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War clouds gather over Sudan again

by Staff Writers
Juba, Sudan (UPI) Mar 21, 2011
Six years after the end of a ruinous civil war in Sudan, war clouds are gathering over the ravaged East African region again amid a string of deadly clashes that threaten the emergence of an independent state in the south scheduled for July.

In recent weeks, hundreds of people have been reported killed in clashes, largely between the southern government led by former rebel general Salva Kiir and renegade militias allegedly bankrolled by the Khartoum government of President Omar al-Bashir in the north.

Southerners voted overwhelmingly in favor of secession in a Jan. 9-15 referendum. That was a cornerstone of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Army, the main rebel force, that ended decades of the civil war.

Leaders of the Christian and animist south accuse Bashir's Arab Muslim regime, and the ruling National Congress Party, of arming renegade southern militias and directing them to destabilize the south.

"The NCP is not interested in peace, it's not interested in cooperation. It's only interested in destabilizing South Sudan," declared Pagan Amum, secretary-general of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement.

That's the political arm of the rebel forces that fought Khartoum for all but 11 years since Sudan gained independence from Britain in 1956.

On March 12, Kiir suspended negotiations with the north over how to divide the oil industry and the national debt and demarcate the north-south border, a strategic issue since most of the oil reserves straddle the current unofficial boundary.

With a plethora of vital issues far from resolved between the two sides, the breakdown in talks could greatly inflame the spiraling crisis as partition looms closer.

Khartoum denied allegations it is plotting to overthrow Kiir's struggling administration and install a "puppet government" in Juba, the south's flyblown capital.

Amum produced Arabic-language documents he said proved Juba's accusations. Although the authenticity of the documents couldn't be independently verified, they purport to show how the northern regime supplied weapons to southern renegades.

They supposedly show that Bashir started arming a militia commanded by George Athor, a former chief of staff of the southern rebel forces, in May 2010.

That was a month after he lost a state gubernatorial election in the south and took up arms against his former comrades, claiming Kiir had rigged the polling to keep him from winning office.

Athor has been blamed for massacres in which some 300 southern civilians were killed in February and March.

One document dated May 18, 2010, and signed by a military commander in the northern city of Kosti, purports that arms and ammunition were handed over to one of Athor's agents.

Another document dated Sept. 22, 2010, was purportedly written by a senior intelligence official seeking permission to arm Lam Akol, another southern renegade, and other "friendly forces." This was apparently granted.

Claire McEvoy of Geneva's Small Arms Survey, which has monitored the Sudan bloodletting in which some 2 million people died, mainly from famine and disease, said that over the years the north has consistently sought to subvert the southern rebels by backing breakaway factions.

"There's a long history of dissenters in the south being backed by military intelligence in the north as a means of destabilizing it, and the potential for this remains," she cautioned.

The region is already one of the most impoverished and underdeveloped places on the planet. Wracked by disease, famine, drought and illiteracy, it has less than 50 miles of paved road. It's riddled with corruption and tribal rivalries that the feeble SPLM government is unable to control.

This makes the region fertile ground for a sustained destabilization campaign by the north, which is reluctant to relinquish the bulk of Sudan's oil reserves in the south.

Southern Sudan is to formally gain independence July 9 and take control of about three-quarters of Sudan's current oil production of around 500,000 barrels a day.

This is pumped primarily by the China National Petroleum Corp., Petroliam Nasional of Malaysia and India's Oil and Natural Gas Corp. Sudan has proven reserves estimated at 5 billion barrels.

Most of the oil-producing fields are in the border states of Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei and these have become flash points between rival forces.

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