Home | News    Friday 14 March 2008

Military code unites former Sudan foes

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March 13, 2008 (JUBA) — They fought tooth and nail in Africa’s longest civil war, but soldiers from both sides of the former Sudanese divide are now putting honour above mistrust and serving side by side — for now.

Pasifico Jada is a lieutenant in the regular army and Abraham Nyuon one from the ex-rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army, whose political movement joined the government when the war ended. They jointly command one unit.

Each side has contributed 3,000 troops to Joint Integrated Units (JIUs), tasked with protecting the fragile 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended 21 years of fighting between Khartoum and the SPLA.

For now, the two men say their professional military code requires them to obey orders, but that if peace unravels they are prepared to square off again on the battlefield.

"Before, there was no cooperation between the SAF (Sudanese army) and SPLA forces, but now we are working together to promote security in our area of operation while the agreement is still in place," said 54-year-old Jada.

"We had our own sides in the war, but here we work together because we respect a code and that is why we are soldiers," said the former teacher who fought alongside Khartoum during the war.

Wearing different uniforms, the pair command a JIU near a key bridge on the River Nile outside Juba. This former government garrison town was ceded to the SPLM/A after the 2005 agreement and is now the capital of southern Sudan.

"I am an SPLM/A member, but I have to respect the military code that requires us to work together with the government troops," 37-year-old Nyuon told AFP at their command post.

"That was how the peace agreement was drawn and we are duty-bound to respect it," he said.

The war erupted in 1983 when the mainly non-Muslim ethnic southern rebels took up arms against Arab Khartoum to demand a share in national development. Around 1.5 million people were killed and four million displaced.

Religion and ownership of oil supplies crucial to economic wealth fuelled the conflict that was often described as Africa’s most intricate war.

Under the 2005 accord, Sudan’s rivals agreed to maintain separate armies for a six-year interim period, but formed a number of JIUs intended as a nucleus of a united Sudan should the south not vote for independence in a 2011 referendum.

In the event of secession, the joint units based in areas of common interest such as Juba, Khartoum and the disputed border areas of Abyei, Nuba Mountains and the Southern Blue Nile, would be dissolved into their respective forces.

But a group of reporters allowed to take pictures of the bridge by JIUs, were quickly told not to by SPLA troops patrolling nearby.

"This is our bridge, not for JIUs," an SPLA officer not serving in the JIUs told the reporters.

In the central Sudan town of Raja, SAF Lieutenant Babakir Mohamed and his SPLM/A counterpart are overseeing security.

"We have never had an incident where the SAF and SPLA have fought, but a few instances have been reported when they have taken rum (forbidden in the JIU code). Otherwise, they live in the same barracks," Mohamed told AFP.

"Despite different political views, the two forces respect the JIU rules that requires them to promote security in their areas of operation. We have even formed a JIU football team that plays with other civilian teams."

Local residents said that the two sides, who spent two decades trying to kill each other, are dutifully carrying out their joint operations.

"Sometimes I wonder that the units work — these men (SPLA and SAF) used to fight. Now they work together. For sure there is a God," said Miriam Abdullah, a trader in Raja.

But Western diplomats believe the south is determined to secede in 2011 and has failed to provide its best commanders to units deployed at various strategic positions in Sudan.

"Both sides know that the south will most definitely secede and form its country, that is why they have kept their best commanders out of the units," said one European diplomat on condition of anonymity.

Peace has largely prevailed in southern Sudan since the accord was signed. But relations, rooted in deep mistrust between the two sides, have been strained and sometimes boiled over into violence.

Observers also warn that a national census scheduled next month and elections next year might rupture the peaceful, but tenuous co-existence between the former warring sides.

"If not carefully and professionally managed, the election might tear the country apart," said one Western diplomat monitoring the political and security situation in Sudan, Africa’s largest nation.

"The south is determined to secede and keep their oil fields while the north is not ready to let the south go with all the oil fields ... It is a tense situation," the diplomat warned.

(AFP)

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