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Blue Nile State (Sudan) and the Resumption of Country-wide War


The only beneficiaries of this ruthlessly destructive military action against Blue Nile State are the most extreme members of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party cabal, and senior members of the security and military apparatus; the calculation on which their decision has been made could not be more brutal

Eric Reeves*

September 3, 2011

Those hoping that Sudan’s 2005 "Comprehensive Peace Agreement" (CPA) and the July secession by South Sudan as an independent nation would bring an end to war in this ravaged country have been bitterly disappointed by recent events. Aside from continuing to wage a ghastly war of civilian attrition in Darfur, the Khartoum regime has militarily seized the contested border region of Abyei (May 20), has begun a widespread campaign of ethnically targeted destruction in South Kordofan (June 5)---targeting the Nuba and relentlessly bombing the Nuba Mountains---and in recent days has launched a major military offensive in Blue Nile State. Many thousands have fled into neighboring Ethiopia, the state capital of Damazin has been over-run, and there are reports of large numbers of civilian casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure. There are also many reports of indiscriminate bombing attacks by Khartoum’s air force elsewhere in Blue Nile---continuing a pattern of more than twenty years-—and fighting seems to be escalating rapidly.* Calls for an immediate ceasefire by the UN and other international actors have fallen on deaf ears in Khartoum.

Blue Nile has many similarities with South Kordofan, which is also part of what is now North Sudan; this includes in particular a close alliance militarily and politically with the SPLM/A of the South during the long civil war (1983-2005). Its elected governor, Malik Agar, heads the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North. Like the comparable political and military entity in South Kordofan, the SPLA-North in Blue Nile is made up of indigenous soldiers, who cannot be "sent home to the South" because they are home. And as was true for South Kordofan, Blue Nile was promised by the CPA "popular consultations," which were to have determined the nature of the ongoing relationship with Khartoum after a Southern self-determination referendum. There have been no meaningful "popular consultations" in either South Kordofan or Blue Nile, nor does Khartoum intend to permit such.

As was also the case in South Kordofan (and in Abyei as well), Khartoum militarily provoked the fighting in Blue Nile and then claimed that they had been responding to attacks by rebels. But the recent arrival of a brigade-sized force near Damazin---accompanied by a dozen tanks along with 40 trucks carrying heavy Dushka machine-guns---makes nonsense of the claim. And again, as was the case in South Kordofan, it is clear that this military offensive had been well-planned in advance (in South Kordofan, for example, the Sudanese Red Crescent Society [SRCS] has confirmed that Khartoum gave them some 2,500 body bags and plastic tarps prior to the fighting and ethnically targeted executions that began on June 5; by the end of the month the SRCS was publicly declaring the need for more body bags).

The offensive in Blue Nile has long been threatened, and Malik Agar said two months ago that the longer the conflict in South Kordofan went unresolved, the more likely it was that Blue Nile would be drawn into the fighting. And several months ago, internal UN situation reports contained ominous intelligence about large troop movements and military threats in the general region of Blue Nile. It’s not clear whether the UN and international actors of consequence simply didn’t believe that Khartoum would move against Blue Nile---or disingenuously chose not to believe so. But the failure of anticipation is staggering, and suggests diplomatic incompetence of the first order. Certainly much was revealed with the breakdown of the important framework agreement signed by Malik and the powerful Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e of the NIF/NCP on June 28, and then was promptly disowned by President al-Bashir on his return from China (July 1, 2011). More than disowning the agreement, al-Bashir declared at Friday prayers:

"’[Al-Bashir] directed the armed forces to continue their military operations in South Kordofan until a cleansing of the region is over,’ SUNA quoted Bashir as telling worshippers during Friday prayers." (emphasis added)

This should have been a clear signal of what would follow. But whatever the reason for lack of an effective international response---then and now---it yet again shows that there has been far too little preparation for, or anticipation of the events of the past few days, a terribly familiar pattern on the part of the UN, the U.S., the African Union, and the Europeans in dealing with Khartoum. All this is consistent with the exceedingly slow and still hesitant acknowledgement of themassive atrocity crimes that were committed in South Kordofan in June, which have been amply documented in a leaked UN human rights report on the situation. Moreover, satellite imagery has authoritatively confirmed the existence of many mass gravesites, capable of holding many thousands of bodies. The photographic evidence is confirmed in every case by eyewitness accounts provided to the UN human rights investigators (and included in their unredacted report) and to the Satellite Sentinel Project, with human intelligence assets in Kadugli. Many Nuba escaping from South Kordofan into South Sudan have also reported mass gravesites.

