- SPLM military soldiers guard the car of SPLM governor candidate Abdul Aziz Al-Hilu as he arrives to vote at a polling centre in Kadogli in South Kordofan state, May 2, 2011 (Reuters)
Multiple sources told Sudan Tribune that northern tanks and heavy artillery have moved into and around the state’s main town of Kadugli while clashes have been reported in surrounding villages.
During Sudan’s civil war groups from the two northern states joined the South Sudan-based SPLA in the two-decade war against the Khartoum government. SPLA soldiers north of the border are not expected to disarm or leave their homelands as key aspects of the peace deal that ended the conflict six years ago have not been fulfilled. They are also angry that their political wing - the SPLM-North - lost a key contentious election in South Kordofan in April.
There were also reports of clashes between the northern Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) of the Khartoum government and the SPLA-North in Umm Dorain about 12km south east of Kadugli.
A member SPLM-North, which is the main opposition party in the state, told Sudan Tribune that Umm Dorain had been attacked by SAF as they believed SPLA-North forces were in the area.
The reports of fighting in Umm Dorain were also confirmed by the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).
"There were two attacks. One happened in Kadugli town itself, where a police station was attacked last night (Saturday) by unknown gunmen," [UNMIS spokeswoman Hua Jiang told AFP, adding that there was no information on casualties.
"We have also had reports of shooting in Umm Dorain today. We have sent land and air patrols to the area to investigate," she said.
But a statement from Sudan’s state news agency (SUNA), quoted the northern army as saying the "the incident" was a case of an individual soldier firing at random.
The statement went on to say that Kadugli was calm, the situation was "contained" and that relations between SAF, Sudan’s ruling party and the "the other party", referring to SPLM-North, were stable. The SPLM is the ruling party of South Sudan and is under pressure from Khartoum and is under pressure to sever ties with their former comrades, especially as they hope to peacefully secede from the north in a months time.
According to reports received by Sudan Tribune, SAF moved tanks south from El Obeid through the Dilling area and stationed them at Kadugli airport and near the compound of the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) early on Sunday. Some tanks were redeployed to Umm Dorain Reuters reported.
Fighting was reported to have begun on Sunday morning in Kadugli, which eyewitnesses and other sources say is now full of military personnel, hardware and vehicles.
The UNMIS spokesperson told Reuters that late on Saturday unknown armed groups attacked and stole weapons from a police station in Kadugli.
A member of the SPLM-North, Nassir Kuku, told Sudan Tribune that SAF had entered Kadugli at 9am on Sunday. He said that there had been "serious fighting" in the villages Alburam and Miri, although this has not been confirmed.
“There has been serious tension here in Kadugli before and [after the] elections [results] were announced. The National Congress [Party] (NCP) rigged elections and again wanted to initiate the fighting," he said.
In early May the NCP, which governs north Sudan, beat the SPLM-North in controversial state elections - delayed from last year over a census dispute - to decide the state governor and the makeup of South Kordofan’s legislative assembly. The incumbent NCP governor, Ahmed Haroun, was reinstated after defeating his deputy, the SPLM-North candidate Abdul Aziz Adam El-Hilu.
Despite some reservations international monitors endorsed the election of Haroun, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur, allegedly committed while he was Sudan’s interior minister (2003-2005) and minister for humanitarian affairs (2006-2009). He was appointed as governor of South Kordofan in 2009.
Haroun was quoted by state media as saying that some of the joint police units attacked the wildlife police in Kadugli, while the garrison in Umm Dorain came under assault from SPLA-North troops.
Sudan Tribune failed to reach El-Hilu on Sunday but senior SPLM figure Musa Kaka said that SAF had been entering Kadugli for some time but only started their operation against the SPLA/M-North on Sunday.
“They started their operation today on Sunday at 9am. They moved tanks and other machine guns. More than 12 tanks appeared in the town today”, he said. Eyewitness including sources from the UN confirmed the entry of the SAF to Kadugli and the subsequent eruption of fighting.
The SPLA/M-North was formed during the Sudan’s second ’north-south’ civil war as northern divisions of the SPLA, with many groups sharing the vision a united, federal and democratic "New Sudan" advocated by the late leader of the SPLM/A, John Garang.
