Khartoum’s Language On Abyei Becomes More Insistent, More Threatening

"Abyei is located in north Sudan and will remain in north Sudan”: NIF/NCP President Omar al-Bashir (April 26, 2011)

By Eric Reeves


May 2, 2011 (SSNA) — For almost a year the NIF/NCP regime in Khartoum has been steadily backing away from its formal commitments to resolve the final status of Abyei. With President Omar al-Bashir’s bald assertion that "Abyei is located in north Sudan and will remain in north Sudan" (Reuters, April 26, 2011), the NIF/NCP has now fully disavowed its commitment to accept as “final and binding” the Abyei ruling of the Permanent Court of Justice in The Hague (July 2009), and has made a mockery of its commitment to the Abyei Protocol (2004) of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)(2005). Two days later al-Bashir declared that “If they [the Government of South Sudan] put Abyei in the constitution of the new state of south Sudan, we will not recognize the new state.” He was echoed by al-Dierdiri Mohamed Ahmed, the NIF/NCP official with primary responsibility for the Abyei file. In fact, Abyei is referred to in the new Southern constitution as part of the South, which it would surely be if Khartoum felt obliged to honor its formal agreements. Presently there are no points of contact or accepted terms of reference in the views of Abyei within the ruling bodies in Khartoum and Juba, and this makes the potential for renewed conflict extremely high.

The claims by the NIF/NCP concerning Abyei are so untenable—on so many counts—and so clearly violate the terms of the CPA, that the regime has felt the need to effectively take military control of the region, and to use this military control as a source of negotiating leverage—not only in final determination of Abyei’s status, but in other outstanding North/South issues. This de facto military control already exists (see below), and so long as it does will make of Abyei the most dangerous flash-point for renewed North/South war. Indeed, war has very recently been threatened by Khartoum’s ambassador to the UN: “Sudan’s Ambassador to the UN, Dafallah Al Haj Ali Osman warned of the outbreak of war in the Abyei area—disputed between the north and south—in the case of taking any unilateral move by the South [on Abyei]” (Sudan Vision [Khartoum], May 1, 2011). Of course it is the Khartoum regime and its Sudan Armed Forces that have acted “unilaterally,” but the point being made here is that the South should not seek to match the regime’s military control of Abyei.

There is no diplomatic progress being recorded anywhere. This follows in large part from the disastrous decision last October by U.S. special envoy Scott Gration, acceding to Khartoum’s demand that there be yet further compromise on Abyei—beyond that stipulated by the Permanent Court of Arbitration and the Abyei Protocol of the CPA (for a superb account of this diplomatic disaster in historical perspective, see “The Road Back from Abyei,” by distinguished historian of Sudan Douglas Johnson; Sensing that the U.S. was more interested in anything that could be labeled a “compromise” than in a just resolution of the Abyei dispute, Khartoum became intransigent and has remained so.

[ For my previous assessments of the Abyei crisis, see analyses from: March 23, 2011, March 9, 2011, March 7, 2011, January 14, 2011, November 26, 2010 ]


Gration’s failure has been mirrored in that of former South African president Thabo Mbeki, chair of the “African High-Level Implementation Panel.” In fact, “implementation” in this title originally referred to implementation of the terms defining a so-called Darfur “road map”—a map Mbeki claims to have drawn up during his initial stint in Sudan as mediator for Darfur. But there was no “road map,” simply a garrulous, tendentious, and uninspired rehash of what had long been established by previous human rights reporting. None of his report’s proposals dealt meaningfully with the critical issues of security and justice in the region. Instead, Mbeki chose to engage in nasty in-fighting with the UN/African Union Joint Mediator for Darfur (Djbril Bassolé) and the UN/African Union Joint Representative to UNAMID (Ibrahim Gambari). Reports from Doha (Qatar) on Mbeki have made it clear he was unsuccessful in wresting control of the process from his rivals and that has no standing with the rebel groups, which see him as much too close to Khartoum.

Having failed badly on Darfur, Mbeki shamelessly moved on to North/South issues, including Abyei, where he quickly lost the confidence of the Dinka Ngok and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) by insisting, with Gration, that the South compromise yet further on Abyei, redrawing the boundaries yet again. Revealingly, his serial failures as a diplomat in Sudan have not translated into any loss of support from the African Union, which remains as useless as ever in pressuring Khartoum.

Given the absence of meaningful support from the African Union and the Arab League, there will be no progress in negotiations unless this massive bad faith on Khartoum’s part is recognized, and other international actors involved in negotiations compel a military stand-down in Abyei and bordering South Kordofan. The U.S. in particular needs to signal urgently that the regime’s actions and declarations stand as egregious violations of the CPA, and that none of the inducements so carelessly and promiscuously proffered by former envoy Gration will come to fruition unless Khartoum withdraws its forces presently positioned within, and within striking distance of, Abyei; Khartoum must also be required to allow UNMIS access to all of Abyei and the relevant regions of South Kordofan, and to cease its support for renegade forces in South Sudan, including former SPLA members Generals George Athor and Peter Gadet.

The language should be tough and explicit: there will be no further lifting of any economic sanctions against Khartoum until these benchmarks are met. The April 28 decision by the U.S. Treasury to lift sanctions on the Bank of Khartoum—Sudan’s largest—was a terrible error in judgment, given present circumstances. Khartoum must be told that removal from the State Department list of terrorism-sponsoring nations—an extremely unwise choice as an issue to “negotiate”—will not occur until there is full CPA implementation, including respect for the terms of the Abyei Protocol and the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling. Beyond this the U.S. should make clear that there will be no progress on debt relief for Khartoum until these terms are met: the U.S. certainly has the power within the World Bank and IMF to ensure that all progress is frozen pending full implementation of the CPA; the Obama administration should make sure Khartoum understands U.S. determination on this score.