Is resumed war too costly for Khartoum?

In recent months it has become conventional wisdom to assert that however brutal and ruthless the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party Khartoum regime may be, they simply can’t afford to re-engage in war with the South---that it would be too costly for the regime, especially given a Northern economy that is in shambles, with high (and rising) inflation, the prospect of substantially diminished oil revenues, and a vast external debt (more than $38 billion) that can’t be serviced, let alone repaid, without significant help in debt relief from the international community. But this conventional wisdom has framed the question the wrong way; the question the NIF/NCP regime is posing in present circumstances is whether its stranglehold on national wealth and power can survive without war, war that the regime of course hopes to keep on the periphery. And that question is being answered, increasingly clearly, by the most ruthless elements within the military and their hard-line allies in the political cabal. There has been a "creeping military coup" in Khartoum, and as one source close to the regime has declared in a confidential statement, "It is the hour of the soldiers."

What Khartoum fears most is that with the secession of South Sudan, the forces rebelling against marginalization and discrimination---as well as against the relentless denial of political freedom and a fair share of national wealth and power---are now all in the North. If these variously rebellious forces are allowed to create a powerful military coalition---reaching from eastern Chad to Ethiopia and northward to the Beja region near the border with Eritrea---they could topple the regime, even without much help from the traditional Northern political opposition, which is in any event badly weakened after twenty-two years of NIF/NCP tyranny.

Several observers of the recent large-scale military actions in Blue Nile have made this point, if in somewhat different fashion. Chris Phillips from the Economist Intelligence Unity put it this way to Reuters: "(Khartoum’s) objective is to knock out the SPLM-North before they become a serious military force." Fouad Hikmat of the International Crisis Group argues that Khartoum believes the SPLM in the North is "a threat for them politically, not just militarily" and that what we are seeing "could be a vanguard to mobilise the new South of the North of Sudan." In other words, what South Sudan was to Khartoum during the civil war could take new form in the North---what Hikmat calls "the new South of the North of Sudan."

But by attacking Blue Nile, and targeting the house of its elected governor Malik Agar, the Khartoum regime has burned its bridges to a negotiated settlement with the SPLM/A-North. It was Malik who brokered the agreement between the SPLM/A-North leader in South Kordofan, Abdel Aziz el-Hilu, and senior regime official Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e; it is now exceedingly difficult to see how negotiations might even resume while the governor himself is being attacked and pursued.

The greatest danger here is that the potent military forces of South Sudan become involved in the fighting. Juba and the SPLA have shown remarkable restraint to date in the face of relentless military provocation: Khartoum’s repeated bombing of the South in Unity State and Northern and Western Bahr el-Ghazal going back to November 2010, as well as the seizure of Abyei, which aborts any chance for a fair self-determination referendum for the region. But it will become increasingly difficult for the SPLA in Juba to watch as their war-time allies in South Kordofan and Blue Nile are mercilessly pummeled by Khartoum’s air force, and many thousands of civilians are sent streaming into Ethiopia, into the South, and even toward Khartoum (the UN High Commission for Refugees has already received reports of "some 16,000 civilians fleeing" from Blue Nile into Ethiopia; other estimates are much higher). The growing threat of a humanitarian catastrophe in the Nuba Mountains---Khartoum continues to block all significant humanitarian access---and the prospect of a similar crisis in Blue Nile are already weighing heavily on the leadership in Juba.

War as it is unfolding in South Kordofan and Blue Nile is in no one’s interest---not in the South and not in the North. The only ones who see themselves as beneficiaries are the most ruthless and brutal members of the NIF/NCP cabal and the military and security apparatus: for they well understand that if they lose power, most will end up in The Hague facing prosecution for crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes.

