Peace or War for Greater Sudan? Khartoum has yet to decide in the face of AU incompetence

By Eric Reeves

May 23, 2013 (SSNA) — Although the threats to peace in Sudan and South Sudan grow almost daily, and as humanitarian conditions in vast areas of greater Sudan—affecting millions of people—are deteriorating rapidly, the international community seems paralyzed, unable to make serious efforts to avert the catastrophe that looms ever closer.  This is true whether we look to Abyei and Khartoum’s responsibility for the recent assassination of Paramount Chief of the Dinka Ngok, Kuol Deng Kuol—a critical figure in any peace process for the region; or to the accelerating violence, insecurity, and human deprivation in Darfur; or to the vast humanitarian crises in Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan—crises deliberately engineered by Khartoum as a means of crushing the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North; or to the regime’s ongoing supplying of weapons and equipment to renegade rebel groups in South Sudan—preeminently David Yau Yau in Jonglei State—with massive consequent violence and human displacement.

And in each arena of crisis, responsibility belongs, clearly and overwhelmingly, to the leadership of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum.  At the same time, in an alarming development that seems not to inform international diplomacy, this leadership is increasingly split between the most militaristic elements, particularly in the army, and those who would at least reduce a reliance on military power in an effort to cling to national wealth and power.  The split has grown more significant since the decision to seize Abyei militarily (May 2011), and may well have reached the breaking point.

This is the context in which to make sense of what appears to have been the deliberate, if partial, shut-down of Southern oil flowing from the highly productive Thar Jath oil field in Unity State.  To this point, Juba’s response to what would be a highly aggressive action by Khartoum has yet again been restrained.  But there should be no mistaking the stakes here: even a partial shut-down over any length of time would be a deliberate act of sabotage, given the nature of Sudanese crude (which is especially high in paraffin, and cannot be halted precipitously without risk of clogging the pipeline).  To this point there is no definitive proof that sabotage was in fact the motive for what has been described by Khartoum as a "technical problem."  But President Salva Kiir made clear Juba’s view of the matter on Monday (May 20, 2013):

"While speaking at a police graduation ceremony in Juba on Monday, South Sudan President Salva Kiir warned there could be an oil shutdown like the one that ended nearly two months ago. He said Juba was still working with Sudan ‘in a diplomatic way.’" (Associated Press [Juba], May 22, 2013)

Sudan Tribune reports,

"[A] South Sudanese official under the cover of anonymity, in statement to Sudan Tribuneon Monday, accused Khartoum of shutting down the pipeline transporting to Heglig the crude produced by Thar Jath oil field in Unity state since three days [ago]. An official from the South Sudanese petroleum and mining ministry went [on] to say that Sudanese security agents shut down the pipeline and chased the workers. The security service personnel had been sent to the area ‘for the protection of the very oil workers they harassed and chased.’ the source said. The foreign affairs ministry on Monday summoned the Chinese ambassador over the alleged blockage of the oil flow by the Sudanese government." (May 21, 2013)

We might also see the shut-down as Khartoum making good on the threat implicit in a statement attributed to the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) shortly after the militarily embarrassing seizure in April of Um Ruwaba (North Kordofan) by forces of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), comprising both Darfuri rebel groups and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North (SPLM/A-N).  Moreover, given the embarrassing nature of the military events, and the strong political reaction in Khartoum, it was inevitable that excuses would be found, including the much-rehearsed and unsubstantiated allegations of Juba’s support for the SRF (what support there has been, by all credible accounts, is on a relatively small scale, and primarily logistical and medical in nature.  Nonetheless, having found a receptive audience in the credulous international community, a re-assertion of the charge was inevitable.  Reuters reports (May 11, 2013):

"Sudan accused South Sudan of having supported rebels who launched a major assault two weeks ago, warning this could derail recent oil and security agreements between the African neighbors, state media said on Saturday."

No new evidence was adduced by Khartoum, which in fact has never offered proof of such support by Juba.  But given the need to find blame, and to send yet another warning to Juba, the Reuters dispatch continued by noting:

"The two countries agreed in March to resume cross-border oil flows and end tension that has plagued them since South Sudan’s secession in 2011. Since then ties have improved with Sudan receiving last week the first oil exports from the landlocked South, which had shut down its production in January 2012 in a dispute over pipeline fees. But in a new setback, Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) said South Sudan had helped rebels who two weeks ago attacked the central city of Um Rawaba. It was the worst assault since a raid on Khartoum in 2008. ‘The support for the (rebel) forces … included fuel supplies and the opening of military hospitals in the South to receive wounded Sudanese rebels,’ SUNA said, quoting NISS. South Sudan also had recently supported rebels from the western region of Darfur and two border states with vehicles, SUNA said, adding South Sudan also has provided weapons, ammunition and training at several camps in its Unity state to form a ‘another force’ to send into Sudan. ‘NISS has confirmed that Juba has supported rebels against Khartoum since the cooperation agreement (to resume oil flows),’ SUNA said." (Reuters [Khartoum], May 11, 2013)

The truth is that Khartoum is the party responsible for supporting rebel groups in South Sudan, and has done so in sustained, systematic fashion for several years, using air drops and landing relatively small cargo planes on quickly cleared airstrips.  This has been especially conspicuous in Jonglei, where the forces of David Yau Yau have been so destructive of civilian lives and livelihoods (see below).  Our most authoritative guide to military assistance from Juba to the north and Khartoum to the South continues to be the Small Arms Survey (Geneva).  Reports from Small Arms Survey (SAS) over the past year have established clearly that the SPLA-N—the most potent fighting force within the rebel coalition, and the one closest historically to the military leadership of the South—neither has nor has need of Southern weaponry or ammunition.  The SPLA-N, under the military leadership of Abdel Aziz al-Hilu, has been enormously successful, and has captured huge quantities of weapons, ammunition, fuel, even food.

