If you have been monitoring the news or receiving PPF’s email alerts or our Facebook status updates, you know by now that north and south Sudan have returned to war.
There are many facets to this conflict which must be probed to fully understand the current situation and what it means for the future of the region.
The first thing to know is that the international community and much of the mainstream press do not fully grasp what is happening right now in Sudan. For instance, when we read articles about the present conflict, we are told that South Sudan has “invaded” its northern neighbor. This is simply not true.
In this article, we will seek to address several key points that will hopefully give you the big picture of the current crisis and then let you know how you can get involved to help.
In 2005, the war between the National Islamic Front (NIF) government in Khartoum and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) came to an official end with the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). This agreement was, in part, brokered by the US, which became a custodian of the agreement to make sure each party kept their end of the bargain.
The CPA gave southern Sudan virtual autonomy with the option for secession in 2011. The agreement also called for border demarcation between the two sections of Sudan. Finally, the agreement put in place measures to give marginalized groups in the north, including Southern Kordofan (the Nuba Mountains) and the Blue Nile regions, more representation and influence in Khartoum.
From the very outset, the NIF government (now renamed the National Congress Party– NCP) violated terms of the CPA. Border demarcation was never seriously addressed. In fact, the NCP proceeded to “grab” land that was traditionally part of the south. One of the areas “claimed” by the NCP was a place call Heglig — more on that later.
It became obvious early on during the “peace” that the terrorists in Khartoum were engaging in one of their old tricks. They were simply using diplomacy to distract the world from their real focus and priorities at the time. In 2005, that focus was Darfur — a large area left out of the CPA. While Sudan Dictator Omar al Bashir smiled and shook hands in Naivasha, Kenya during the CPA negotiations, his butcher, Ahmed Haroun, was busy slaughtering the people of Darfur by the hundreds of thousands.
The War in the North
In early 2011, the NCP regime was waking up to the realization that the party would soon be over. In January, the south voted overwhelmingly to secede from the north. Official independence was set for July 9th, and South Sudan would take more than 80 percent of the oil reserves in Sudan with it.
A rising national debt, coupled with the inevitable demise of most oil revenues sent the Sudanese Pound into a nosedive. Shortages were everywhere, and protests broke out in the streets of Khartoum. It looked like the “Arab Spring” was headed to Sudan. Meanwhile, the Darfur genocide had earned the NCP several indictments by the International Criminal Court, including the dictator Bashir himself– indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. And to make matters worse, elections in the northern state of Southern Kordofan were scheduled for May, and it was looking bad for the NCP candidate.
Southern Kordofan comprises the largest border with South Sudan, and is home to the Nuba Mountains, an area long allied to the South. But Bashir had problems in all the border areas. Long marginalized, the regions of Abyei, Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile State were not only sympathetic to South Sudan, they contained the rest of the North’s precious oil reserves.
With the border demarcation and oil sharing arrangements with South Sudan still not resolved, and the clock ticking to southern independence, Bashir had to act fast.
In May 2011, Bashir sent his army into the oil rich Abyei region. In an international arbitration ruling, the NCP won the rights to retain Abyei as part of northern territory. But Bashir didn’t want just legal concessions. He wanted to remove the southern-sympathizing population out of the entire region. So he sent in the army and swept the region clear of its black population. The UN estimated that 100,000 people were cleared out of Abyei in a matter of weeks.
The attack on Abyei corresponded with the elections in Southern Kordofan, which were a recognized fraud to any serious observers. The “winning” NCP candidate was none other than Ahmed Haroun, indicted war criminal and butcher of Darfur.
Haroun ordered the Nuba people to disarm and anyone affiliated with the SPLA to leave the state. This order was another violation of the CPA, which specified that SPLA troops could remain in the marginalized areas like the Nuba Mountains through August of 2011. When the leadership of the SPLA refused to comply, Haroun used this as a pretext to invade the capitol city of Kadugli. Accounts from Kadugli told of a mass slaughter of anyone who was ethnically Nuban or Christian.
Bashir intentionally instigated this new military campaign in the north prior to the independence of South Sudan, because he knew the Southerners would not interfere or do anything to endanger their own peaceful secession.
On July 9th, South Sudan seceded amidst great celebration and world attention. Meanwhile, their old allies in the north were fighting for their lives.
In August, the war spread as Bashir sent his forces to attack the Blue Nile State. The Governor of Blue Nile, Malek Agar, was also the chairman of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N), the largest political opposition to the NCP in the north. With the South official gone, Bashir’s party decided to eliminate all opposition and become effectively a one-party state.
Bashir’s purpose in attacking these border areas was clearly to drive out the indigenous black populations which Bashir sees as a threat to his autocratic reign. Ethnic cleansing is not new in Sudan, but has been an integral part of the “Arabization” and “Islamization” policy of Bashir’s party for more than 20 years.
All humanitarian access to the conflict zones was prohibited by Bashir. The excuse was that Bashir’s forces did not want humanitarian assistance to go to the rebels. But the reality is Bashir wants to empty the land of “undesirables.” He even told his soldiers to “take out the garbage” in the Nuba Mountains.