Norway, Great Britain, other EU countries, Canada, Japan, and Latin American countries should join the U.S. in making unambiguously clear the consequences of continued diplomatic intransigence. The international community should also make clear that while CPA implementation is currently first and foremost in negotiations, given the present time-frame for Southern independence, Darfur will not be abandoned. Further, the international community should make clear that the upcoming elections in South Kordofan (May 2) will stand as a measure of the regime’s commitment to the CPA provisions for “popular consultations” in South Kordofan (including the Nuba Mountains) and Blue Nile.

For it now appears highly likely that Khartoum’s candidate for governor of South Kordofan, Ahmed Haroun, will score a tainted victory over the popular and well-known Abdel Aziz al-Hilu (who, unlike Haroun, is from South Kordofan). As was the case in the April 2010 national “elections,” the result will be engineered by means of electoral manipulation and fraud. Registration is already extremely low, despite a massive increase in the population measured by the most recent census. Haroun has been indicted by the international criminal court for multiple crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur; he also has a previous history of leading ethnic warfare in South Kordofan on Khartoum’s part.

We have a great deal of evidence that Haroun is again organizing militia groups in South Kordofan, including the Nuba Mountains, in ways that ensure ethnic conflict, perhaps of an extremely destructive nature (see Nuba section below). On April 13 Abdel Aziz al-Hilu’s home villages of el-Said was burned to the ground by Arab militiamen; 29 people were killed and there can be little doubt that Haroun had a hand in the atrocity. The fate of any “popular consultations” exercise overseen by a Haroun administration in South Kordofan is a grimly foregone conclusion.

The perverse decision by the Obama administration to “de-emphasize” and “de-couple” Darfur—still described by the administration as the site of “genocide”—must be reversed. Princeton Lyman, the new U.S. special envoy has been very careful in the language he has chosen since his appointment; we must hope that his previous experience in South Africa during the transition from apartheid gives him the requisite experience in negotiating the final stages of CPA implementation. But this is far from demonstrated, and the hour is late.

To demonstrate its seriousness about Darfur, the Obama administration must make clear to Khartoum that debt relief and an end to sanctions will come only when CPA implementation is complete and when full and sustained humanitarian access is credibly guaranteed in Darfur, along with freedom of movement for UNAMID in both its protective and investigative roles. Various senior NIF/NCP officials, including Foreign Minister Ali Karti on several occasions, have made claims to the effect that “we have done our part by accepting the results of the CPA, and Darfur is not part of the deal.” Khartoum has gone so far as to demand a “total and unconditional” end to all sanctions (,38749). But this version of the quid pro quo negotiated by Gration must be rebuked. And again, it must be made clear to Khartoum that the regime has not in fact abided by the terms of the CPA, Abyei being the most obvious example of reneging.

The UN should take decisive action to sanction Khartoum, given its consistent and egregious violations of the total ban on offensive military flights over Darfur (per the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1591, March 2005). Continuing failure to act, despite repeated reports of such offensive military flights by the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur, signals to Khartoum that the UN has no intention of seriously confronting the regime over attacks that are killing untold numbers of civilians and displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians. Most recently Radio Dabanga reported on (April 29, 2011):

“Twenty-seven people were killed, including 18 women and 9 children, when an Antonov plane dropped several bombs on the areas of Koloberi and Gurlengbang in the southern part of the Jebel Marra region. Six women were also injured in the air attack. A witness told Radio Dabanga that the airstrikes led to the burning of 27 houses and also the death of sheep and cattle. He stated that the bombed areas had been free of any rebel presence.”

These reports have been continuous for months, and indeed during the entire course of Khartoum’s genocidal counter-insurgency war in the region.

The international refusal to take seriously the clear and present threats to Darfur and the CPA are emboldening Khartoum and make the outbreak or expansion of war more likely. Sudan’s multiple crises demand more than unctuous declarations of concern; the world community needs to exert concerted, unrelenting pressure on the Khartoum regime. The alternative is catastrophe on a massive scale.


Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e, increasingly ascendant within Khartoum’s security cabal, provided a clear picture of the regime’s intransigence earlier this month when he declared “there will be no compromise over Abyei” (like al-Bashir’s, his remarks were made in South Kordofan) (Sudan Tribune, April 4, 2011). This is as much a political appeal to the Misseriya Arabs to vote for the regime’s war-criminal candidate Haroun as it is a statement of military reality: for if the military facts on the ground do not change, Khartoum will indeed see no reason to compromise and will retain indefinite control of at least northern Abyei, and certainly the Diffra oil site, the only one that remains in Abyei after the July 2009 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The much more productive Bamboo and Heglig sites were awarded by the Court to South Kordofan, a disappointing decision for the SPLM, given the findings of the Abyei Boundaries Commission (July 2005)—but one they fully accepted nonetheless.

The problems embodied in the Abyei crisis will not simply disappear, nor will tensions diminish without a negotiated resolution. Beyond the immediate military threat Khartoum has created, for example, we must look to next year’s Misseriya cattle migration in January; it will very likely be the occasion for extremely serious violence as the SAF and PDF provide “escorts” for migrating Misseriya. Presently, there are no Dinka Ngok settlements north of Abyei town, which lies far to the south within Abyei. A number of villages north of Abyei have been razed or partially burned by Misseriya militia, including Todac, Tajalei, Maker Abior, Wungok, Dungop, and Noong. More than 150 civilians have been killed, and according to Doctors Without Borders/Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) and others, tens of thousands have fled south from Abyei town and surrounding villages.