By contrast, the weapons seized from rebel groups operating in South Sudan consistently prove to have come from Khartoum’s Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) or militia forces (again, see below).

However unjustified Khartoum’s threat of May 11, it would certainly do much to explain what is most likely a "warning shut-down," an attempt to demonstrate the vulnerability of the South’s almost exclusive source of foreign exchange currency.  But such a situation, or even the implicit threat of actions affecting the flow of Southern crude oil, is intolerable.  For the leadership in Juba, it inevitably forces a series of critical questions: Who made the decision to shut down or slow down transit of Southern crude?   What—precisely—was the nature of the putative "technical problem"?  Why wasn’t Juba informed beforehand, or immediately afterwards?  Or are we obliged to conclude, as circumstantial evidence would suggest, that this is yet another tactic in Khartoum’s war of attrition against the Southern economy?

Although an oil shut-down could be prelude to all-out war between the Sudans, we should remember that fighting already rages in much of greater Sudan.  In Darfur the Justice and Equality Movement, as well as the Sudan Liberation Army factions of Abdel Wahid el-Nur and Minni Minawi, has become steadily more threatening since joining the SRF.  The seizure of Um Ruwaba was significant in itself, but it was accompanied by the seizure of Abu Karshola in an area of northeastern South Kordofan previously controlled by Khartoum.  As The Niles (May 22, 2013) recently reported in the aftermath of these military humiliations:

"The loud political and public response to the Sudanese Revolutionary Front’s (SRF) attack on the city of Umm Ruwaba in North Kordofan last month has strategic roots, political and military analysts say. Public and political opinion was glued to last month’s attack on the city of Umm Ruwaba and other areas in North Kordofan State on April 27. The attack was carried out by forces affiliated with the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), a coalition of armed groups and a number of politicians. Two days later, a closed meeting was held and politicians severely criticised the performance of the Ministers of Defence and Interior.  Some went as far as to demand their dismissal and pushed for President and Field Marshal Omar Hassan al-Bashir as a temporary head of the army.

One likely consequence of such pressure is increased aid to renegade rebel groups operating in South Sudan, particularly David Yau Yau.  Yau Yau has proved a formidable military foe, heavily armed as his troops are by Khartoum.  Moreover, the military performance of the overstretched and under-funded Southern army (the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, or SPLA) has been poor in many respects; most troublingly, this poor performance has entailed egregious violations of international law.  The lack of discipline among the troops is a problem that Juba recognizes, however, as a recent formal public statement by President Salva Kiir makes clear:

"The Government of the Republic of South Sudan (GRSS) is deeply concerned about the growing violence in Jonglei State and other parts of the country affecting innocent civilians.  These acts are largely being carried out by armed rebel groups. The GRSS is also alarmed about reported abuses by ill-disciplined elements in the regular security forces.

"President Salva Kiir Mayardit warned that those elements within our security forces engaged in these acts of violence against civilians will be held accountable….  The Government will punish those who not only carried out these acts of violence but also those who gave the order….

"’It is a sad day for South Sudan to see and receive reports about abuses being carried out by ill-disciplined elements of our own armed forces.  Many of our comrades fought and died to achieve freedom and justice for our people.  It is important that we honor their sacrifice.’" (Presidential statement, May 17, 2013)

Such a statement has never, in twenty-four years of tyranny, been made by any senior official in the NIF/NCP regime.

Despite the irresponsible and destructive behavior by some within the SPLA, the larger picture remains unchanged: enormous resources necessarily have had to be devoted to confronting rebel groups that refuse to join the Government of South Sudan (GOSS), refuse to accept repeated offers of amnesty, and justify their violence by trading on local grievances or vague generalities about the very real shortcomings of the GOSS—this is so even as they offer no political or politically and democratically viable options.  Men like David Yau Jau in Jonglei and Johnson Olonyi in Upper Nile are simply proxy warriors for Khartoum—fighting in the way that best serve the regime: Southerners against one another.

Who guides international thinking about greater Sudan?

Despite the clear threats of widening war—war that could easily expand to engulf all of greater Sudan, including eastern Sudan and the far north—the international community seems content to be guided by the assessments of lead African Union diplomat Thabo Mbeki, who on being recognized by the Daily Trust (Nigeria) as "African of the Year," declared with breath-taking self-congratulation:

"[Mbeki said the African Union High-Level Implementation] panel he led to resolve the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan remains a reference point in the capacity of Africans to resolve the continent’s conflicts. ‘With what we have done in Sudan, we have demonstrated that it is possible for us to solve our problems.’ … ‘The leadership of Sudan and South Sudan agreed that they share a common vision to create two viable states; that indeed none of the two states can be viable unless the other was also viable. Therefore there is the common challenge to work together to produce two viable states.’ He noted that of all internal African efforts to solve problems of the continent, the one in Sudan has attracted respect for African leadership." (Daily Trust [Abuja], May 21, 2013)

This extraordinary presumption about what has been accomplished in bringing a just and lasting peace to greater Sudan is all too characteristic of Mbeki, who apparently is willing to overlook the growing challenges to "two viable states."  Mbeki went on to declare yet again that African problems require African solutions, a reprise of a statement he made in 2005 on deployment to Darfur of the ill-fated African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS):

"’We have not asked for anybody outside of the African continent to deploy troops in Darfur. It’s an African responsibility, and we can do it.’" (Refugees International, "No Power to Protect: The African Union Mission in Sudan," November 2005, at

Eight years later, even with the augmentation of AMIS that has become UNAMID (UN/African Union Mission in Darfur), such a claim looks only the more fatuous.  To be sure, he was joined at the time by President Obasanjo of Nigeria in his conviction that Darfur was a matter that could be handled by the newly created African Union Peace and Security Council, which had virtually no standing military capacity of its own:

