Violence has escalated in recent weeks in many places in both (north) Sudan and the newly independent Republic of South Sudan. This is especially true in Blue Nile and South Kordofan—border states that ended up in the North, but are home to large populations that fought with the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and identify with southerners—militarily, politically, and culturally. Many Sudan observers are being asked if renewed war can be avoided in this tortured country.
In a matter of days, or hours, the northern Sudanese state of Blue Nile seems likely to be the scene of the most violent military confrontation in Sudan for almost a decade. The Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) released a highly alarming report on September 23, based on substantial satellite photography, indicating that armed forces of Khartoum’s National Islamic Front/National Congress Party (NIF/NCP) regime are mobilizing in a massive formation of armor, troops, and military aircraft: “heavily camouflaged, mechanized units comprising at least a brigade—3,000 troops or more.
Sudan seems to bring out a perverse diffidence in both the Obama administration and the international community. This is especially clear in their response to a growing body of evidence that atrocities are being committed in South Kordofan, a border state in what is now Northern Sudan. Indeed, the more proof that accumulates about the targeted destruction of the African Nuba people, the less the White House and the U.N. seem inclined either to speak out forcefully or to announce a course of action. U.S.
In a recent op-ed in The Washington Post about the independence of South Sudan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered a conspicuous example of the Obama administration’s policy of equivocation when it comes to the world’s newest nation and the country it split from last weekend.
The independent Republic of South Sudan emerged Saturday from the ravages of half a century of war, deprivation, destruction, and displacement. Its freedom was guaranteed overwhelmingly by a self-determination held last January, and, today, it is impossible to resist the celebratory urges evident in Juba, the new capital. But this birth occurs against an exceedingly grim backdrop that suggests resumed war between Sudan and, now, South Sudan is much closer than diplomats and analysts have allowed themselves to say, or perhaps even think.
Two agreements about the dangerous crises in Sudan were signed in the past few days: one purporting to address the Abyei crisis, the other the massive ethnically targeted violence in South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains. Cause for celebration? Hardly.
The ethnically targeted human destruction in South Kordofan in Sudan, directed overwhelmingly at the African peoples of the Nuba Mountains, continues to spread and intensify. Many are warning of a “new Darfur,” a reprise of the destruction of the African tribal groups in western Sudan by Khartoum’s forces from 2003 to the present. The number of people displaced is likely in the hundreds of thousands and growing, and the U.N. reports that “the “security situation continues to deteriorate.” Nearly all World Food Program workers have been evacuated.
Two weeks after Khartoum’s tanks, artillery, and military aircraft began moving into South Kordofan, violence—especially against civilians—continues to explode. There are now scores of reliable reports that attacks against the indigenous Nuba people have accelerated, both on the ground and from the air. Humanitarian conditions are deteriorating rapidly, aid workers are fleeing the region, essential relief supplies have been looted in the regional capital of Kadugli, and the U.N.
As the July 9 date for the secession of South Sudan approaches, something very ugly is happening in Sudan. Northern Sudan has initiated a series of violent affronts on contested regions: the border region of Abyei last month, and now, South Kordofan, a northern state whose inhabitants mainly identify with the South.
Darfur has become all but invisible. With fewer and fewer human rights reports, news dispatches, or even candid accounts from U.N. leaders, events in the region have dropped almost fully out of international view. Facilitating this slip is the fact that global attention has recently shifted away from Darfur to other areas of Sudan: to negotiations with Khartoum, to the south’s independence referendum in January, and, more recently, to the mounting crisis in Abyei, the contested border area between the north and the south. So have things improved in Darfur?