The evidence strongly suggests that the Misseriya had substantial help from the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). Not only did the Misseriya attack with substantial heavy weaponry (12.7 mm machine guns, 60 mm mortars, RPGs, as well as AK-47s), but there are also reports of direct involvement by the SAF. Small Arms Survey (SAS), in its April 2011 update on Abyei (April 27, 2011), reports:

“Sources in the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) confirm that helicopters were used to ferry out the wounded following the 2 March attack on Maker, and civilian witnesses reported seeing militia fighters in SAF uniforms, as well as the uniform of the Central Reserve Police, the combat-trained force that in recent years has been massively expanded in Kordofan [north of Abyei]. Witnesses also report SAF vehicles, disguised with mud, being used in the attack.” (page 4)

Moreover, as SAS rightly points out, there is a “strong similarity between the wave of attacks [on the Ngok Dinka] in February-March and militia attacks during the second civil war, which depopulated the northern regions [of Abyei] and made possible the construction of oil installations” (page 4).

Other reports from the SAS, from the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP), and from officials and journalists on the ground in the Abyei region make clear how complete Khartoum’s effective military seizure of Abyei has become. Not only has it supported Popular Defense Force (PDF) militias in the region, along with irregular militias from the Misseriya Arab population, it has introduced significant armor, artillery, advanced helicopter gunships, and other weaponry in places where they may strike quickly in the event of military confrontation. The situation is fluid, and there are frequent changes in location of troops and equipment, militia strength, levels of camouflage, as well as an accelerating rotation northward of Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) formerly part of the Joint Integrated Units (JIU); these include soldiers and tanks that have taken up position near Heglig, just to the east of Abyei.

Some of the key findings from the past month and more:

[1] A series of reports from the Satellite Sentinel Project ( going back to January 2011 establish unequivocally through satellite imagery a number of significant offensive military developments by the SAF, PDF, and irregular Misseriya militia in the Abyei region, including newly fortified locations inside Abyei at Diffra, Bongo, and Goli. Encampments at both Diffra (the only oil production site in Abyei) and Bongo appear capable of housing at least a company and possibly a battalion (the Bongo encampment had grown some 25 percent between SSP’s reports of March 10 and March 22, 2011). The new compound at Goli is consistent with a military outpost of company size. As SSP points out, “the presence of Northern-aligned forces within 25-75 kilometers of Abyei town” is a measure of how militarily volatile a situation Khartoum has created. These new sites are even closer to the razed Dinka Ngok villages of Maker Abior, Todach, and Tajalei (the military camp at Bongo is only 15 kilometers from Maker Abior).

[ A usefully detailed map of Abyei, northern South Sudan, and South Kordofan excluding the Nuba Mountains can be found at: ]

Heavy armor and HETs (heavy equipment transport vehicles) were sighted at the Nyama encampment, some 95 kilometers north of Abyei town on March 9. The camp has artillery as well as a mix of light vehicles and heavy trucks

The most recent offensive weapons systems introduced into the region include at least 9 main battle tanks (consistent with T-55s) and two Mi-24 helicopter gunships, based at Muglad, South Kordofan (noted by SSP in its April 7, 2011 report). Altogether Khartoum has over the past two months deployed at least 13 main battle tanks to within 200 kilometers of Abyei. SSP has satellite imagery of four main battle tanks (likely T-55s) in Kharassana, yet another SAF military outpost very close to Abyei; Kharassana lies on the road from Kadugli, South Kordofan to Abyei town. A number of other tanks were sighted, but quickly moved to other (undetermined) locations.

Militarily significant infrastructure development in South Kordofan includes rapid expansion and development of roads leading to Abyei, and securing a new underground fuel depot at the air base in Muglad; this is the air base where Mi-24 helicopter gunships have been identified by satellite. There is also evidence of an improvement to SAF fortification near Heglig, south of Kharassana and even closer to Abyei town.

Violence by Khartoum-aligned forces has already killed more than 150 Abyei civilians, and forced tens of thousands to flee southward from Abyei town and nearby villages. There can be little doubt that this forced flight is part of a larger plan: the SAF and its militia allies (including the PDF) have secured positions from which they could sweep down unopposed to Abyei town and secure military control, if the Sudan People’s Liberation Army were to attempt to put comparable forces in place. In fact, it appears that the SPLA has withdrawn significant forces from positions south of Abyei, relying on the international community and the UN peacekeeping mission for the region (UNMIS) to monitor increasingly aggressive offensive military deployments. It has not, however, left the people of southern Abyei entirely unprotected, and large-scale conflict is one violent confrontation away. Adding to the threat of miscalculation, the SPLA learns what it does only through publicly available satellite imagery and its own human intelligence in Abyei and South Kordofan. As the Small Arms Survey report on the current situation notes, 40 percent of South Kordofan has been denied UNMIS access.

In the month that remains before the end of the dry season, and the beginning of a rainy season that makes much of Abyei too muddy to be negotiated by vehicles, the pressure grows on both sides: Khartoum to take advantage of its military superiority and forward positioning of a range of sophisticated weaponry; the international community to make clear that the costs to the regime for militarily seizing Abyei will be intolerable.

[2] The Small Arms Survey (SAS) (Geneva) has made a series of highly informed reports on the military situation in Abyei and South Kordofan, and they comport extremely well with the findings of SSP. Most recently Small Arms Survey (SAS) finds that reliable sources report substantial weapons supplies have been sent to South Kordofan, including “1,000 AK-47s, 20 Goryunov machine guns, 20 general-purpose PKM machine guns, and 20 Begtyaryov machine guns concealed in lorries carrying onions transited through the Abu Jebeha area to a militia led by Lam Akol in October 2010. The sources said Arabs from South Kordofan had been recruited to serve in the militia and were receiving training in White Nile State.”

The fact that Lam Akol is reported to be the recipient of these weapons should be highlighted: though Akol denies any involvement in the activities of renegade forces in the South, few believe him, especially after his defection to Khartoum in 1991 and his subsequent coziness with the regime during his subservient tenure as Foreign Minister (2005-2007). However much Khartoum may deny that it is supporting the fighting presently taking such a steep toll in the South, reports such as this make clear that Lam for one is succeeding only very modestly in concealing the blood on his hands.