"’If the situation is getting worse, we are not going to pack our luggage and leave Darfur…. We are going to have a robust mandate to make sure we are not here for nothing. We should be able to bring peace, or impose peace.’" (New York Times, November 29, 2004; cited by the Brookings Institution, "The Protecting of Two Million Internally Displaced: The Successes and Shortcomings of the African Union in Darfur," November 2005, at

"We are going to have a robust mandate"; "we should be able to bring peace, or impose peace."  Brave words, but words that eight years later look like the foolish arrogance they were—and are.  The UNAMID force indeed has a "robust mandate," which Khartoum simply ignores, even as the UN and other international actors are unwilling to challenge the regime’s obstructionism.  Security forces, especially Military Intelligence, constantly restrict UNAMID access, impede investigations, and openly threaten UNAMID forces.  On many occasions it is clear that Khartoum is responsible for the deliberate killing of UNAMID peacekeepers (see detailed history of this singular barbarism at  The mission has largely failed in fulfilling its primary mandate: to protect the people of Darfur and to provide security for humanitarian workers and operations.  It has also failed badly in its reporting obligations, and only in part because of access restrictions.

UNAMID has also been disastrously led by a series of prevaricating Joint AU/UN Special Representatives: Rodolphe Adada, Ibrahim Gambari, and presently Aichatu Mindaoudou.  Ms. Mindaoudou very recently joined her predecessors in offering a spectacularly distorted characterization of Darfur, declaring that "the numbers of people affected by violence had decreased each year between 2008 and 2011."  This is unforgivably inaccurate.  In fact, since 2008 many hundreds of thousands of Darfuris have been newly displaced—more than one million, data suggest.  In its most recent census, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports: "The United Nations estimates at 300,000 people the number of people who have fled fighting in Darfur in the first five months of the year" (Agence France-Presse [Khartoum], May 23, 2013).  This continues the extremely high levels of displacement that began in July 2012; it also suggests something of the character of human displacement during 2011 (see "May 2013: Displacement, returns, and current trends in Darfur—A compendium of reports,"

This dismaying reality gives us some insight into why Mbeki failed to note in referring to "his panel" that its name—the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP)—derives originally from "implementation" of the "Roadmap" for peace in Darfur, a plan that Mbeki had proffered in 2009 and which yielded nothing of consequence.  From Darfur Mbeki and his panel moved on to the Abyei crisis, again with disastrous diplomatic consequences.

Why the AU failure in Sudan matters

Why is this important to rehearse now?  The world continues to defer to the AU in Addis Ababa talks, and there Mbeki and the AU have proved both feckless and disingenuous.  In February 2012 the AU, along with the UN and Arab League, put forward a proposal for humanitarian access to the highly distressed civilian populations in South Kordofan and Blue Nile; the SPLM-N signed the agreement within a week.  Khartoum, on the other hand, has variously prevaricated, delayed, and reneged on agreements growing out of the original proposal—and still there is no humanitarian access to these desperate, indeed slowly starving people, many hundreds of thousands in the two states.  Khartoum’s most recent ploy in Addis—foolishly supported by Mbeki and the AU—is to insist that humanitarian issues be part of a single agenda, including also security issues and political issues.  In short, humanitarian access is to be held hostage to negotiations that will likely go on endlessly, or simply reach an impasse.

It should more than obvious, even to the AU negotiators, that this is the threat Khartoum has created for the one million people either displaced by regime’s bombing campaign—targeting primarily agriculture and civilian sites—or in acute need because of crop failures over the past two years, failures that are the direct result of the regime’s relentless and indiscriminate aerial assaults.  Moreover, this readily discernible history of bad faith evidently escaped OHCA head Valerie Amos in her misguided recent comments on humanitarian access in the regions, declaring misleadingly "The government of Sudan have said very clearly that they are committed to implementation of that agreement" (Reuters [Khartoum], May23, 2013).  Whatever the "government of Sudan" may have "said," Amos is a fool—or worse—to believe that this alone is sufficient.

The suffering people of the Nuba and Blue Nile should be held hostage to no agenda, no political machinations, and no obscene deference to Khartoum’s political sensibilities.  And yet this is precisely what the African Union has done again and again.  Moreover, given the insistence by Mbeki and others that there is no need for help from outside Africa—diplomatic or otherwise—the rest of the international community, including the UN, has become fearful of appearing to seize the diplomatic initiative, even when AU diplomacy is being led by a diplomatic failure, a man who insists that the recent history of greater Sudan is a success story—one that should serve as a "reference point" for the AU in responding to other African conflicts.

For any close examinations of the actions and results of AU diplomacy over the past year should be sobering for those who see incremental progress in Addis.  On May 2, 2012—over a year ago—the UN Security Council, under Chapter Seven auspices—

"Decides that the Government of Sudan and the SPLM-North shall extend full cooperation to the AUHIP and the Chair of IGAD, to reach a negotiated settlement on the basis of the 28 June 2011 Framework Agreement on Political Partnership between NCP and SPLM-N and Political and Security Arrangements in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan States." (Security Council Res. 2046, May 2, 2012)

Not only has Khartoum refused to comply with this Security Council "decision," but the very points of reference within the Resolution ensure its futility.  The June 28, 2011 Framework Agreement referred to by the Security Council resolution, although signed by senior NIF/NCP official Nafie Ali Nafie, was wholly renounced three days later by President Omar al-Bashir, who insisted that the military campaign of "cleansing" in the Nuba would continue.  If there were any doubt about divisions within the regime, this episode of signing and then immediately reneging should have ended it; grimly, there could have been no clearer signal of the ascendancy of military hardliners demanding final say in all decisions of war and peace.

