From Marvis Birungi in Juba
At least 25,000 people from Sudan’s volatile Blue Nile State have sought refuge to neighbouring Ethiopia in the course of fighting between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the rebels, the UN refugee agency said Tuesday. Violence erupted three weeks ago in Blue Nile after SAF attacked the residence of Blue Nile governor, Malik Agar, who is also the leader of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), a party affiliated to South Sudan’s ruling SPLM. The Sudanese government then deployed reinforcements consisting of an infantry brigade, more than 10 tanks and armed vehicles into the area. Peace and calm has not been restored since.
This attack comes months after SAF attacked South Kordofan state. SAF accused the SPLM-N soldiers for defying a presidential order to surrender their weapons voluntarily. South Kordofan and Blue Nile have a long history of relating with the newly independent South Sudan. Both states fought alongside the latter. The 2005 peace agreement signed between the SPLM and Khartoum government even included these states by guaranteeing them a right to popular consultations. However, analysts say that the apparent political status will make the popular consultations futile.
Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said there has been an influx of refugees into Ethiopia since the start of this conflict. He anticipated a lot more to cross into Ethiopia since the hostilities have not ceased. He also mentioned that the refugees are currently exposed to vulnerability. The UN Spokesman commended the efforts of the Ethiopian government in building two transit centres near the entry points. He called on the international community to contribute to the welfare of these occurrences. Khartoum is currently involved in military operations against rebel movements in three regions along Sudan-South Sudan border.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) has warned there is a real possibility of a new era of protracted civil war in Sudan if key international actors are not able to contain the South Kordofan clashes. In its current analysis of the situation, ICG says fighting could quickly expand both within Sudan and spill over into South Sudan. “To the resurgence of war in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, will likely be added an escalation in Darfur, especially now that the leader of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) has returned from Libya and re-joined forces in Darfur,” ICG warns.
ICG accused both Sudan and South Sudan of intensifying the rhetoric that each country is supporting its rival’s insurgents. The government of Sudan, it added, claims that the military action by the SPLM-N is a grand plan to topple the regime in Khartoum, an agenda supported by external elements including the government of South Sudan. Juba claims the war is a northern affair and accuses Khartoum of supporting South Sudan rebellions. ICG warns that the situation will escalate if the international community is delayed or disjointed in its response.
The Crisis Group further adds that since the CPA period ended, there had been no coherent political framework to deal with the many remaining challenges in Sudan. “Unfortunately, international attention focused on safeguarding South Sudan’s referendum and independence, and largely underestimated the impact of secession on the North,” it said.
In order to deter an escalation of the crisis in both Sudans, ICG is of the view that new thinking is required to take into account a Khartoum regime now in the hands of SAF generals, a unifying opposition that seeks regime change, and an international community that seems to be losing the ability to engage coherently on Sudan’s problems. It said continuing with the current ad hoc approach to negotiations and short-term arrangements to manage crises, will not address the underlying causes of conflict. “The various issues — North-South negotiations, Abyei, Darfur Peace Process, and Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile — are interrelated and efforts should be made to ensure coherence in resolving them.”Marvis Birungi is TLEP’s South Sudan Correspondent. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org