SAS also reports the findings of a senior SPLA representative on the Joint Defense Board, which has a mandate to survey the North/South border forces; he claims that “‘Khartoum is preparing for war all the way along the border’ and has deployed tanks, 40 barrel Katyushka rocket launchers, B-10 anti-tank recoilless rifles, and 120mm mortars. The reported build-up is said to have begun in the final months of 2010.”

Other findings of the SAS are just as alarming, and reveal the lengths to which Khartoum is going to expand its military forces without necessarily doing so in the form of SAF troops and equipment. The Central Reserve Police are an especially good example:

“The Central Reserve Police (CRP), a gendarmerie under the Interior Ministry originally set up for riot control, has expanded hugely in South Kordofan since the CPA was signed, increasing from a few dozen men in Kadugli armed only with pistols and AK-47s to more than 7,000 in 2009, according to a government document dated 21 February 2009. (In 2007 SPLA officers estimated the force’s size at 2,000 men, an apparent underestimate.) SPLA monitors assigned to UNMIS say the CRP receives military training and weapons in SAF barracks. They say the weapons include 82 mm mortars, RPGs, 12.7 mm heavy machine guns, light machine guns, Fagot (also known as Spigot and AT-4) anti-tank guided missiles, and artillery up to and including 120mm. Weapons including 120 mm mortars and 105 mm anti-tank guns can reportedly be obtained from SAF. SPLA officers say key locations are Abbassiya and Khor Dilib.”

A similar increase in the lethality of weapons in the arsenal of the Sudan Police Force is reported by the SAS, particularly in the Nuba Mountains, which—after Abyei—is the most likely flashpoint for renewed war (see below):

“Before the CPA was signed, the police force in the Nuba Mountains region was armed only with AK-47 assault rifles. Since the CPA, Khartoum’s police have acquired a range of weapons, including grenades, 60 mm and 120 mm mortars, and heavy machine guns. Documents issued by the Joint Chiefs of Staff on 3 February 2009 authorized the issue of:

5,000 12.7 mm heavy machine guns and 100,000 boxes of ammunition;
2,000 PKM general-purpose machine guns and 50,000 boxes of ammunition;
500 RPGs and 30,000 boxes of shells;
40,000 AK-47 assault rifles and 100,000 boxes of ammunition;
2,000 G3 automatic rifles and 50,000 boxes of ammunition;
1,000 82 mm mortars and 20,000 boxes of shells;
1,000 60 mm and 75 mm mortars and 20,000 boxes of shells.”
This is not a police force but a heavily armed military force. And there is yet a greater force that even the SAS cannot account for with precision, the Popular Defense Force (PDF):

“The size and strength of the PDF in South Kordofan are impossible to ascertain, with much confusion between the paramilitary PDF force formed as a legal entity by decree in November 1989 and pastoralists armed as irregular militias. Force strength figures ranging from 27,000 to 47,000 were cited at a state security meeting in South Kordofan in 2009.”

“Critically, the PDF, while ethnically mixed during the war years, is today almost exclusively Arab. PDF informants say that the force has ‘changed tactics’ in the Nuba region, with fighters melting into their villages wearing civilian clothes. SPLA officers in the Dilling area say the militia is ‘changing policy’ there and distributing weapons to Hawazma Arabs inside Dilling town, apparently in anticipation of a fight for control of urban centres if the Nuba Mountains ceasefire agreed in 2002 collapses.”

What is clear from this evidence, considered in aggregate, is that Khartoum has every intention of retaining the military control of Abyei it already exerts. The augmentation of offensive military capabilities throughout South Kordofan continues at a rapid pace, and the language from the regime has become correspondingly unyielding and belligerent.


What is also clear in all of these accounts is that the massive military build-up in South Kordofan has implications not only for Abyei, but the South’s Warrab, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Unity, and Upper Nile States; further, South Kordofan also lies only about 40 kilometers from northern Jonglei State. Not coincidentally, Unity, Upper Nile, and Jonglei have been the sites of the most brutal fighting by renegade forces that in a number cases are clearly supported by Khartoum.

Perhaps the most significant of these renegade forces to date is that of General George Athor, who abandoned the SPLM after his unsuccessful run as an independent candidate for governor of Jonglei (April 2010). Violence instigated by Athor and his men has been extensive, and immensely destructive of civilian lives and livelihoods; more than 1,000 civilians have been killed so far this year (Reuters, April 29, 2011 ).

One of the most striking pieces of evidence that Khartoum is supporting Athor and others in the South appears in a detailed account by Manyank Bubna (of the Enough Project) from the ground in South Sudan ( ). His is in an exceedingly well-informed piece on Southern militia movements (and in this instance his account comports precisely with that of a well-placed U.S. government official):

“Many allege that Khartoum is using oil companies based in the South to aid in the delivery of supplies, knowing that these companies remain out of bounds for southerners. Most of the employees within the oil companies are northerners, and despite a recent government security arrangement, southern security officers have little access to the oil fields. ‘We don’t know exactly what is happening inside the oil companies’ areas,’ said one Upper Nile official. ‘There could be lots of weapons inside, but we don’t have a good idea.’ A recent incident in Upper Nile illustrates this best.”

“In September 2010, a Sudanese helicopter carrying arms and supplies landed to refuel in Paloich, Upper Nile, on one of PetroDar’s airstrips. The pilot and the captain claimed that they were headed to Pagak, another district. The helicopter was allowed to refuel and take off. In the interim, SPLA officers in Paloich received intelligence from their counterparts in Khartoum that the helicopter was delivering supplies to Athor’s forces. Phone calls made to relevant airport authorities revealed that the helicopter in fact never landed in Pagak, but rather rerouted to Athor’s hideout. When the helicopter returned to PetroDar’s air base, officers found seven of Athor’s men inside, who were being transported to Khartoum. They tried to escape upon being recognized, but were immediately apprehended. The crew, which was comprised of a handful of internationals, was also detained. The foreigners were later released, but Athor’s men continue to remain under arrest in Juba.”