The lives of a million people in South Kordofan and Blue Nile cannot be left in the hands of a single and singularly incompetent diplomatic contingent.  While the AU will likely need to continue to provide auspices for negotiations, additional capacity is clearly desperately needed.  IGAD, the East African consortium that provided auspices and capacity for the negotiation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005), is one possible source.  So too are the various African church and nongovernmental organizations that are often far ahead of their own governments in pushing for justice and human rights (see Appendix One).  The Norwegians have also consistently proved effective in all phases of negotiations and were part of the "troika" of Western nations that made the CPA possible.  China should also be approached, given its enormous leverage with Khartoum and the vast investment it stands to lose if war between Sudan and South Sudan should break out.

The Obama administration has consistently proved incompetent and disingenuous, with no real commitment to resolving Sudan’s multiple crises; unless there is a dramatic shift in course—one that makes counter-terrorism cooperation with Khartoum’s security forces secondary to millions of Sudanese lives—the U.S. is likely to play no significant role except insofar as how it chooses to wield its two big sticks: continuing economic sanctions and keeping Khartoum on the State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism (both of which were put in place well before Obama came to the presidency, or even the Senate). One report from Washington has the Obama administration selecting two distinctly insignificant players in American diplomacy as special envoys to Sudan.  This would hardly provide even the cover of real engagement.

Abyei, Mbeki, the AU—and the growing threat of war

Similarly, the AU proposal on Abyei and its referendum—defining as voting residents the Dinka Ngok—has been rejected by Khartoum.  And even though the AUHIP threatened to take this rejection to the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC), Khartoum was unmoved. And when the PSC endorsed the original proposal and Khartoum still refused to accept the proposal, the AU body simply capitulated and prevaricated, supposedly to give "negotiations more time."  The clear subtext was that the only alternative to acceding to Khartoum’s obdurate rejection was referral to the UN Security Council—something Khartoum strongly objected to.  The sentiments of those such as Mbeki ("African solutions for African problems") carried the day.  Of course, had South Sudan refused to accept the AU proposal, international condemnation would have been quick and strident.  Instead, Khartoum challenged the international bluff again—and again won.  The implications of all this were not lost on Juba.

As a consequence, Abyei remains a tinderbox of anger, resentment, insecurity, and with the assassination of Paramount Chief Kuol Deng Kuol, war is perilously close (for the most authoritative account of the killing of Kuol, by Deng Mading Mijak, deputy co-chairpersons of the Abyei Oversight Committee and an eyewitness to events, seeAppendix Two).  It is a tragic irony that Kuol, who largely managed to avoid taking sides in the long civil war, should be killed while trying to continue to broker a peace agreement acceptable to both the Dinka Ngok and the Misseriya tribal groups that migrate annually through Abyei to Southern grazing areas.  There are no negotiations ongoing and no prospects for them to resume in useful fashion.  In their absence, Khartoum will continue to extend its de facto military control of Abyei, despite the presence of the UN Interim Security Force for Darfur (UNISFA).  Indeed, the mandate of UNISFA appears set to expand to include monitoring of the demilitarized zone that Juba and Khartoum have negotiated.  There is little evidence that Khartoum is abiding by the terms of disengagement, and even less that UNISFA has the resources to monitor the extremely long border region.  In the end, it did not have the resources to protect Kuol Deng Kuol and the last glimmer of hope for a peaceful resolution of the Abyei crisis.

David Yau Yau and the renegade rebel groups of South Sudan

The evidence that Khartoum is supplying the militia forces of the increasingly maniacal David Yau Yau in Jonglei is overwhelming, indeed incontrovertible.  On September 24, 2012 the UN reported that it had seen an "unidentified" white aircraft dropping supplies in Jonglei in a region where the forces of David Yau Yau were known to be active; white is the color reserved for UN and humanitarian aircraft.  Bloomberg News reported at the time:

"The United Nations confirmed its troops spotted a white plane dropping packages in an area where South Sudan said a Sudanese aircraft supplied weapons to rebels, a day before the countries’ presidents were to meet. A Sudanese Antonov plane air-dropped weapons and ammunition to the militia led by David Yau Yau, which is fighting South Sudanese troops in Jonglei state, South Sudan said on September 22 [2012]. ‘There was a white fixed-wing aircraft that was observed by UMISS troops dropping packages,’ UN Mission in South Sudan spokesman Kouider Zerrouk said today by telephone from Juba, South Sudan’s capital.’" (Bloomberg, September 24, 2012)

Although the UN predictably claimed it did not know what might have been in the packages dropped from a white plane it could not identify (meaning that it was not a UN aircraft), the contents were certainly military supplies for David Yau Yau’s forces, provided by Khartoum’s SAF or Military Intelligence.  Not only were the supplies dropped in an area where Yau Yau was known to be active, but in a region that poses extreme logistical difficulties, making air-drops one of the few ways in which rebel forces can sustain themselves.  Moreover, the supplies were air-dropped immediately prior to a consequential meeting between the presidents of Sudan and South Sudan; this is entirely keeping in with Khartoum’s penchant for engaging in provocative military actions immediately prior to important political or diplomatic events—almost as if to dare its Southern adversaries to respond to the provocation while the news spotlight is on events.

There have undoubtedly been many such flights, and certainly the SPLA has reported a number of them.  But it is difficult to identify aircraft as they enter South Sudan. The likely flight plan for such aircraft was described to me by a veteran observer of South Sudan: "The plane entered the airspace over Unity State, which has a great many humanitarian aircraft into which it might have easily merged, then made its drop over Jonglei, and finally returned via the South Sudan/Ethiopian border before crossing back into (northern) Sudan" (email received from Juba, September 27, 2012)

Just as significant as the implications and timing of this re-supply of rebels operating far to the south in South Sudan is the fact that that it was painted white.  Khartoum has repeatedly, both in Darfur and along the North/South border, used military aircraft deliberately disguised by their white color.  This has been confirmed by UNMIS, predecessor to UNMISS, by UNMISS, by UNAMID in Darfur, as well as repeatedly by the UN Panel of Experts for Darfur.  These events are all egregious violations of international humanitarian law, and yet Khartoum has never been held accountable—and refuses to change its ways.

