Abyei and South Kordofan/Nuba Mountains: Under Siege, Deeply at Risk

By Eric Reeves
July 1, 2011
July 2, 2011 (SSNA) — What are Khartoum’s ambitions in South Kordofan and Abyei? What is the significance of the two agreements concerning these key regions signed by representatives of the regime? The agreement on South Kordofan (and Blue Nile) declared that in principle Khartoum was committed to a cessation of hostilities agreement. But Reuters reports today that on his return from China, President Omar al-Bashir made clear that this is yet another agreement signed expediently and one that he has no intention of honoring (one must surmise that the Chinese have done little to pressure al-Bashir and the regime to come to some reasonable diplomatic settlement). In the "Framework Agreement “on South Kordofan and Blue Nile (June 28), Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e—the increasingly powerful senior figure within the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party—officially committed the regime "to work to agree both [sic] immediate and sustainable security arrangements for Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile," specifically an "Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities in Southern Kordofan." But today we heard a rather different commitment:

"Sudan’s President OmarHassan al-Bashir said the army would continue its campaign in the flashpoint of South Kordofan, state news agency SUNA said on Friday, dashing hope of a cease-fire ahead of southern secession. In his first comments since returning from a visit to China, Bashir seemed to contradict comments by a northern official this week that north and south had agreed ‘in principle’ on a cease-fire in the northern oil state."

"’He 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." (dateline: Khartoum) http://af.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idAFTRE7605O720110701

Celebration of the agreement by the AU’s expedient Thabo Mbeki and the UN’s feckless Ban Ki-Moon would seem distinctly premature. And in the absence of a cessation of hostilities agreement, we must ask what this war will look like going forward. Despite continuing agnosticism on the part of U.S. special envoy Princeton Lyman about what is occurring in South Kordofan, the images of aerial destruction continue to pour out of the region, as do reports of house-to-house arrests and executions of Nuba civilians; a virtual shutdown of humanitarian access in the region; a massive build-up of weapons and armor in Kadugli (capital of South Kordofan); and relentless aerial assaults on civilians, humanitarians, churches, and other non-military targets in the Nuba Mountains.

The results of the present campaign have been horrific. I have assembled an album of my own photographs from 2003, a time of relative peace in the Nuba, and photographs from this past month (June 2011), mainly from Nuba sources. The latter are images of the waral-Bashir vows to continue until the Nuba Mountains have been "cleansed." (Warning: many of the photographs are disturbingly gruesome—http://goo.gl/5gDpV)

I have also assembled a range of photographs, from various sources, that chronicle the displacement from Abyei of the Dinka Ngok to the South, the destruction and looting of Abyei town, as well as the plight of those displaced to Akok, Turelei, Wau, and other Southern towns. As Sudan moves into the heaviest part of the rainy season, water-borne diseases will become increasingly frequent and dangerous. A normally optimistic program director for a Western humanitarian organization, with a long history in this area, informs me that he sees only a very grim future for these people—http://goo.gl/oAhxE

A great deal of this has been eminently foreseeable. I argued on March 9, 2011:

"[Khartoum’s] military strategy comes ever more clearly into focus: seize Abyei as far south as possible, then negotiate final status of the region from a position of military strength…."

"If war resumes in Abyei, it is likely to spread quickly to the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan and Southern Blue Nile. The entire North/South border could become one long military front, particularly in the oil regions of Unity State and South Kordofan. Unless Khartoum is sent the clearest possible signal that it will gain nothing by such offensive military action, including arming and encouraging Misseriya militias, the fighting in Abyei will increase. The UN peacekeeping mission (UNMIS) is neither willing nor able to intervene—or even report on what lies beyond their bases. At this point, UNMIS patrols are consistently being denied freedom of movement by both the SAF and SPLA. Heavily armed, Khartoum-backed Misseriya units continue marauding throughout much of Abyei."

("Obama Weak on the Rapidly Escalating Crisis in Abyei, "Dissent Magazine (on-line), March 9, 2011 http://dissentmagazine.org/atw.php?id=396)

All this has come to pass because the international community, and especially the U.S. as guided by special envoy Lyman, has refused to see Khartoum’s ambitions for what they are, refused to assess on a realistic basis what would deter the regime from war-making that even in early March was clearly in the offing.

It has also come to pass despite the grim history of the genocidal jihad directed against the Nuba people during the 1990s, a history that should do much more to inform the thinking of special envoy Lyman, who casually declared in response to a question about whether the Nuba Mountains might become a "new Darfur":

"I don’t think so for two reasons. One because the Nuba Mountain people are fighting back and I don’t think the North is capable of dislodging large numbers of people on an ethnic basis from the Nuba Mountains. That’s the reality on the ground. Second, I’m not sure that’s the objective of the government though local commanders may have a different point of view."