There are doubtless many such expeditions on Khartoum’s part; it is certainly no accident that most of the renegade militia leaders live or have lived in Khartoum. This includes another regime-backed renegade, SAF Brigadier General Bapiny Monituel, “who was rumored to be supplying assistance to the various insurgencies in Unity [State] in the post-April 2010 elections period, declaring that he was joining forces with George [Athor’s] SSDM” (SAS profile of George Athor, April 2011). Bapiny sent 1,000 of his men into Mayom County in Unity State in March 2011, ostensibly to be integrated within the SPLA. It is highly unlikely that this was anything but a cover for his real intention, which he now declares openly: “to launch an attack on Bentiu [the epicenter of oil development in South Sudan], and that his men will remain loyal to George [Athor’s] new umbrella movement.” Khartoum’s support for Southern renegades is clear and substantial, and the fact of residence in Khartoum by these militia fighters is almost certainly an indication of their role.

This includes Peter Gadet, the notorious commander who repeatedly switched sides in the North/South war, and most recently defected yet again to Khartoum. Gadet has a justifiably fearsome reputation as a military leader, and his recent actions in Upper Nile suggest that he retains his prowess. Moreover, operating in Mayom County in Unity State, he is very close to both Abyei and South Kordofan. Gatuak Tut, an administrative officer in Unity, recently reported, “there was a fighting yesterday in Mankien. It was an attack jointly launched by the Popular Defence Forces in collaboration with armed elements loyal to Peter Gadet” (emphasis added) (,38662 ). The PDF is armed and controlled by Khartoum, and is responsible for some of the worst predations against Southerners during the civil war. Moreover, there is no evidence that Gadet took SPLA weapons with him on defection, but he would not have needed to if, as seems clear, he had negotiated a deal with Khartoum for supplies.

What is notable about Gadet is just as true for other renegade commanders and militia leaders: they have no program for reform of the Government of South Sudan, merely very general and expedient complaints about poor leadership, ethnic bias, and corruption (much of the latter is sadly warranted); Gadet and others have no meaningful political agenda, they don’t even have grievances that rise above the personal or vaguely ethnic. In the words of former spokesman Dok James Puok, who just defected back to the SPLA from George Athor’s group, “I have resigned because of lack of strategic planning, lack of clear vision and lack of administrative reform within the movement since it came into existence” (Sudan Tribune, April 29, 2011). These men are finally warlords, and they can be bought—and Khartoum is more than willing to pay handsomely for Southerners to kill other Southerners. This is, after all, the primary fashion in which the regime conducted war from the time it took power by military coup almost 22 years ago.

And there are other examples. SAF Major General Gabriel Tang Gatwich Chan was long a willing tool of the regime, and twice following the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement he was sent by Khartoum to the town of Malakal in Upper Nile. On both occasions (2006 and 2009), the provocation of Tang’s presence resulted in large-scale violence with great loss of life, as Khartoum knew it would. Tang had recently resumed his militia role for Khartoum, but wire reports indicate that he has been taken into SPLM custody in recent days. If so, we may expect that he will have a great deal of intelligence to provide, which in turn can be made public and go some distance in making clear just what a dangerous game Khartoum has been playing. Certainly there is much Southern blood on Tang’s hands. Recent SAS profiles of the renegade leaders provide a number of telling accounts, including this about Tang

“Considered a hardliner within the [Khartoum-aligned South Sudan Defense Forces], [Tang] was roundly condemned for his commanding role in a brutal campaign in the Shilluk Kingdom on the western bank of the White Nile in 2004. The campaign of ethnic cleansing, which took place after Lam Akol’s re-defection from the government to the SPLA in late 2003, was designed to rid the area of remaining SPLA support. Tens of thousands of civilians were displaced in a campaign of burning and looting villages and hundreds killed.”

Khartoum’s response to growing awareness of its role in sustaining violence in the South is to accuse Juba of supporting the Darfur rebels. Not only is there no evidence of this, no substantial assistance would be within the logistical capabilities of the SPLA. Nor are those logistics likely to be drawn away from Abyei, Unity, and the forward border regions—20 percent of which remains undelineated and without demarcation.

Ironically, some of the evidence of Khartoum’s support for Southern renegades comes from the regime itself. Citing recent public comments by senior NIF/NCP presidential advisor Mustafa Osman Ismail, Africa Confidential asserts that Khartoum has “effectively admitted this week that the National Congress Party arms militias in Southern Sudan.” Questioned by Southerners at Chatham House in London, Ismail responded: “If you continue to support the Darfur rebels from the South, you should expect the same.” “We will not support a single rebel in the South unless the South support rebels in the North” (April 1, 2011, Volume 52, No. 7). Since Khartoum has regularly, and for some time, accused the Government of South Sudan of providing precisely such support, it is difficult not to see this as an admission that Southern renegade elements are being supported by the North.

As Africa Confidential goes on to point out, Ismail’s argument makes no sense historically: “The problem with this claim is the NCP has armed anti-Sudan People’s Liberation movement fighters since at least 1991, when Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon and Lam Akol Ajawin broke with the SPLM and the NCP was still the National Islamic Front. Darfuris launched an organized response to government attacks only in 2001.”