Appendix Four offers specific instances in which Khartoum’s use of disguised white aircraft have been confirmed.  The danger is obvious: white aircraft may be mistaken for military rather than humanitarian aircraft, with the potential for a catastrophic error in assessing what is overhead.  Although not widely reported, a UNISFA helicopter on a humanitarian mission over Unity State was shot at by SPLA forces near Abyei, according to local authorities; this also occurred this past September.  The aircraft was inspected afterwards by UNISFA personnel and a number of bullet holes were discovered.  Growing directly out of Khartoum’s ongoing use of military aircraft disguised by white color, this incident could easily have been a tragic disaster for peacekeeping operations. On December 21, 2012, the SPLA did shoot down a UN helicopter piloted by Russian nationals; it was in the same area as the air-drops to David Yau Yau.  There was considerable outrage over the incident, but none of it was directed against Khartoum, which must bear primary responsibility for the shoot-down (see ]

The Small Arms Survey (Geneva) has also repeatedly established that renegade rebel groups operating in South Sudan have received arms from the SAF and Khartoum.  This is not surmise, or inference: the markings on weapons and ammunition establish definitively that the rebels in the South have been armed and supplied by Khartoum.  SAS accounts of such weapons transfers to rebel groups have been continuous; of particular note:

• "Weapons in service with David Yau Yau’s Militia, Jonglei State, February 2013

• "Weapons Seized from the Forces of George Athor and John Duit, January 2013

• "Anti-Tank and Anti-Personnel Mines in Unity and Jonglei States," March 2012

• "New War, Old Enemies: Conflict Dynamics in South Kordofan," by Claudio Gramizzi and Jérôme Tubiana, April 2013

[See also Appendix Three for a wire dispatch on Khartoum’s export of ammunition to President Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast during his desperate and violent effort to retain power two years ago; he is now before the International Criminal Court, charged with "crimes against humanity."]

Most ominously, given the military success of David Yau Yau’s forces—overwhelmingly from the Murle tribe, with ethnic animosities used by Yau Yau and his commanders as a tool of recruitment and motivation—is the building of airstrips on which Khartoum can land re-supply flights.  It is quite unlikely that such airstrips will be long enough for Antonov cargo planes; but they could certainly accommodate Khartoum’s Buffalo cargo planes, which have short landing and take-off distances, and a capacity of roughly twenty tons (Khartoum has acquired a number of these from de Havilland of Canada).  There is certainly no other explanation for the airstrips that have been vigorously defended by Yau Yau’s forces, yet eventually captured on several occasions by the SPLA.  Two months ago Voice of America reported (March 28, 2013):

"South Sudan army officials said Friday they killed 143 members of David Yau Yau’s rebel group and took control of an airstrip in a remote part of Jonglei, which was being used to supply weapons to the insurgents. Twenty soldiers from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) also died and 70 were wounded in the fighting on Tuesday to wrest control from the rebels of the airstrip in Okello, in Pibor County. ‘This airstrip has been used by Khartoum intelligence to transport and supply arms and ammunition to David Yau Yau. Some of the arms that were being dropped by Antonovs were captured, especially AK-47s,’ he said. ‘With the capturing of this airstrip, it will be difficult for any foreign force to supply arms and ammunition,’ Aguer added."

Unfortunately, Aguer underestimated the determination of both Yau Yau and Khartoum.  More recently various informed regional sources have reported a new airstrip cleared to the east of Linguakole in Pibor County, Jonglei State.  Pibor seems to be the next major point of confrontation between the SPLA and the forces of Yau Yau.  If one had to pick an ideal re-supply location this far from the Ethiopian border in Jonglei, it would be in an isolated region northeast of Pibor town, exactly where the airstrip has been reported.

A perilous future

Although much has been made of the agreement that re-started oil flowing from South Sudan to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, this is hardly a basis for sustained optimism, as demonstrated by Khartoum’s willingness even to threaten continuing oil transit. As Matthew LeRiche, a fellow at the London School of Economics, noted trenchantly in March: "Even if some accommodation is found in the short term, a relationship based only in the mutual desperation for oil money is not a very strong basis for sustainable peace longer-term" (Reuters [Juba] March 27, 2013).  Nor is there any reason to believe that the military hard-liners have been deterred by the prospect of fighting on multiple fronts: Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile, Abyei if necessary—and quite possibly the oil regions south of Heglig/Panthou or in Upper Nile

SAF military activity along the North/South border has been a constant since 2010, with regular incursions by regular ground forces, militia allies, and military aircraft.  Kiir Adem in Northern Bahr el-Ghazal looms as an extremely dangerous flashpoint, with considerable violence in recent months, and credible reports of SAF preparations to seize the so-called "Mile 14" corridor along the Bahr el-Arab (see Sudan Tribune, April 1, 2013).  Warrap, Unity, and Upper Nile states have also seen significant military incursions, designed both to test and provoke.  In Western Bahr el-Ghazal, the Kafia Kingi enclave is clearly part of South Sudan, according to all 1956 maps—the cartographic standard since the beginning of the Machakos peace talks in 2002/2003.  And yet Khartoum continues to threaten the region with military action (it is not surprising that there are reports of significant copper deposits and other valuable metals and minerals in the region).

But even in the face of so many military threats, we simply must not forget the refugees and displaced persons of Blue Nile and South Kordofan who are now victims of Khartoum’s violence and threats of violence.  They continue to pour into Unity State from South Kordofan and into Upper Nile (and Ethiopia) from Blue Nile, as Khartoum continues its savage war against civilians and civilian agriculture—this at the same time the regime denies all humanitarian access to civilians in rebel-held territory.  The total figure now exceeds 200,000 people, and their futures are terribly grim, as are camp conditions for a great many.  And so long as the international community continues to defer to the leadership of the AU, and that leadership defers to Khartoum, no progress will be made—on humanitarian access or genuine movement toward a just peace for all of greater Sudan.