As a consequence South Kordofan and Blue Nile bore some of the worst fighting due to their location north of the border, where they were occasionally cut off from the SPLA in South Sudan.
However, the 2005 peace deal that ended the conflict and granted South Sudan the right to self determination, which it opted for in a referendum in January, paving the way for independence next month.
After July 9 South Kordofan and the SPLA/M-North will remain part of north Sudan and governed by the NCP from Khartoum. Under the CPA South Kordofan and Blue Nile were accorded ’popular consultations’ to consider whether the agreement had addressed their grievances and to propose what their future relationship with Khartoum might look like.
However, the much delayed processes are yet to be completed despite there being only a little over a month until the official end of the peace deal and South Sudan’s independence on July 9.
’Disarm or go south’
Sunday’s fighting is thought to have been triggered by the north’s demand that all SPLA-North soldiers move south of the 1956 border dividing the country - created by the British at Sudan’s independence - or surrender their weapons.
Juba has been keen to emphasise the distinctiveness of the SPLM-North since South Sudan’s overwhelming vote for independence, while Khartoum is reticent to recognise the distinction.
In accordance with the security arrangements in the peace deal, Joint Integrated Units (JIUs) of 24,000 soldiers, 12,000 each from SAF and SPLA were deployed in various towns in South Sudan, Khartoum, Blue Nile and South Kordofan. The forces were to serve as the nucleus for a future national army should the people of South Sudan vote for the unity of the country in a plebiscite agreed as part of the peace deal.
However, with the south voting resoundingly to separate and the SPLA, which became the official army of South Sudan after the 2005 agreement, will in July become the army of an independent nation, making its relations with SPLA-North problematic.
The SPLA is adamant that soldiers from the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan and Blue Nile cannot relocate to the south as they are not southern Sudanese. On 31 May the SPLA’s spokesperson, Philip Aguer indicated to Sudan Tribune that the SPLA in South Sudan was no longer responsible for SPLA soldiers north of border.
He said it was up to north Sudan "to discuss what to do with the forces in Blue Nile and South Kordofan" belonging to the SPLA-North.
"It is [a] northern conflict and we are not part of it.”
UN Mission in Sudan
The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) shut the doors to its compound on Sunday morning, Sudan Tribune has learnt, as SAF military police with up to 10 vehicles with heavy weaponry positioned themselves outside.
UNMIS’s response to the breakout of fighting in Kadugli is likely to be heavily scrutinised after the criticism its peacekeepers received for their inaction when SAF overran the contested region of Abyei last month.
The UN mission was also accused by Khartoum’s representative at the UN of not doing "anything" when a SAF convoy they were escorting was attacked by a southern armed group in a precipitous clash, Reuters has reported.
A leading UN military official is being dispatched to Abyei to investigate the claim that Zambian peacekeepers stayed in their barracks for two days while the town was being burnt and looted.
It is unclear whether Khartoum will allow the UNMIS mandate to be extended after South Sudan’s independence, regardless of whether the mandate of the mission has been fully implemented in terms of the completion of the CPA.
The SAF’s entry into Kadugli comes less than three weeks after it took control of the majority of the disputed territory of Abyei. The strategically important fertile oil-producing region was occupied by the northern military on 21 May.
Abyei, along with South Kordofan and Blue Nile was one of the ’three areas’ given special status in the 2005 peace deal, but instead of ’popular consultations’ Abyei was granted a referendum on whether it would remain in South Kordofan or join South Sudan.
The future of Abyei also remains uncertain and a source of potential renewed north-south conflict as its plebiscite due for January did not go ahead, leaving the area in limbo and at the center of the high stakes military and diplomatic calculations as the SPLM and NCP try to agree on post-independence issues which include oil and debt as well as implement remaining issues from the peace deal such as border demarcation.
With the south’s secession Sudan will lose 75 percent of the country’s known oil reserves but the Abyei issue is about more than oil revenue. The amount the area produces has decreased since major oil fields were place outside the region by a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2009.
The fertile land is used both by the southern-aligned Dinka Ngok and northern nomadic Misseriya tribe, who enter the region looking for pasture for their cattle for a large part of the year.
It was the NCP’s insistence that the Misseriya be granted full voting rights in the Abyei referendum, despite not being permanent residents according to the SPLM, that resulted in the plebiscite being postponed indefinitely.