"The hour of the soldiers." The phrase is cited by Julie Flint, a highly reliable and well-informed reporter on Sudan, and comes from a well-placed source in Khartoum, close to the regime, who is trying to give an account of how such immensely destructive violence against civilians has become the chosen course of action: "It is the hour of the soldiers---a vengeful, bitter attitude of defending one’s interests no matter what; a punitive and emotional approach that goes beyond calculation of self-interest."

This is the face of power in Khartoum, and until the world awakes to the consequences of this "vengeful, bitter" outlook, war will continue moving closer and closer to engulfing all of Sudan.

*Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College and author of "A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide"


There is no fully and independently confirmed account of all that has occurred in Blue Nile beginning September 1, 2011. Of the accounts I have read, from regional sources and wire service reports with sources in Sudan, the most detailed and persuasive is this from the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS). Unsurprisingly, it comports very closely with the accounts of the SPLM-North, and flatly contradicts a great many statements already made by spokesmen for the SAF and by regime-controlled media:

Sudan---Blue Nile Civilians at Risk, Peace Prospects Diminishing

Contact: Osman Hummaida, Executive Director

Phone: +44 7956 095738

E-mail: osman@acjps.org

3 September 2011

"On the 28th and 29th of August, the Sudanese ruling National Congress Party (NCP) moved significant military forces---comprised of Popular Defense Forces (PDF), national security, and Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF)---with heavy military equipment into Blue Nile state. [ ...]

"On September 1st at 11:00 PM the joint forces of SAF and the PDF opened fire on a three-car SPLM convey carrying a delegation out of Al Damazein at the town’s southern checkpoint. The fire was returned and fighting moved inside the town to the areas of Al Nahda, the crops market, the industrial area and the nearby NCP military headquarters.

"Later the same night, the popular militia, brought from Khartoum by aircraft, attacked the SPLM residential area in Al Mustshareen sector and open fire on the house of Governor Malik Agar, killing members of his guards and arresting others. Witnesses say that the Sudanese government forces fired on anyone that appeared to be affiliated with the SPLM and arrested some others.

"Heavy military equipment from the North has been distributed inside the civilians sectors in the town including in Hai Alganes where witnesses say they saw five tanks and three military landcruisers with doshka guns mounted to them. Witnesses said that around 30 civilians were killed as a result of the fighting and many others were injured.

"The NCP and SPLM have suffered more than 200 fatalities and approximately 500 more were injured in the fighting. Following the initial fighting, the SPLM is in control of Albao, Kurmuk and Gisaan and the rest of the state remains under NCP control.

"The fighting has caused around 50,000 civilians---mostly women, children, and elderly men---to flee Al Damazein and Al Rusairis towns into Sennar state. The Northern military forces have closed the main road linking Blue Nile to Sennar, causing those fleeing the areas of fighting to have to take more difficult roads impacted by the rainy season.

"On 2 September, Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir declared a state of emergency in Blue Nile and suspended the application of the interim constitution there. A series of presidential orders were issued, including one removing the elected governor Malik Agar and installing a military governor to replace him. Far from protecting civilians, the state of emergency allows the Northern militias and the SAF to arrest and try anyone suspected of affiliation with the SPLM. In this context, it is possible that anyone who is not a member of NCP may be targeted for arrest and summary trial.

"On 3 September, aircraft continued to bomb SPLM areas. The main water reservoir in Al Damazein was destroyed in the bombardment, possibly in a deliberate attempt to deprive the population of this essential resource. About 75 bodies have been confirmed to be present in the Al Damazein morgue. The hospital has declared an emergency. Clashes have continued in the Hai Alzira area. The NCP has called all remaining civilians in Al Damazein and Al Rusairis to gather inside the military headquarters as a safe area.

"The seriousness of the situation in Blue Nile and the potential for repetition of serious violations of international law in Southern Kordofan and Darfur require urgent action by the international community. At this stage, it will be urgent to focus on the protection of civilians, ensuring humanitarian access, and facilitation of ceasefire negotiations. It will be critical to ensure that the citizens of Blue Nile State have access to humanitarian assistance in the coming days and weeks. The NCP should not be allowed to prevent this access as they have done in the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan."