Moreover, while there is an abundance of evidence supporting the SPLM claims about the NIF/NCP’s assistance to renegade forces in the South, Khartoum has produced no corresponding evidence beyond the presence of several Darfur rebels staying briefly in Juba. And yet without producing such evidence, Khartoum has engaged in extremely bellicose language. Defense Minister Abdel Rahim Hussein—surely destined to be indicted by the ICC for his role as Interior Minister during the worst years of the Darfur genocide—recently,

“threatened to take military action against South Sudan in order to stop its alleged support to rebels from the western region of Darfur. In a televised interview with the Sudanese Blue Nile satellite channel on Monday, Lt-Gen Staff Hussein said that the north was still keen on peace, adding that this was evidenced by the north’s acceptance to let the south secede. However, the veteran figure at the northern government threatened that military intervention in the south remains ‘a secondary option’ if the region’s government does not stop what he alleged was its support to Darfur rebel groups. ‘Take your hands off Darfur and expel the rebels,’ Hussein warned the south.” (Sudan Tribune, April 20, 2011; emphasis added)

Whatever internal NIF/NCP documentation of Khartoum’s direct support for military instability does or does not exist, the larger patterns of threats, actions, and supply are clear.


It is disturbing to see reports on Abyei that suggest the SAF and its allied militia forces and the SPLA are somehow equally culpable in heightening military tensions in the region. So far, new U.S. special envoy Princeton Lyman has not given evidence that he is willing to repudiate this view, so conspicuous in the policies and pronouncements of his predecessor. This not only ignores the concrete evidence and numerous reports decisively demonstrating that the aggressive military posture is Khartoum’s; but it is a view that refuses to acknowledge the SPLM’s critical need for peace in Abyei. So long as the Abyei issue remains unsettled it will be a potent source of leverage for Khartoum on a range of issues, including other North/South boundary disputes, the new dispensation for oil revenues, citizenship, and debt sharing.

Certainly as the Northern economy slips further into decline, the issue of external debt will become ever more exigent: Khartoum’s approximately $38 billion in external debt cannot be serviced, let alone repaid, without extraordinary international support. For this reason, the regime has tried two ploys: one is to foist as much of this debt off on the South as possible; the other is to accept all the “national” debt on condition that it be allowed to participate in the debt relief program for highly indebted nations. But this would reward the worst possible economic behavior.

There is simply no economic case to be made for debt relief, especially given the profligate military spending by which the NIF/NCP has maintained its grip on power (military and security expenditures continue to consume 75 – 80 percent of the annual budget, according to the economic consultancy firm UNICONS’ see ). Nor can the South be expected to bear the burden of these profligate ways: Khartoum claims the South was a beneficiary of Khartoum-funded development projects, but this is pure mendacity. All the South has seen of the borrowed money has taken the form of weapons of war directed against them.

In fact, the balance owed is primarily in the forms of penalties and arrears: the NIF/NCP inherited a worrisome but manageable level of external debt in 1989 (approximately US$13.5 billion); it was the failure to bring peace (indeed, the effort to abort the chance for peace that existed in 1989) that ensured this debt would eventually grow steeply. External debt moved from about US$13.5 in 1989 to $US16 billion in 2000; from this point on, as military and security spending became even more profligate, debt rose steeply. Anticipating oil revenues in a range of ways, Khartoum enjoyed a brief bubble of economic growth, beginning in 1999 with the first export of crude oil.

But the regime made no effort to confront the debt crisis, and an oil-fueled development bubble was inherently unsustainable, particularly once Southern self-determination became inevitable (at least 75 percent of Sudan’s oil reserves are in the South). Current debt will certainly rise above $38 million in the near term, for the Northern economy is in trouble on many fronts: it has experienced a sharp increase in inflation (now over 15 percent), dramatically reduced foreign exchange reserves, and a de facto devaluation of the Sudanese pound. It will lose significant income with Southern independence. Agricultural lands are being leased or sold to Arab and Asian interests, benefitting Khartoum’s cronies but stifling democratic agricultural development; future food security is also endangered by these irresponsible policies. Economic unrest is growing in Northern Sudan, but so far the regime has cracked down brutally on all protests; it will take extraordinary physical and political courage to end the NIF/NCP tyranny.

Khartoum is well aware of the immense drag created by this external debt burden, and this explains much of its negotiating strategy: bluntly, the regime expects to be bailed out by creating instability and the threat of violence in Abyei, South Sudan, South Kordofan, and Darfur. Confronting the external debt crisis and other challenges, Khartoum’s strategy is clearly to extract as much as it can from Juba, counting on the same accommodating policies represented by former envoy Gration. This is where Princeton Lyman either sharply changes course, or he will become an enabler of General Gration’s misguided attitude toward Khartoum—a regime that the general was convinced could be dealt with on the basis of “smiley faces, gold stars, and cookies.”


On April 13 the town of al-Faid in the Nuba Mountains was torched, with some 300 homes destroyed by fires set by Khartoum-aligned Arab militias. Al-Faid is a long way from the North/South border, in the northern part of the Nuba Mountains. It is also the hometown of the SPLM candidate for governor of South Kordofan, Abdel Aziz el-Hilu. Satellite photography from SSP makes clear that the fires were intentionally set, and it would make no sense whatsoever for al-Hilu to set fire to his hometown. Rather, this was meant to send a message that the elections scheduled for May 2 have been pre-determined: Khartoum’s candidate—Ahmed Haroun, indicted by he International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity—will win easily through fraud, intimidation, and electoral manipulation. This in turn ensures that Haroun will lead South Kordofan’s assessment of the process of “popular consultations” for the region—leadership that will make a travesty of this already excessively vague process. The people of the Nuba may refuse to accept this outcome, and one alternative is war.

For its part, Khartoum insists that South Kordofan remain fully under its control; the nature of that control is reflected in the provisions of the new constitution currently being drafted by the NIF/NCP. President al-Bashir’s has for months insisted that this new constitution will reflect NIF/NCP ideology:

“‘If south Sudan secedes, we will change the constitution, and at that time there will be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity … shari’a and Islam will be the main source for the constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language,” [al-Bashir said.” (The Guardian, January 8, 2011; )

And yet the Nuba Mountains and this part of South Kordofan are as ethnically, religiously, and linguistically diverse as any region in Sudan. Further, Southerners who remain in the North, especially in the Khartoum area, are growing increasingly fearful as independence approaches, as their lives will be governed entirely on the basis of a constitution crafted by men who feel deep racial and cultural antagonism, even hatred for Southerners.

