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September-October 2011

Vol. 35, No. 5

Sudan: On brink of war again

Thus says the Lord: In Ramah is heard the sound of moaning, of bitter weeping! Rachel mourns her children; she refuses to be consoled because her children are no more. (Jeremiah 31:15).

In recent weeks, when South Sudan was beginning its journey as a new member of the family of nations, the cries from the also-new Republic of Sudan to the north intensified. In mid July, Bishop Macram Max Gassis, Catholic Bishop of El Obeid Diocese (Kordofan, Darfur and Abyei) wrote: "The international community should not close its eyes and repeat the words of Cain after having killed his brother Abel: 'Am I the custodian of my brother?' The more the international community shies away from tackling the issue of the Nuba, the more the situation will become a tragedy and many are already terming it ethnic cleansing."

In August, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report on egregious violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Southern Kordofan, particularly in and around Kadugli, where the population is predominantly Nuba. The violations listed include extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and illegal detention, enforced disappearances, attacks against civilians, looting of civilian homes and destruction of property. A more recent threat to shoot down a medical helicopter is tragically illustrative of the situation.

While reports of horrific abuse of the Nuba people multiply, concerns are growing about what Eric Reeves calls "a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions" that "will occur sooner rather than later without an effective international response." Already the violence is spreading.

In July, President Omar al-Bashir overturned an agreement signed by Nafi'e Ali Nafi'e and representatives of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) that addressed some of the issues precipitating the crisis in South Kordofan and committed both parties to seek a cessation of hostilities. Since then, the military campaigns in South Kordofan and, more recently, Blue Nile have continued.

Roots of the north's persistent belligerence include an imminent economic disaster and a take-over by the military – according to Eric Reeves, a "creeping coup."

North Sudan is facing economic disaster that includes an enormous external debt of $38 billion and a huge loss of oil revenue to South Sudan and is characterized by rising inflation, dwindling foreign exchange reserves, sluggish international trade and protests over reduced sugar and oil subsidies.

Creditors, including the U.S., promised Khartoum debt relief if it fulfilled its obligations under the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA), but Khartoum has failed to do so. "Without debt relief," Reeves continues, "economic problems that are already deeply threatening become insoluble. Some in the regime surely understand this, and so the decision to adopt the current militaristic and threatening posture towards South Sudan – just weeks after independence – represents a triumph of the worst impulses within the regime: nationalism, Islamism, embarrassment over 'losing the south,' contempt for the international community, and a belief that more of the southern oilfields can be brought by force into the north…"

Julie Flint quotes a "source" close to al-Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP) calling this 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. The army was the first to accept that Sudan would be partitioned. But they also felt it as a humiliation, primarily because they were withdrawing from territory in which they had not been defeated. They were ready to go along with the politicians as long as the politicians were delivering – but they had come to the conclusion they weren't. Ambushes in Abyei ... interminable talks in Doha keeping Darfur as an open wound. ... Lack of agreement on oil revenue ..." Flint claims that politics in northern Sudan is now "driven by a new dynamic … A new configuration is propelling the new fighting – hinted at by the SPLM North in a statement in which it cited 'the domination … of the military junta' over the [NCP] leadership."

Faith in action:

The international community, including the U.S. government, must acknowledge the far-reaching implications for the region of events now unfolding in the Republic of Sudan. Please contact your Congressional representatives and the White House. Let them know that you care about the Nuba people and the future of both Sudans. Urge their full and immediate attention to the ongoing crisis.

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