Blue Nile falls over the edge

Posted: September 17, 2011 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in World

Saturday, 17 September 2011 12:14 By Matthew Stein and Agencies

The region becomes the third centre of conflict in Sudan

It was only a matter of time until Sudan’s growing internal rebellion spilled over into Blue Nile state—the third border area to fall victim to intense conflict since South Sudan’s July 9 independence. For months mistrust and suspicions have plagued the relationship between Blue Nile’s elected Governor Malik Agar and the Sudanese government in Khartoum, culminating in Sudan President Omar al-Bashir’s decision to declare a state of emergency and dismiss Agar from his post on September 2 and replace him with Yahia Mohammed Kheir, a local military ruler three days later.

Tensions in Blue Nile have also been exacerbated by the failure to hold “popular consultations” in the state over its future, as stipulated in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), and on account of its former governor also serving as the Chairman of the Sudan People Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), a Blue Nile and South Kordofan–based political party that was outlawed by Sudan’s government on September 4.

The fact that Blue Nile borders South Sudan, Khartoum’s traditional enemy, and South Kordofan, the scene of a current rebellion, must have also played prominent roles in propelling the northern army into action.

Although some SPLM soldiers from the south have been involved in the most recent escalation, the government in South Sudan’s capital Juba maintains that they are not supporting rebels north of the border. Instead, it argues, that the rebellions have been engendered by Khartoum’s provocative marginalisation policies.

However, Sana Hamad al-Awad, the Sudanese minister of information recently stated that northern authorities had seized documents proving that the salaries of 20,000 SPLA fighters in Blue Nile are being paid by the Juba government.

Since September 2, there have been repeated clashes between the northern army and forces loyal to Agar, principally in Damazin, the state capital. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that fighting, including air strikes has been present in eight locations, however Kheir has claimed that the situation has been “very calm” since Agar’s forces were reportedly driven from the area.

The UN says fighting in Blue Nile has prompted at least 50,000 civilians, “and possibly many more,” to flee their homes, including 20,000 people who crossed into Ethiopia from Kurmuk, Geissan and Menza. The commissioner of Bau locality in Blue Nile, Babikir Mohammed Osman, has also said that more than half of the 175,000 people living in his area were on the move because of the fighting, many of them SPLM supporters who feared retaliation.

“This is the most disastrous thing the state has witnessed, even during the civil war,” he said. “During the civil war, no displacement took place in Damazin town. Now almost all the people of Damazin have left.”

The events in Blue Nile have been strongly criticised by top officials such as Princeton Lyman, the US envoy to Sudan, and EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, who has warned about its potential to further destabilise the region.

“These clashes represent a dangerous escalation of the conflict in Southern Kordofan,” said Ashton, “amidst reports of serious human rights violations and continuing lack of humanitarian access.”

Aid agencies have also been complaining that gaining access to Blue Nile has proved problematic on account of Khartoum’s actions: “[We] have requested permission from the government to travel to Sennar (the neighbouring state) and to secure parts of northern Blue Nile state to assess the situation and assist in addressing humanitarian needs,” said OCHA in a recent  report.”But they have so far been denied access to do so,” it said, adding that, as in nearby South Kordofan, where a similar three-month-old conflict is still raging, the government has insisted that aid be provided through national partners such as the Sudanese Red Crescent.

As of now, both sides have been taking turns claiming that they are in control of the situation. On September 8, Agar told reporters from Kurmuk, located near South Sudan’s border, that his group controls 80 percent of the Blue Nile, except al-Damazin and al-Roseris in the northern part of the state.

However, Kheir dismissed Agar’s statements saying it is Sudan’s military that controls 80 percent of the state.

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