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  • 4 September 2011 19:36, by Jack

    How ironic it is for you to think that Omar el- Beshir and his men can trusted. He is a lion in sheep’s skin, he might smile to you and open is mouth to show his breath teeth. He just does it to make you feel good and calm, but little did you know what motives he has in his heart. It is said, you can not share a den with a lion or snake, or else you’ll turn into ferry. You people find it hard to listen or better yet see what is going on. He is nothing else but snake that can sneak beside you and you’ll not notice it movement. The man just visited Southern Kordofan States few days ago on August 23,and upon his return he orders for an assault on SPLM-N in El Damazin in Blue Nile State and on the elected governor of Blue Nile State, Malik Agar. People how dead are you in your brain? And how blind are you that you cannot see an enemy coming toward you ready to kill you. He came to calm you down but the motives of his visit was for ethnics cleanse and removing you from your homes. He wants your homes area for oil exploration and other resources. He has no remorse or guilt for killing you while you’ve turn your back. They say if you want to kill your enemy faces him or her eye to eye. But yet el Beshir and his men will rather kill you while you are not seeing him coming. Please, let me make myself clear here and I know that you knew Beshir visited Southern Kordofan State few days ago (August 23, 201). So this tells me that he came face to face with his enemy and yet they did not see his motive for coming there at all. Why can you at least open your eyes a little bit and look inside the box of presents for what you were given. It might not be a present but just an empty box to make you feel an urge to stay and welcome your visitor. That’s what Omar el Beshir did to the people of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile State few days ago; he brought you an empty box of present and inside it was a motive. He came to access the situation first and to find out how weak you are so that he can prepare himself to stage an attack and get ride of you. He just proves it to you by waging a war, although he claimed and called for a ceasefire for two weeks. He knew that you are so weak and helpless. This is an act and motive of the enemy.

    My people the black African of Sudan it is time for you to wake up and unit yourself together and build an army that can march against the evil government of Omar el-Beshir. See how the people of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya did it to their evil leaders. Unit I say and claim your land from the intruders who came 50 or 60 years ago and now they claim your land as their. They have seduces you with their fake religion, language, and names to make you feel accepted as one of them but now they have access to all of your possessions and they can’t leave. Do you know why, because you allowed them to deceit you with the religion, language, and names? Didn’t you know that they came ready to mesh up with your minds and to make you feel and think that they are good people but little did you know their intentions for coming? You even let them marry your daughters just for them to mix up with your blood and race so that they can raise kids in your likeness. This way you can not reject or tell them to go away. Off course, you know very well that a child born between two enemies bring peace and laughter’s. But little did you know why your enemy is laughing. He laughs because he already achieved his goal that is by blinding you to accept and let your daughters’ marry them or their sons. This was the beginning of the game which they have played so they (Arabs) will be able to raise kids through you and tomorrow they’ll have access to your lands. They (Arabs) promised themselves long time ago by saying, all those will one day be yours. And this black African people will not open their mouth against you because you have the right to the land just as they too have the right to it. You gave them a child of your blood, you taught them your religion and language, and you accepted and welcome them to be your equal after all you gave them you’re your names, although you know that you don’t meant it in your hearts that you have accepted them fully. Ah! What an irony that is my black African, you’ve allowed yourselves to be deceit. You allowed them to makes you feel and look like idiot. You sold your souls for 30 pieces of silver or riyal just like what Judas Iscariot did to Jesus. You took them and everything they say for granted thinking that you are like with fake love you were shown and yet little did you knows that that was meant just to possessions your lands.

    “President Omer Hassan al-Bashir and Presidential Adviser Nafie Ali Nafie are from the Ja’ali tribe, while Vice President Ali Osman Taha and then Presidential Adviser for National Security Salah Gosh are from the Shaigea tribe”. These men the Sudanese tribes of black African descendent have deceit you into thinking that they practiced Islam. These minorities Black-Arabs or colored of Sudanese descend or what ever they call themselves have played with your minds and they used you and religion as a tool to bring you to support them. Although their intention was to make Sudan an Islamic country it was just a shame meant to move and to persuade many followers to help them fulfill their course such as to: oppress, ethnics cleansing, steal and robbed the country of it wealth. They have used you beyond their wildly imagination and they will continue as long as they are still in power while you suffers.