But of course the Nuba people "fought back" heroically in the 1990s; even so, hundreds of thousands died (mostly from starvation and disease) and hundreds of thousands were displaced from the irrich farmlands. History flatly contradicts Lyman’s claim. And as to Lyman’s surmise about the "objectives" of the Khartoum regime, this seems absurdly complacent, given the history of this regime. The evidence of ethnic targeting of Nuba civilians for execution and aerial attack is overwhelming.

Lyman would do well to read an account by Alex de Waal of the ghastly history of genocide in the Nuba Mountains in the 1990s ("Averting Genocide in the NubaMountains,"2006)

"The counterinsurgency fought by the Government of Sudan against the rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in the Nuba Mountains of central Sudan during the early1990s was not only exceptionally violent, but also aimed at depopulating the area of civilians. Not only did the government aim to defeat the SPLA forces but they also intended a wholesale transformation of Nuba society in such a way that its prior identity was destroyed. The campaign was genocidal in intent and at one point, appeared to be on the brink of success…."

"The war was notable for attacks on civilian targets with forced displacement, rape and killing. The principal instruments of counterinsurgency included locally-recruited militia, the regular army and the air force, under the overall coordination of Military Intelligence…."

"The early period of the war was marked by militia massacres and extra-judicial executions by military intelligence. In a mixture of reprisals and counter-insurgency, some of it pre-emptive, a coalition of military officers and local militia commanders escalated violence against the Nuba. The first step was the arming of local Arab tribes by the government, initially as a panicked response to an SPLA attack in the region in 1985, and in 1989 they were formalized into the ‘Popular Defence Forces.’ The militias committed the worst massacres of the war, driven not only by orders from their paramilitary command, but also by their own search for cattle, loot and cheap labor…."

"Death squads targeted community leaders in rural areas, while intellectuals in the towns were rounded up by Military Intelligence and ‘disappeared.’ The rationale was explained by Khalid Abdel Karim al Husseini, formerly head of the security in the Office of the Governor of Kordofan (and younger brother of the governor), until he left Sudan and sought asylum in Europe in 1993. He said that the government was ‘taking the intellectuals, taking the professionals, to ensure that the Nuba were so primitive that they couldn’t speak for themselves.’"

All of this—all of it—is again evident in the conduct of counter-insurgency war: the extra-judicial executions; the targeting of intellectuals and indeed all Nuba; the arming of Arab militias and the Popular Defense Forces (PDF), the latter now entirely Arab; the depopulating of the Nuba Mountains; the campaign to deny food and humanitarian assistance. And as the Small Arms Survey makes clear in its report on arms in South Kordofan ("Armed Entities in South Kordofan," June 2011), the Khartoum-allied militia groups are extremely heavily armed and supplied—this in addition to the growing SAF military presence from Dilling to Kadugli.

Military developments could not be more ominous.


Below are two collections: one of my own recent writings on the grim military logic that is now playing out; a second that gathers especially important and very recent news reports on the situation in South Kordofan:

Recent analyses and publications (Reeves, May/June 2011):

•"In Sudan, Genocide Anew?" (We are, once again, on the verge of genocidal counterinsurgency in Sudan. History must not be allowed to repeat itself.) from The Washington Post, June 18, 2011

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/in-sudan-genocide anew/2011/06/17/AGVhCVZH_story.html

•"Genocide in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan," from Dissent Magazine (on-line), June 22, 2011, http://dissentmagazine.org/atw.php?id=479

•"Abyei and South Kordofan: Why Our Diplomatic ‘Successes’ in Sudan Aren’t," from The New Republic, June 30, 2011

•"International Crimes and Threats to Peace in Sudan are mounting rapidly," June 28, 2011,http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article341.html

•"Sudan: The Horror Continues—And the World Sits By," from The New Republic, June 24, 2011
•"Genocide in Sudan: Is it Happening Again?" from The New Republic, June 20, 2011

•"Obama’s Second ‘Rwanda Moment,’" The Sudan Tribune, June 14, 2011 http://www.sudantribune.com/Obama-s-Second-Rwanda-Moment,39204

•"An Abyei Timeline: The Long Road to Khartoum’s Military Invasion," May 27, 2011, http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article328.html

•"Khartoum Dramatically Escalates War in Sudan," June 9, 2011 http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article332.html

•"Carter Center Fails to Consider Key Issues in the South Kordofan Gubernatorial Election," (political incompetence and misprision—and a failure to ask key questions—produce unwarranted ratification of NIF/NCP victory by indicted war criminal Ahmed Haroun), May 20, 2011, http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article325.html

[It is difficult to overstate the significance of this botched monitoring job by the Carter Center; we will never know how events would have preceded without this perversely encouraging "green light" to Khartoum.]

