North Sudan demands South withdraws troops from border states


THE NORTHERN Sudanese government has called on the South’s soldiers stationed in two key border states to withdraw within two days, just a week after they seized the disputed region of Abyei.

In a letter to south Sudan’s chief of staff, the North told southern officials they wanted their troops to withdraw from the states of Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan by the beginning of June. The South, which declares independence on July 9th, has so far refused, saying their soldiers in both regions are locals.

“There is a real risk that this could trigger off a return to war,” said Fouad Hakmatt, a Sudan analyst with the International Crisis Group. “It is very clear that the North is trying to squeeze southern Sudan into a corner.”

Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan are considered northern territory, but because of a mishmash of ethnicities and allegiances they were expected to hold a vaguely defined “popular consultation” process to decide their futures.

Many of their inhabitants fought for the South during the 22-year civil war that ended in 2005 with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Between 40,000 and 60,000 members of the South’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army, are also from both states.

South Sudan is already facing its most violent year since the end of the civil war in 2005, Oxfam said last week.

On Sunday, a US-based group claimed satellite images showed that north Sudanese forces burned about one third of all civilian buildings when they seized the border town of Abyei, indiscriminately targeting civilians as they moved in.

“The totality of evidence from satellites and ground sources points to state-sponsored ethnic cleansing of much of the contested Abyei region,” the Satellite Sentinel Project said.

In a statement, the actor George Clooney, who founded the satellite initiative with the Enough Project, a Sudan advocacy group, accused the north of war crimes in the region.

“We focused satellites on Abyei because everyone concerned believed that if the Sudan government would try to undermine the North-South peace, it would do so through Abyei,” said Clooney.

“We now have undeniable proof of the Khartoum regime’s war crimes in Abyei,” he added.

Some analysts believe that the North’s invasion of Abyei and posturing over Blue Nile and South Kordofan is engineered to bolster the position of President Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum.

Cracks have begun to emerge in the regime and the example of a newly independent south Sudan could encourage parts of the country such as Blue Nile, South Kordofan and Darfur to break free after years of neglect by the country’s central elite in Khartoum.

However, the North has claimed it was within its rights to take Abyei. “SAF (Sudan Armed Forces) intervention in Abyei was legal and legitimate, and comes within their responsibility to protect the country, its sovereignty and security,” said the Sudan Media Centre.