The Nuba Mountains are also the site of dramatic increases in Khartoum’s military presence and that of its militia allies. And since the SPLA has thousands of troops from and loyal to the Nuba, these military developments have created another flash-point for renewed war. If fighting breaks out, these well-armed SPLA troops will return to their homeland. Many tens of thousands of Nuba were killed in the second civil war. In the early 1990s “army and paramilitary Popular Defense Forces (PDF) killed 60,000-70,000 in just seven months. Massive military offensive were dignified in the name of jihad. Humanitarian access was denied. Community leaders, educated people, and intellectuals were detained and killed ‘to ensure that the Nuba were so primitive that they couldn’t speak for themselves’” (source immediately below). No one in the Nuba has forgotten these terrible years.

A superbly researched report was issued in January by Pax Christi (“The Nuba Mountains: Central to Sudan’s Stability,” ). Authored by Julie Flint, and based on recent extensive interviews in the Nuba, it provides not only an excellent history of the Nuba, particularly in the period following the signing of the CPA in January 2005 (including the fate of “popular consultations”), but a frightening picture of recent military developments engineered by Khartoum. Most ominously Flint reports:

“The failure to implement the Nuba Mountains protocol has deepened feelings of anger, especially in the Nuba SPLA and among youth who feel betrayed by the promises of support made in the aftermath of the CPA. A build-up of government forces in the mountain region in the countdown to the referendum, following the distribution of thousands of weapons to Arab tribes there in 2009, has led many to believe that new fighting is only a matter of time.” (page 7)

“With minimal progress on core grievances, but significant unexplained movements of SAF tanks and troops in recent months and an increase in the number of civilians carrying guns, even in Kadugli, there is a growing conviction that the Nuba will remain marginalized—and physically at risk—without further armed struggle.” (page 13)

What is the nature and leadership of this build-up by Khartoum’s SAF and allied militia groups? Although some see the limited cooperation between Ahmed Haroun and Abdel Aziz al-Hilu as potentially hopeful, most Nuba see it as “smoke and mirrors.” Supporting this conviction are the records of several men who have recently taken office in Kadugli (capital of South Kordofan):

“The most disturbing of these, in the eyes of the Nuba, is Maj. Gen. Ahmad Khamis, head of Military Intelligence in Kadugli during the war—consistently named as being responsible for detentions, torture and executions—and now commanding the 14th infantry division in Kadugli. His return to Southern Kordofan has strengthened suspicions that Khartoum is planning to use force to pre-empt any move by the Nuba to assert themselves after the South’s referendum.” (page 13)

Another worrisome appointment, a man perversely charged with organizing the Reconciliation and Peaceful Co-existence Mechanism (RPCM) set up in June 2009, is headed by:

“NCP veteran, Osman Gadim, known to have connections with the security services and government-supported militias in Southern Kordofan. In November 2008, Gadim was identified in documents leaked from the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Khartoum as the ‘receiving officer’ for weapons sent to Hawazma [Arabs] in Southern Kordofan. An NCP official speaking privately admitted the documents … were genuine…. The arms sent to Gadim included AK-47s, 7.62 mm machine guns, and mortars.” (page 14)

Yet another NIF/NCP stalwart has been appointed to a second “reconciliation” body (the “Council of Wise Persons”), which now has as its secretary general,

“another former PDF leader—Adam al Faki, famed for having participated in the Tullushi offensive of 1992, the biggest of the entire war. ‘Forces surrounded the mountain. They were fighting the SPLA, but they would shoot anyone who was in front of them… The whole of Tullushi was burned, not a single village escaped.’”

The deeply ominous pattern in these appointments, beginning with Haroun, is unmistakable.

And what of actual military hardware and manpower in South Kordofan? UNMIS, though unable to access 40 percent of South Kordofan because of Khartoum’s restrictions, “has noted increased movement of tanks, vehicles and troops in recent months—especially toward the 1956 [border-line]—but is uncertain of the extent and final destination.” The SPLM construes the CPA as stipulating that the presidency of the Government of National Unity “must agree how many SAF forces were in South Kordofan before the war (1983-85) and issue a decree downsizing them to that level” (one battalion and several companies, according to the SPLM). The NIF/NCP has dismissed GOSS President Salva Kiir from the GNU presidency in peremptory fashion and declared that “it can deploy forces all over Southern Kordofan ‘as it deems fit.’” (page 15)

As a result of the NIF/NCP interpretation of the CPA by the NIF/NCP, there has clearly been a massive buildup in the southern part of South Kordofan:

“Today senior SPLA officers in Southern Kordofan claim that SAF is ‘preparing for war all the way along the border.’ They claim SAF divisions recast as brigades in 2009 remain at division strength; four separate brigades that arrived in 2008-09 constitute another, unacknowledged division; and 40-barrel Katyusha rocket launchers, B-10 anti-tank guns and 120 mm mortars have been moved to the border area. Deputy governor al-Hilu says that despite agreement that SAF would move into 15 assembly points, it now has 55,000 troops in more than 100 garrisons—‘more than needed to control Southern Kordofan; more even than at the height of the jihad.’”

“Local authorities have reported that SAF is reactivating old garrisons inside the mountains, billeting troops in schools, and introducing light artillery including 105 mm howitzers in areas that previously were artillery-free.” (pages 15-16)

And the military build-up continues:

“The Central Reserve Police (CRP), a military force in all but name, has also been beefed up—from a few dozen men to more than 7,000, by its own count….”

