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Violence taints southern joy on eve of independence

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2011-06-23

Southern Sudanese will celebrate the birth of their new country on July 9 after voting for secession from the north in a January referendum. But the joy of independence is being threatened by a new wave of violence and ethnic strife.

Leaders from north and south Sudan have agreed to withdraw troops from the contested border region of Abyei and allow Ethiopian peacekeepers to move in under a UN mandate, according to South African mediators.

News of the deal has drawn a sigh of relief from southerners, but the resurgence of violence along the north-south border has dampened their celebratory mood just three weeks before south Sudan becomes its own country on July 9.

“We welcome the news of the agreement, but with reservation,” said Santino Fardol, a representative of south Sudan’s ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) party in France. “The north has never respected an agreement with us, so we will have to see how this deal is implemented on the ground.”

The government of Khartoum in the north and southern rebels fought a devastating civil war for more than two decades (1983-2005), leaving an estimated two million people dead and four million more displaced. In 2005 the two sides signed a peace deal to end the war and open the way for southern independence.

Southern Sudanese voted overwhelmingly for independence in a Jan. 9-15 referendum, but an outstanding decision on the status of the oil-rich Abyei region threatens to mar their country’s peace from birth. “Southerners can’t be happy without Abyei,” said Fardol.

Abyei residents are still waiting to hold a separate vote on whether to join the south or remain part of the north.

Khartoum has said it will pull back its soldiers from Abyei when the peacekeepers are sent in. But more than around 100,000 people – mostly pro-southerners – have already fled the disputed region, according to the UN.

Poisoned independence

Another worrisome issue for the new south Sudan is protecting Nuba minorities who live in the Arab-majority north, but who tend to sympathise with southerners along ethnic lines.

Since June 5 the South Kordofan state, which is in northern Sudan, has seen heavy fighting between northern soldiers and fighters who previously fought for southern independence.

Sudanese religious leaders and activists say Khartoum is now waging a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Nuba peoples, who died in massive numbers during the civil war. Northern leaders reject these claims.

The north's ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has accused the fighters of trying to start a rebellion in South Kordofan after the NCP candidate won the governorship in elections last month. Southern officials say the fighters are no longer part of its army.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said on Monday that she had received reports from the region that were “horrifying, both because of the scope of human rights abuses and because of the ethnic dimension of the conflict”.

Speaking at the UN, Rice cited accounts in which northern forces had arrested and summarily executed supporters of southern Sudan in South Kordofan, adding that up to 75,000 people had fled their homes.

The reports appeared to confirm fears expressed less than a week ago by Roger Winter, a former US special representative on Sudan. “Today, again, Nuba (in South Kordofan) are positioned for liquidation by Khartoum forces,” Winter told US lawmakers at a Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights.

Winter warned that strife in Abyei and South Kordofan was potentially explosive, and to expect relations between Khartoum and south Sudan in the post-independence period to be “poisonous at best”.


Date created : 2011-06-21


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