Certainly whatever the future holds, we should keep in mind the account of the Khartoum regime offered by former U.S. Charge d’affaires Alberto Fernandez (caught in a moment of unusually revealing candor in a "Wikileaked" diplomatic cable of September 23, 2009): he described the Khartoum regime "as experts in ‘deception, delay and false promises."

It is beyond tragedy that such basic insight continues to escape the AU.

APPENDIX ONE: Can the disastrous leadership of the AU be reformed by Africans?

Even as the African Union moves ever closer to becoming a reprise of the Organizations of African Unity, a cozy club of African "big men," there are voices in Africa that are challenging the AU, particularly on Sudan.  One striking example is the Kampala-based International Refugee Rights Initiative:

"As the African Union celebrates 10 years, new research warns of the ‘disappearance of Sudan’" (Addis Ababa, 21 May 2013, at  

"A report launched today in Addis Ababa urges Sudan and the African Union (AU) to take a new approach to resolving Sudan’s multiple conflicts and ending the ongoing suffering of its people. The report by the Kampala-based International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI), "The disappearance of Sudan? Life in Khartoum for citizens without rights" [], examines the experiences of Sudan’s conflict affected communities from the perspective of those displaced from the margins to Sudan’s capital Khartoum. It identifies that at the root of Sudan’s wars and dislocation of its diverse peoples is a crisis of citizenship that must be resolved if the country is to survive.

"Launching the paper today prior to the opening of the 21st AU Summit, Dismas Nkunda of IRRI said, ‘Without the protection of the state—or even the legitimacy to be recognised as being in need of protection – the citizenship of millions of Sudanese is shrinking. So, too, is the reality and legitimacy of the Sudanese state.’"

Africa must produce and nurture more such voices.

APPENDIX TWO: The killing of Paramount Chief of the Dinka Ngok, Kuol Deng Kuol (From Sudan Tribune, May 11, 2013):

"Deng Mading Mijak, the deputy co-chairperson of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC) representing South Sudan, said the killing of the chief essentially meant that the government of Sudan had killed all attempts to peacefully resolve the disagreement over the area. Mijak was one of the leaders of a delegation from Juba that was caught up in the attack, which left Kuol dead. The group was visiting the area for consultative talks with a delegation from Khartoum on how to hasten the process of forming a joint administration to facilitate the return of displaced persons and prepare for a planned October referendum. He survived the incident on 4 April, describing it as a carefully planned attack by Sudan rather than an ambush.

"’People say we were ambushed. It was not an ambush. It was a clear ploy by the government of Sudan. We were held for five hours during which we were online communicating with authorities in Khartoum. They knew we were caught. They were the ones directing every single move. The people who killed the chief did not know him. They even asked [who he was]. This means that it was a clear ploy by the government of Sudan,’ Mijak said at a news conference on Saturday.

"The official stressed that the death of the paramount chief meant the end of any engagement with Sudan. ‘I don’t think it will be possible to come together again. The killing of the paramount chief means that they have killed peaceful coexistence. It means that they have killed joint administration. It means that they have killed the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee, because I do not think we will meet again in Abyei to discuss anything,’ Mijak added."

APPENDIX THREE: Khartoum as an ammunition supplier elsewhere in AfricaAssociated Press reports from Abidjan, Ivory Coast (April 26, 2013):

"A new report from a UN expert panel raises the possibility that former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo received substantial ammunition transfers from Sudan as he clung to power during postelection violence two years ago. The country’s UN peacekeeping mission has found ‘several tens of thousands of rounds’ of ammunition for assault rifles believed to have been produced in Sudan in 2010 and 2011, according to the report posted online Thursday. ‘This ammunition has been frequently identified in military camps in western Ivory Coast and in weapons collection events relating to the continuing process of disarmament of ex-combatants,’ the report says."

It is highly unlikely that President Gbagbo is the only beneficiary of Khartoum’s ruthless military export trade.

APPENDIX FOUR: Khartoum’s disguising of its military aircraft—A compendium of excerpts (notably, the AU Peace and Security Council has not spoken to the issues raised here):

• Human Rights Watch, September 2007

Government forces have used military aircraft painted white—the color used by UN and AMIS forces—for reconnaissance, supply operations, and attacks. At a distance, the aircraft resemble United Nations and AMIS planes and Mi-8 helicopters; sometimes they even have UN markings.

[NB:] Use of these white aircraft for military purposes is a violation of international humanitarian law, specifically the improper use of the United Nations emblem, and, when simulating the protected status of peacekeeping forces and humanitarian operations to conduct attacks, the prohibition against perfidyUse of these planes puts genuine UN, humanitarian, and AMIS flights at risk because rebels might mistake them for legitimate military targets. People in desperate need of aid may flee from humanitarian flights if they cannot distinguish them from government military aircraft.[end]

• Small Arms Survey, November 2010

Russian Mi-17 and Mi-32 helicopter gunships, Sukhoi and MiG-29 fighter jets, and Chinese-made A-5 ‘Fantan’ jets have all been sighted in Darfur, as well as white Antonov 26 transport aircraft used as crude bombers. The UN Panel has provided evidence that Antonovs have been painted white—the colour of many UN and relief agency planes flying in Darfur. One had "UN" painted on a wing in a clear attempt to disguise its identity. 

