the south, Voice of America reports. A referendum is scheduled for January 9, 2011, to determine the fate of South Sudan, while Egypt has offered to broker unification between the government in Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), partners in government as part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The CPA put an end to open civil warfare between the Islamist-led government of the north and Christian and animist rebels in the south, while fighting what President Obama has called in a YouTube video seen here,”genocide” in Darfur has continued unabated since peaking around the mid-2000s.
Meanwhile, violence has again broken out this week at the Kalma camp in southern Darfur, the New York Times reports, leaving 10 people dead. These deaths occurred as Darfuri rebel groups and the government of Sudan met in Doha, Qatar, for yet another round of peace talks. The genocide reported between 2003-2009 appears to have morphed once more into a military conflict this year, as 600 combatants died, the majority of them in May. Peace keepers have been present in Darfur since December 2007.
In a separate incident, Medecins San Frontier (MSF) has decided to leave a Southern Sudan region since its staff continues to be attacked, Reuters reports. In three incidents occurring in the restive Jonglei state near the Ethiopian border, violence and robbery were conducted against MSF staff in the country to provide medical aid. Jonglei has seen violence between government troops and the southern Sudan army in the past year. 10,000 people are homeless in Jonglei as a result of flash flooding, further complicating efforts to aid malnourished children hungry after a previous regional drought.
Recently re-elected President Omar al-Bashiri of Sudan was charged with three counts of genocide in Darfur by the International Criminal Court in July 2010, according to Wikipedia.
The Government of Sudan is no stranger to managing and even helping sustain multiple internal conflicts, often in an effort to pit rebel factions against one another. Until 2006, the Eastern Front, a loose confederation of rebel groups along the Red Sea and bordering Eritrea, threatened to cut off oil shipments during the slow motion conflict in the area, according to Wikipedia. Only when Eritrea abruptly decided to stop supporting the rebels were the two parties able to come to a power sharing agreement.
In the meantime, Sudan continued it’s war in the west through proxy forces, the Janjaweed, or more directly against Darfuri citizens and rebels- a pattern they have been known to use in southern Sudan as well, in particular along the North-South border. With the conflict no longer grabbing international headlines and the referendum approaching, the Khartoum government can focus instead on trying to undermine the referendum and may well return to violence, intimidation, voting delays, and vote rigging to prevent secession. It can also be said in fairness that the heavily-armed populations in southern Sudan that helped cause for the MSF suspending its work have also been responsible for 2,500 deaths and 350,000 homeless due to ethnic clashes.
While local rivalries play out, South Sudan has unwillingly also played host to the infamous Ugandan Lords Resistance Army, an militia renowned for its atrocities in North Uganda, as this field report from the Enough Project points out. An SPLM-led government, challenged by internal rivalries and rampant lawlessness resulting from decades of war, will generally lead to all parties in South Sudan not feeling represented either, encouraging dissatisfaction and potential opportunities for internal violence, much like the kind seen in Iraq or Nigeria over division of oil profit distribution and gneral power sharing.
Sudan has a long road to go down before real peace is accomplished, and it remains to be seen whether the Khartoum government is sincere in letting the oil-rich south go it’s own path. Even if it does, South Sudan under the SPLM and Darfur will not be transformed overnight into more peaceful, sustainable communities, in particular if the Government of Sudan decides to put greater focus on crushing the western rebellion and possibly sparring further via proxies with its long-time rival to the west, Chad.
Neil MacFarquhar, “Sudan: Violent Clashes Erupt Over Peace Talks for Darfur” New York Times
Peter Clottey, “Egypt to Mediate Sudan Unity Talks” Voice of America
Reuters, “MSF suspends aid to south Sudan region after attacks” Alternet.org
Enough Project, “Pres. Obama on Sudan: We asked. He answered.” YouTube
Wikipedia, “Darfur Conflict”
Wikipedia “Eastern Front (Sudan)”
Maggie Flick, “To the Referendum and Beyond: South Sudan’s Lesser Known Flashpoints”, Enough Project