    The few colored in Sudan claimed that they are Arabs although they know very well that they are not. “Tal ga wahit acuwet min rijilu le sar fi rac. Wa gisim kaman acuwet lakin hu bi kelim inu huwa arab. Al suwal hina yaaw: Lo gul innu inta arab, inta zit min fein? Al azahir inta sudani wa lounak wa sekilak min rac le kura sawa wa ashuwet. Wahit bi kelim, la anna arab, asan an bikelim al lugga al Arabia wa kaman an muslim. Ya allah! Yani din wa lugga bi wadi jol biti ger nefsu wa bikun arab. Ya jama di bada miten? Lala anna insimi Ali, Mohamed, Idiriss; wa hu bit kerir kede wa kede. Inta min fein? Anna min samal? Fein fi samal? Umduraman, Khartoum, lala anna min el jezira. Inta bi alga wahid bi kabasu nefsu lahadi racu kaman bi kun karaban wa ma bi fekir kuwec. Asan sunu hum bi-fekir yani al din, wa isim bi ger inta wa sekilak bi kun baraw min bagia naas.”

    You have to excuse me for my broken Arabic although not well written I just want to convey some points which the Sudanese like to use and play with very often while they forget that Religion, neither name nor a language will change you from who you are. But the Sudanese in the north likes to claim that they are Arabs. How do you know that you are an Arabs?

    Just don’t buy into the notion of the name, religion, and language because they cannot change you to become someone else. You’ll always remain a black African whether you like it or not because it is there in you blood. You are who you are, I don’t care where you say that you held from north, east, south, center, or west. The identity issue is just an illusion meant to deceit you into thinking that you belong in a certain group of people who are better than others. I write in English but I can not claim that I am English this will be fault. Losing one language and adapting a new one can not make you become the people whom you speak their language and the same go to my black African of Sudan. Just look at Omar el Beshir and look at the soldier in front of him there is no different between him and the man or the rest of the soldiers. Just that you have a cruelly hair it doesn’t make you and Arab. El Beshir is not an Arab; his grandparent are from Ja’ali tribe black African of Sudan who have lost their language through islamization and arabization of the people in the north.

    This reminds me of living in Kenya in the 1990s. I met a lot of Somalia in Kenya who claimed that they are Arab just because they practiced Islam and their names are Muslim names. But few years ago some managed to come to the west and particularly those who came to America were dismayed to find that there are more colored people in America than them(Somalia. And the colored people here in America are even more bright compared to them (Somalia) of Somali. They Somalia have no choice but to accept the fact that they are black African from Somalia. This is how we human deceive ourselves and the identity crisis is not only an issue in Sudan, it is a world wide issue and a phenomenon which needs to be get ride. The Sudanese needs to stop lying they should accept the fact that they are black African from Sudan; and although some of them have lost their language such as: Ja’ali, Shaigea, Bakghara, etc due to assimilation to few Arabs who came from Turky, Persian, and Arabia, it does not mean that they have to confirm to the Arabs identity. Little do they know that when they go to the Arabia, they are often looked upon as abid (slaves) nothing else.

    Just don’t give in yet you have a lot of chances to claim your birthright back from your enemy. Unit my black African with all your hearts and fight the enemy and they will flee and they’ll never look back again. They only threaten you with their mouth just to bring fear in your hearts. It is said, he who talks too much will not be heard, but he who speak only a few word his message will reach the hearts. And it is true you will indeed make your message be heard once you all come together from the south, east, north, center and west, and unit under one leader to face your enemy. You brother from the Beja, Fur, south Sudan, Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile, and you in the center can make a change and a lasting change for your children childrens to come. You just can’t loose your home to your enemy to sleeps on your bed, while you sleep under the tree. Send them to go back to Turky, Persian, and Arabia if they want to leave since that’s where they belong not in Sudan or Africa. They have lied to you about their religion, language, names, and friendship, but these were all based on lie and deceit.

    Long live the Beja
    Long live the Fur
    Long live the Nuba
    Long live south Sudan
    Long live Southern Kordofan
    Long live Blue Nile
    Long live Sudan our mothers land

    repondre message

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