• UN Panel of Experts on Darfur to Security Council, Distr. General, 29 October 2009, S/2009/562 (Letter dated 27 October 2009 from the Chairman of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1591 (2005) addressed to the President of the Security Council):

169. MAN [Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg of Germany] provided information regarding a truck that the Panel identified in Darfur being employed for combat by SAF units. MAN stated that that particular vehicle had been part of an April 2007 delivery to [Khartoum’s] GIAD of a total of 790 white civilian L90/M2000 units. The Panel found this post-embargo-produced truck in a modified and heavily militarized form, fitted with a four-barrelled anti-aircraft gun. The militarization of these civilian vehicles was neither communicated to nor authorized by MAN.

• Unidentified white chopper flies over Darfur villages – UNAMID (Sudan Tribune, September 23, 2008)

A white helicopter not marked with the UN emblem or any identifiable markings was seen Monday flying over a southern area of North Darfur state, where the majority of villages are controlled by the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) faction led by Abdel Wahid Al-Nur. White government aircraft have previously attacked civilians in both the current conflict in Darfur and during Sudan’s 1983-2005 civil war. A September 2007 report to the UN Security Council by a five-person panel of experts revealed that white-painted government military planes were used for aerial surveillance, arms shipments and attacks on villages. Consistent use of white aircraft for military operations could make them a more likely target for rebel fighters, thus raising the danger for UN aircrews. Rebels from both SLA and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) have already demonstrated their ability to down helicopters in multiple confirmed instances.

A helicopter of the hybrid peacekeeping force was shot at in western Darfur on August 11, and another was damaged by gunfire on September 14 as it was on its way to Shangil Tobaya from Tawila town, about 37 km before Shangil Tobaya UNAMID base camp.

The United Nations has in the past urged the Sudanese government not to use white aircraft that resemble its own, saying it endangers the peacekeepers. The UN Panel of Experts’ 2007 report described multiple sightings of white helicopters in Darfur during 2007. The report described two white Mi-171 helicopters painted with military registrations, neither of which displayed a Sudanese flag painted on the aircraft:

"The Panel believes this is a method to further conceal their identity so that from a moderate distance they resemble United Nations or AMIS Mi-8 helicopters used in Darfur."

Photos from the report, all dated from 2007, show a white Fantan A-5 helicopter at Nyala airport, a white Mi-24 at Khartoum International Airport, a white Antonov (An-12) plane at El-Geneina, a white Antonov (An-26) with UN markings at El Fasher, and another white Antonov (An-26) at Khartoum airport.

The UN Panel of Experts said, “the extensive use of white aircraft by the Government of the Sudan, including the use of white Antonov aircraft in some of the 66 aerial attacks catalogued by the Panel between September 2006 and July 2007, constitutes a serious obstruction to the work of AMIS and the United Nations. "In one instance the Panel found that the Government of the Sudan had used a white Antonov aircraft with ‘UN’ markings in offensive military overflights."

• EU condemns Sudan for military’s use of white UN-like planes (Agence France-Presse [Brussels], September 23, 2008)

The European Union condemned on Tuesday the Sudanese military’s use of white aircraft in strife-torn Darfur, calling it a deliberate attempt to create confusion with UN planes. "The European Union calls on the Sudanese authorities to put an immediate end to the military operations which started a few days ago in Darfur," the bloc’s French presidency said in a statement. "It condemns the use of white aircraft in these operations, which is deliberately intended to create confusion with United Nations aircraft," it said, calling on all parties to abide by international law. The EU also expressed concern that aid, some of it flown into Darfur by the United Nations, is no longer reaching parts of the region.

Peacekeepers from the joint UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) said that an unidentified white helicopter had been spotted on Monday flying in north Darfur over villages controlled by a rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) faction. "A white colour helicopter not marked with UN emblem or any identifiable markings was seen flying over the eastern part of Sortony," the force said in a statement on Tuesday. "The situation is being monitored," the statement said. Rebels in north Darfur said they had seen both helicopters and fixed-wing planes flying over their positions painted in white, prompting them to mistake them initially for UN aircraft.

"This is very dangerous, because our soldiers now don’t know if white aircraft are a threat or not," said Ibrahim al-Hillo, a commander of the SLA faction led by Paris-based exile Abdel Wahid Mohammed Nur. "Of course we don’t want to attack the UN, but we cannot tell the difference if the government disguise their forces like this." Last week, a UNAMID helicopter was fired at but not hit in North Darfur, the second attack this month on a peacekeeping helicopter.

• JEM: GOS Flies Surveillance Planes with UN Colour over Darfur

كُتب يوم 31.01.2009 بواسط / The Sudan Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)

GOS Flies Surveillance Planes with UN Colour over DarfurJanuary 29, 2009         A white aeroplane resembling UN planes flew over JEM forces near Muhajaria, South Darfur, at 4pm, Thursday January 29th.  UNAMID forces contacted by JEM denied use of any UN flight in the area.  This is not the first time that GOS uses UN/AU colours and logos in the area. JEM appeals to the international community, and in particular the UN, to make sure that UN/AU logo and colours are not used by GOS in the area.  Such a callous action undoubtedly puts UNAMID forces in danger and must be strongly condemned and stopped

• Arms: BBC’s findings reinforce Amnesty’s concerns over China’s violation of Darfur arms embargo (BBC, 14 July 2008)

Amnesty International revealed in 2007 that arms were still being transferred to Darfur in spite of UN embargo…. Amnesty International traced attack helicopters from Russia, ground attack fighter jets from China and Antonov planes that had been painted white to disguise their military nature.

• Attack on Muhajiriya (IRIN [Nairobi], 10 October 2007)

The recent attack on Muhajiriya town in South Darfur, in which 45 people died and thousands fled their homes, mainly targeted women, children and the elderly, a rebel faction said.  "The government moved forces into the town two days earlier," Mohammed Bashir, spokesman for the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), said from Khartoum, the capital. "With air cover, they attacked the town, burnt down half of it and killed mainly children, women and the elderly." "There are 20 wounded civilians who need to be taken to hospital," Bashir said. The SLA faction of Minni Minnawi, who signed a May 2006 peace deal and joined the Khartoum government, controls the area. Amnesty International said the attack was supported by an Antonov, which had been painted in white UN colours. Since 2005, Sudan has been prohibited from offensive flights over Darfur and has been criticised for painting aircraft white, it said.

