Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sudan on the Verge of Full-Scale Civil War?

Achol’s face and neck were dotted with white burns from the sparks of a cluster bomb. Her daughter, one-year-old Nyibach, suffered from the same painful sores. Achol’s family, which includes four other children who went missing in the chaos of the recent attack, is from Abyei, the hotly contested region on Sudan’s North-South border.

Deploying Antonov planes and fighter jets, ground troops, tanks, and government-aligned militias, the Sudanese government’s military offensive late last month in Abyei displaced upwards of 100,000 people. Abyei’s leaders, themselves displaced along with the majority of the area’s Ngok Dinka residents, estimated that 116 civilians were killed, but the death toll is difficult to determine because the government has restricted access.

But casualties like Achol and Nyibach aren’t simply “collateral damage” of a confrontation between the northern and southern armies. According to an internal U.N. memo, the ethnic make-up of the displaced, and accounts by those who fled, indicate a campaign by the Sudanese government to deliberately target civilians, with the aim of depopulating the Abyei area of residents that identify as southerners.

No sooner had the situation in Abyei tenuously stabilized -– with the northern and southern armies facing each other on either side of the river and tens of thousands of displaced southerners receiving aid – when fighting broke out just north of Abyei in Southern Kordofan, the North’s only oil-producing state. The military confrontation reportedly arose from a disarmament campaign gone afoul. But violence has now engulfed most of the state, prompting President Obama to issue an audio statement calling for an immediate ceasefire.

With South Sudan’s independence from the North just weeks away, the northern government led by President Omar al-Bashir, notorious for its targeting of civilians based on ethnicity and use of local militias to flame local tensions, seems set on destabilizing the border area in a last-ditch effort to back the southern government into a wall. Diplomats have been clear that the recent violence won’t derail the South’s secession, but much is still at stake in negotiations between the two sides over arrangements on combustible issues such as oil, citizenship, debt, and boundaries, including the status of Abyei. (read more)