“Among irregular forces, the PDF, a main vehicle of the jihad in the Nuba region and even today described as a force of mujahedeen or holy warriors, continues to have thousands of men under arms in contravention of the CPA, which required that they be incorporated into SAF or disbanded.” (page 16) (“Ethnically mixed during the war years, the PDF is today almost exclusively Arab.” Footnote 41, page 25)

[See above (“Military Seizure of Abyei” for SAS estimates of arms in possession of both the Central Reserve Police and Sudan Police Force, both clear military contingents.]

Khartoum’s army and security services are also arming and supporting a number of Nuba militias as a means of sowing further division. All this is occurring without action or investigation by the Joint Integrated Units (nominally comprising SAF and SPLA forces), despite their mandate to work together to secure the CPA. And we are receiving no meaningful intelligence from the feckless UNMIS in South Kordofan. This dangerous lack of understanding and knowledge inevitably encourages Khartoum in its belief that can engage in a reprise of the 1990s jihad:

“‘The North will get away with horrors in Nuba again,’ a western military observer warned in Tchalian’s time [Karen Tchalian was first UNMIS head of security in Kadugli]. ‘The UN would probably be able to do little. But right now it knows too little.’” (page 20)

Part of this ignorance is deliberate: Tchalian was widely perceived to be strongly biased toward the NIF/NCP, and certainly embodied the worst of what has been a largely failed UN peacekeeping mission:

“UNMIS officers in the former SPLM areas complained of a lack of support and interest [on the part of Tchalian], as well as resources, and said their reports of unauthorized SAF troop movements and arms deliveries to Arab militias were routinely ignored. They said the rules under which they were operating, including giving SAF a week’s notice of inspection visits, made it possible for weapons to be hidden and troops to be moved, and limited their ability to predict and prevent.” (page 20) (Tchalian is now chief of staff in the Darfur peacekeeping force UNAMID)

Flint’s conclusions seem inescapable: “The root causes of the war in Southern Kordofan have not been addressed in the last six years…. Nuba fear that a breakdown in security after the [January 2011] referendum will lead to a resurgence of government militias, with the promise of land as the prize, as it has been in Darfur.”

“The relative peace established by the Haroun – al-Hilu partnership is built on sand, too little and too late to create genuine confidence between communities and turn the 2002 ceasefire into a sustainable peace before time runs out on the CPA. Amid re-arming and failed disarming, it is hard to see how the partnership can survive a contest for the governorship in April’s [now May] state elections.” (page 23)

These words were written several months ago, but they have proved all too prescient. The burning of al-Hilu’s home village of el-Faid by Arab militia forces is only the most conspicuous evidence amidst a terrifying abundance.


If not quite in the form of a broad national strategy, various recent military and political actions by Khartoum’s National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime certainly bespeak a broader vision of how the regime intends to confront remaining challenges to its survival: finalizing the terms of separation for South Sudan; controlling the determination of Abyei’s status; minimizing electoral threats in South Kordofan (including the Nuba Mountains); and bringing Darfur under sufficient military control to allow a grim “genocide by attrition” to complete the work begun in 2003-2004. The NIF/NCP leaders understand much better than their international interlocutors, particularly former U.S. special envoy Scott Gration and African Union envoy Thabo Mbeki, the ways in which these challenges are related and require a coordinated response. It remains for new U.S. special envoy Princeton Lyman both to understand the difficult diplomatic situation he has inherited—and he has been on the ground in Sudan for some months now, working on North/South issues—and to respond accordingly.

The Southern leadership is far from blameless in the ongoing civilian violence; and the ill will generated by the brutal 2008-2009 disarmament program remains strong (notably, some of the most brutal episodes in this disarmament program are the responsibility of George Athor). There have been costly political mistakes, chief among these a lack of accountability, insufficient provision of training in the rule of law, as well as international humanitarian and human rights law, and simple respect for people. Corruption has diminished, but remains a significant problem; besides retarding Southern development efforts in a variety of ways, it has given a “cause” to renegade leaders. But the South faces daunting challenges in defending itself, in expanding police training and security, and in achieving a fair diplomatic hearing over Abyei and other outstanding issues. At the same time it faces a major military threat from Khartoum in Abyei and South Kordofan. Development has been fitful, though much of this derives from a fundamental lack of capacity on the ground. And development is hardly helped by the impact of renegade violence in critical areas of Jonglei, Unity, and Upper Nile (which has forced the UN World Food Program to suspend operations in a number of key areas in Jonglei, as well as Lakes State) ( ).

The regime recently floated the idea of delaying Southern independence (by extending the CPA “Interim Period”), a non-starter for the SPLM but an effort by Khartoum to remove any “deadline pressure” that may develop between now and July 9. As this analysis argues, however, such pressure is essential in changing the regime’s behavior. For as a means of deflecting precisely such pressure, Khartoum has seized on a strategy of maximizing instability in the South during the two months prior to independence.

Despite remaining skepticism on the part of some observers and commentators about the role of the regime in supporting renegade militia elements and disaffected members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the evidence in aggregate is simply overwhelming and demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that Khartoum has indeed played a major role in the violence and civilian destruction that have plagued Jonglei, Upper Nile, and Unity States. The purpose of this instability is to weaken the SPLA with multiple internal opponents, create unhappiness within Southern civil society, and make South Sudan look ungovernable. All these work to strengthen the NIF/NCP bargaining position on Abyei and other unresolved North/South issues, weaken the ability of Juba to play a role in this week’s elections in South Kordofan, and keep international attention from Darfur, where full-scale atrocity crimes continue to be reported.

It is a strategy that will work without a smarter and more robust diplomatic role for the U.S., the Europeans, and others with a stake in a peaceful Sudan.

Eric Reeves has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade. He is author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.

Previous Post
How many Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are there in Darfur?
Next Post
“They Bombed Everything that Moved”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.