•"’They Bombed Everything that Moved’: Aerial military attacks on civilians and humanitarians in Sudan, 1999 – 2011,"(release of a comprehensive report and database, http://www.sudanbombing.org )

[With the relentless bombing of the Nuba Mountains, as well as other areas in South Kordofan, and Unity State in South Sudan, this twelve-year record of Khartoum’s barbarism has considerable current relevance.]

Some very recent and revealing news stories from the region:

Jeffrey Gettleman, from the New York Times (dateline: Nuba Mountains): http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/01/world/africa/01sudan.html

Some truly extraordinary reporting.

Agence France-Presse, July 1, 2011(dateline: Washington, DC) quotes Princeton Lyman as saying, "We have every indication that [Beijing’s] message to President Bashir has been, ‘Look, you’ve got to resolve the issues of the CPA,’ Lyman said, referring to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement which set the stage for southern independence.""Every indication"? And al-Bashir’s vow today to finishing "cleansing the Nuba Mountains" is an "indication" of what?

In the Wall Street Journal (June 22), Julie Flint, a highly seasoned observer of the Nuba, notes with Mia Farrow: "The US special envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman, has said there is not yet evidence that the new Nuba war amounts to ‘ethnic cleansing.’ But confidential UN reports that we’ve seen speak of ‘wide-scale exactions against unarmed civilians with specific targeting of African tribes, ‘and of people targeted ‘along racial/ethnic lines.’"

Associated Press reports that the "UN says Sudan’s army continues attacking civilians" (July 1, 2011). In addition to the attacks on civilians, this story (dateline: Juba) reports that: "The UN says Sudan is denying it full access to tens of thousands of civilians near an area between north and south Sudan where violence continues less than 10days before Southern Sudan becomes the world’s newest nation."(http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/06/30/ap/africa/main20075975.shtml)

Reuters reports (June 30, 2011; dateline: UN/New York)

"All UN agency offices were looted of their stocks and office equipment in Kadugli, with the exception of the UNICEF children’s foundation and another agency, Haq said, citing information from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)."(http://af.reuters.com/article/sudanNews/idAFN1E75T20P20110630)

BBC News Africa reports (June 23): "We are getting very strong reports that house-to-house executions are going on by internal security forces where summary executions are taking place based on ethnicity, political affiliation and even how black you are. These are civilians, intellectuals, teachers, community leaders, Muslims and Christians, and often they are killed by their throats being slit. This may be only the beginning and it could well continue for many months and intensify. There is a complete lack of access—we learnt that the only airstrip that was left had been bombed and we have heard the government of Sudan will shoot down UN flights operating in South Kordofan so humanitarian flights are no longer an option." (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13882924)

Agence France Presse reports(June 20; dateline: UN/New York): "Sudanese forces have threatened to shoot down UN flights over South Kordofan state where its troops are hunting and killing southern Sudan followers, the US ambassador to the United Nations said Monday."

Amnesty International reports (June 24, London): Amnesty International speaks out about "indiscriminate attacks, bombing from high altitudes with imprecise bombs in areas which include civilians."

Associated Press reports (June 23) on actions taken by Khartoum on June 20:

"Sudanese intelligence agents posed as Red Crescent workers and ordered refugees to leave a UN-protected camp in a region where Sudan’s Arab military has been targeting a black ethnic minority, according to an internal UN report obtained Thursday [June 23]. The report said agents from the National Security Service donned Red Crescent aprons at a camp in Kadugli, South Kordofan and told the refugees to go to a stadium for an address by the governor and for humanitarian aid. The refugees were threatened with forced removal from the camp if they did not comply…. The report…does not say what happened to the camp residents after their forced removal on Monday. The report did not say how many refugees were forced to leave the camp."

And most ominously, Associated Press reports (June 29; dateline: Geneva) on the view of the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, just back from Sudan: "’If this renewed fighting in border areas doesn’t stop and it further spreads to other areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, then obviously it’s war again,’ said Kyung-whaKang, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights."

And this is the great danger: that Khartoum will see the July 9 date for Southern independence as the moment to use military force to extract through negotiations or simply to seize by force disputed border lands, risking all-out war. (In addition to Abyei, 20 percent of the 2,100-kilometer North/South border is still neither delineated nor demarcated). The UN has reported on large troop build-ups by Khartoum’s regular Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in the region where northern South Kordofan and Blue Nile states converge with southern (and oil-rich) Upper Nile State. Khartoum has exhibited extremely provocative military actions along the border further west, including repeated bombings in Southern territory near Jau. Agok, where so many Ngok Dinka fled from Abyei, has been subject to artillery shelling, and the critical Banton Bridge (across the River Kiir) has been destroyed.

Renewed war now seems more likely than not.

July 1, 2011

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

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