October 21, 2013 (WASHINGTON) - The Sudanese army may be readying its forces for a fresh military campaign in the border state of South Kordofan, a monitoring group said on Tuesday.
"Satellite images reviewed by DigitalGlobe Analytics show unusually high levels of activity at several Sudan Armed Forces, or SAF, military installations in Sudan’s North and South Kordofan states, which could signal planned deployments toward several locations, including the highly contested Abyei area," said the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP), which Hollywood actor George Clooney founded in 2010 along with Enough project co-founder John Prendergast.
SSP said that one set of imagery shows SAF air power in El Obeid Air Base in North Kordofan which usually consists of bomber jets being beefed up with attack helicopters, a close-air-support aircraft and a transport aircraft.
"The number of aircraft at Kadugli Air Base in South Kordofan has almost tripled, with the usual three to four attack helicopters now supplemented by three additional helicopters and two transport aircraft. A probable Motorized Infantry Battalion at Kordofan Garrison staging base has increased in size to levels last observed in April 2013, during the height of the rebel incursions in Abu Kershola," it added.
"The number of tanks has more than tripled at El Obeid Headquarters Garrison, and the number of heavy equipment transporters and armored personnel carriers has grown, signaling a level of activity that has not been observed in the past year".
The group also noted that satellite imagery confirms earlier reports of destruction inflicted on a crossing known as Buram bridge last September which now isolates the towns of Tess and Buram held by the rebel Sudan People Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) and leaves civilians vulnerable to SAF attack.
"The destruction of Buram bridge, the increased troop buildup, and the appearance of new ground and air materiel at several military installations collectively point to a possible new SAF military campaign before the end of the rainy season. Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese civilians in South Kordofan are potentially at risk" SSP said in the statement.
"This buildup directly threatens vulnerable Sudanese civilians in South Kordofan. The re-positioned aerial assets at El Obeid and Kadugli potentially also signal a threat to Abyei, where tensions are running high ahead of a planned Ngok Dinka unilateral referendum".
Prendergast was quoted as saying that the military buildup "is a chilling indication of what could quickly escalate, particularly with the planned referendum in Abyei. The international community must send a strong signal to the Sudanese government it will not tolerate attacks on innocent Sudanese civilians and the deliberate destruction of homes and farmland”.
Since 2011, the border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile have been witnessing armed conflict between the SPLM-N and SAF.
The Sudanese government have consistently accused its southern neighbor of backing the rebels and insist that they remained connected to the South Sudan army despite Juba’s assertions to the contrary.
After almost two years of stonewalling, Khartoum agreed to negotiate with SPLM-N regarding ending the military conflict in these two areas. But the talks which took place in April adjourned without any breakthrough and it is not clear when they may resume.
Khartoum insists that the dialogue would be held under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which led to South Sudan’s separation in 2011 a referendum returned a vote overwhelmingly in favor of the move.
The SPLM-N on the other hand wants the talks under last year’s United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution which said negotiations should occur on the basis of an agreement the rebels signed in June 2011 with Sudanese presidential assistant Nafie Ali Nafie which was later scrapped by president Omer Hassan al-Bashir.
Bashir announced last June that he is ending dialogue with rebel groups in the wake of their assault on several towns in north and south Kordofan.