Adding Insult to Injury
After launching his attacks in the border regions, Bashir ordered cross-border incursions into South Sudan using his air force to bomb fleeing civilians from the conflict zones. The Sudan Air Force did not focus on SPLA targets, but rather chose civilian areas to spread terror and to support his policy of ethnic cleansing.
These multiple border violations were greeted with criticism by the international community. But since the US and UN’s official stance on the Sudan crisis is that they do not support regime change, the terrorist government in Khartoum is still treated as a legitimate government even though it has killed more than 3 million of its own citizens and may represent 10 percent of the population.
Even though its sovereignty was being regularly violated in the closing months of 2011, the government of South Sudan was playing it cool. This changed with the new year, when it was discovered that Bashir’s government had stolen $ billions worth of oil from the pipeline running through its territory.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir responded by ordering an immediate shutdown of every oil well in South Sudan. This extraordinary action coincided with another significant event in the conflict zone that represented a “game changer” in Sudan.
The Sudan Revolutionary Front
Opposition to the NCP government in Khartoum traditionally has come from several organizations and movements that represent various marginalized groups in Sudan. The largest opposition is the SPLM. But there are many other “alphabet soup” groups that oppose the autocratic policies of Bashir, including the DUP, SLA-Minni, SLA-Nur, Umma, PCP, SCP, the Beja Congress, etc.
Most of these groups have been chiefly concerned about their own grievances and never took up offense for other marginalized groups. This changed on November 12, 2011, when most of the marginalized organizations joined forces to create the Sudan Revolutionary Front. The SRF represents a united front in North Sudan against Bashir’s government. The very existence of this coalition, which is made up of extremely diverse groups, many of whom were previous enemies, shows how fragile Bashir’s grip on power has become. Bashir has been a master of “divide and conquer.” But now his enemies are united around one overriding goal– regime change.
The Heglig “Invasion”
The formation of the Sudan Revolutionary Front coincided with many victories on the ground by rebel forces. Bashir’s response was to fight more in the area where he is challenged the least: the skies. Bashir’s “rain of terror” from the sky completely closed the airspace to humanitarian flights. Moreover, Bashir not only ordered more air strikes in South Sudan, he even sent his army across the border to attack SPLA troops he claims are fighting in the north.
Finally, South Sudan had enough. In April, 2012, President Kiir ordered his troops to take the disputed area of Heglig. Bashir went ballistic. His government immediately called upon the intentional community to condemn the “invasion.” Sadly, the US and UN complied, demanding that Kiir withdraw his forces.
There’s just one problem with the allegations of invasion — they are completely false. The Heglig region is traditionally part of South Sudan. In fact, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed in 2005, used the borders defined in 1956 at the time of Sudan’s independence. This map shows Heglig in South Sudan.
PPF’s Brad Phillips has personally visited the Heglig region several times. Ten years ago, when Bashir’s forces were sweeping through the region to clear it of people so that oil firms could come in and begin exploiting the reserves, he conducted several outreaches to the refugees with PPF partner, The Voice of the Martyrs. Heglig at that time was known as Panthou in Panrieng County in the Western Upper Nile region of South Sudan.
It was Bashir’s troops, in contrast, who invaded Heglig during the Interim Period of peace following the signing of the CPA. Even though this area was populated with South Sudanese and had been traditionally part of the South, Bashir did not want to give up wells that pumped more than $10 million worth of oil per day from the area.
But few people in the mainstream media know this history, and fewer bureaucrats in the US State Department and the UN seem to care.
After 7 years of relative peace, north and south Sudan are now at war again. For those of us who know the history of this conflict and the politics of the region, it is obvious what needs to happen in the international community. The die has been cast. The South has decided to defend its young sovereignty. The marginalized groups in Sudan have united and are engaged with South Sudan in a bloody struggle against a monstrous regime which the intentional community continues to coddle.
Why are the US and UN refusing to support regime change and begin serious meetings with the leadership of the marginalized groups in northern Sudan, as well as with policy makers in South Sudan, to discuss the inevitable collapse of Bashir and his thugs in Khartoum? Transition from one regime to another can be messy if not planned ahead of time. And many experts on the Sudan crisis believe the US is blowing an opportunity to help establish a free government in Khartoum by continuing to deal with violent, tyrannical, yet undeniably terminal leaders in Khartoum. The international community must proactively plan for the New Sudan.
But PPF is not a political organization. We focus on helping people, not framing policy. Brad Phillips recently returned from Juba where he met with ministry partners who are working together to bring relief and encouragement to the refugees of this new war.
PPF will continue to do its part in helping the suffering and persecuted, but we need your help in this work. Please share this article with your friends, family, church groups, and anyone you know who cares about the persecuted church in Sudan. Please encourage them to visit www.savethenuba.com or www.persecutionproject.org, to learn how they can engage in active compassion with us. PPF is your bridge to bring love and encouragement to the persecuted. We encourage you to continue using this bridge for God’s glory and in love for our brothers and sisters in Africa.