• The Guardian (UK), 27 March 2007

Investigators…spotted an Antonov-26 plane painted white and parked at a military airport. "The panel noted with concern that the plane had a UN logo painted on the top of its left wing," a UN internal document said. "It was parked on the military apron next to rows of bombs." The panel spotted another white Antonov at a military airport on March 1.

• Sudan Flying Arms to Darfur, Panel Reports (New York Times, April 17, 2007)

A confidential United Nations report says the government of Sudan is flying arms and heavy military equipment into Darfur in violation of Security Council resolutions and painting Sudanese military planes white to disguise them as United Nations or African Union aircraft. In one case, illustrated with close-up pictures, the report says "UN" has been stenciled onto the wing of a whitewashed Sudanese armed forces plane parked on a military apron at a Darfur airport. Bombs guarded by uniformed soldiers are laid out in rows by its side.

The report says that, contrary to the Sudanese government’s earlier denials to United Nations investigators, the freshly painted planes are being operated out of all three of Darfur’=’s principal airports and used for aerial surveillance and bombardments of villages, in addition to the transportation of cargo.

On the painting of the planes, the report said, "The panel believes the use of white aircraft by the government of the Sudan constitutes a deliberate attempt to conceal the identity of these aircraft." The panel said that the government was refusing to give advance word, as it was directed to do by the Council, of any introduction of weapons and related equipment into Darfur. When challenged to explain its action, the government said "it does not feel obliged to request permission in advance from the Security Council," the report said.

• Sudan Angry at Leak of UN Report on Darfur, Reuters (New York), 19 April 2007

Sudan lashed out on Thursday at a leak of a UN report that accused Khartoum of violating an arms embargo by flying military aircraft in Darfur and painting planes to make them look like U.N. aircraft. Khartoum’s U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem, in a letter to the head of the Security Council’s sanctions committee on Sudan, said the "enemies of peace and stability in Sudan" leaked the report to overshadow recent positive peacekeeping developments for turbulent Darfur.

Abdalhaleem asked Italy’s ambassador, Marcello Spatafora, head of the council committee, to investigate those responsible for the leak to the Times. "It’s all fake, everything is fake," Abdalhaleem told reporters of the report…." The panel said it had seen a Sudanese government airplane in Darfur painted white like UN aircraft and with the letters "UN" painted on its wing.

• Panel Letter to United Nations Security CouncilS/2006/250 (April 19, 2006)

44. In addition, the Government of the Sudan continues to use white aircraft similar to those used by AMIS, the United Nations and some international non- governmental organizations (see fig. 2). [T]he practice of using white vehicles and unmarked aircraft presents a real danger for the peacekeeping forces and humanitarian organizations operating in Darfur.

Figure 2:

Mi-8 helicopter with Sudanese armed forces registration number and AMIS being erased

45. The Panel has evidence that the Government of the Sudan leased at least one Mi-8 helicopter from a local leasing company of foreign origin. This "white" helicopter has been at the centre of controversy, as it was reported to be previously leased by AMIS and was later leased to the Government of the Sudan with the AMIS sign still affixed (as shown in fig. 2). The continued use of unmarked and/or white helicopters for military use indicates reluctance on the part of the Government to seriously consider the threat this action poses for the United Nations and AMIS.

46. On several occasions SLA and NMRD operatives have threatened to shoot down any white helicopters, including United Nations and AMIS helicopters, that fly over certain areas in Darfur. They claim this is in response to the Government’s practice of using white helicopters similar to those used by the United Nations and AMIS. This situation has led to at least one incident where United Nations pilots had to take evasive action to avoid bullets fired from the ground, reportedly by members of SLA.

• UN Panel of Experts to Security Council, Distr.: General 3 October 2006

Figure 6: Unmarked white vehicles at Port Sudan on 26 July 2006

101. The Panel visited the port and witnessed a large consignment of imported Land Rovers, painted off-white (see fig. 6). Similar vehicles were been seen by the Panel in Darfur, being used by NGOs and aid agencies.

D. Offensive military overflight

201. On 30 June 2006, Panel members travelling by UNMIS helicopter visited Umm Sidr, a position in Northern Darfur held by the G19. During discussions with some of the rebel leaders, soldiers and villagers, at about 1200 hours they observed an unmarked white Antonov aircraft circling the area for approximately 45 minutes. The villagers and rebel leaders told the Panel that it was a Government of the Sudan military aircraft, painted white to camouflage as a United Nations or AMIS aircraft, that such intimidating overflights were a regular occurrence in their area, and that they felt threatened as the aircraft often came close to the ground.

• Panel to United Nations Security Council, Distr.General, 30 January 2006

Military vehicles — white vehicles

119. The Panel received information from several sources describing the recent use of white vehicles and white aircraft by the Sudanese armed forces in Darfur. The Panel has been provided with photographic evidence of the use of white vehicles by Government of the Sudan forces (see figure 6 below) and indeed one member of the Panel witnessed a convoy of three white Land Cruiser vehicles, with mounted machine guns, operating in El-Fasher on the morning of 26 November 2005 and another Panel member witnessed a white Land Cruiser with machine-gun mount in Nyala on the evening of 13 November 2005. The African Union has voiced its concern regarding the use of white vehicles to the Government of the Sudan on a number of occasions on the basis that the use of such vehicles could lead to misidentification of AMIS vehicles by parties to the conflict in Darfur. This practice also presents a grave threat to humanitarian agencies, including those of the United Nations system, operating in Darfur.

Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, is author most recently of Compromising with Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012;

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