July 1, 2011 (KHARTOUM) – Sudan President Omer Al-Bashir has instructed his army to continue military operations in the North-South border state of South Kordofan until it is “purged” and the “rebel” Abdel Aziz Adam Al-Hilu – leader of main opposition group in the state – is under arrest.
Al-Bashir made his inflammatory statement less than a week since his government inked an AU-moderated agreement with the northern sector of the opposition Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) as a precursor to reaching a ceasefire deal in South Kordofan which has been ravaged by weeks of localised violence between North Sudan army and SPLM forces.
Following Friday prayers at a mosque in the capital Khartoum, Al-Bashir said he had commanded the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) not to cease its military offensive in South Kordofan until it “purges” the area and “arrests and brings to trial the rebel” Abdul Aziz Adam Al-Hilu for the “crimes of terrorizing civilians and killing of innocent people.”
Al-Hilu is the leader of the SPLM in South Kordofan and the former deputy governor who refused to concede his defeat in the state’s gubernatorial elections to the incumbent governor Ahmad Harun of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP).
The veteran SPLM leader and the state’s deputy governor alleged the vote was rigged in favor of Ahmad Harun and thus declared the SPLM’s non-recognition of the result. Independent election observers endorsed the result despite controversial voter registration and constituency demarcation in the run-up to the poll.
Following the contentious elections, fighting erupted in early June between SAF and SPLM forces. It is not clear what ignited the confrontation but the SPLA claimed it was because SAF had attempted to disarm its fighters while SAF alleged that it responded to a raid by SPLA members on a local police station.
The fighting escalated alarmingly as SAF applied the use of heavy artillery and aerial bombardment to put out what the Khartoum government now characterises as an all-out rebellion.
More than 70,000 people have been displaced by the violence, the UN said, amid reports of widespread abuses committed by SAF specifically against the ethnic Nuba population of South Kordofan.
The framework agreement on South Kordofan and the Blue Nile stipulates that the NCP would recognise the right of the SPLM to continue “as a legal political party” in north Sudan.
Also, the NCP and SPLM-North agreed to form a joint political committee to ensure that “the issue of governance in South Kordofan shall be discussed and resolved amicably … within thirty days”.
The agreement further states that the two sides should begin working on a cease-fire and allow humanitarian access into Southern Kordofan.
The accord also stipulates that SPLA fighters in the North “shall be integrated, over a time period and with modalities to be agreed, into the Sudan Armed Forces” and that “any disarmament shall be done in accordance with agreed-upon plans and without resorting to force.”
Meanwhile, the state’s governor Ahmad Harun said that the government was fighting “a legitimate battle of self-defense” in South Kordofan. Addressing supporters on Friday in Kadugli, he said that government forces would not hesitate to use “any kind of weapon to defend the security of citizens.”
Some rights groups accused SAF of using weapons banned under international laws. On 25 June, Amnesty International said it had received reports of “freshly laid” landmines around Kadugli. The organisation warned that these mines pose a threat to civilians returning to the area.