By Mike King – Tension, mistrust and the threat of a slide into war characterise Sudan’s security situation ahead of general elections set for April 2010 and an independence referendum for the South to be held in January 2011. The conduct and outcome of the polls will go a long way to determining if entrenched conflicts in southern Sudan and Darfur can be resolved peacefully or whether Sudan will revert to civil war. There have been numerous disputes between the North and South over the interpretation and implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement – signed in 2005 to end decades of conflict between the two sides.
However, crises over voter registration, campaigning restrictions and the distribution of seats in parliament have all been addressed in some form, suggesting that both the ruling NCP in the North and the dominant SPLM in the South are committed to the April elections. Indeed, the NCP is committed because it believes it will win both the parliamentary and presidential races; and the SPLM because it sees the poll as a trial run for the independence referendum nine months later. Still, the potential for a return to war between the North and South is high.
While President Omar al- Bashir has declared he would accept a decision by the South to separate from Sudan, Southerners doubt the likelihood of a ‘velvet divorce’ and accuse the North of fomenting conflict in the South. Thus, while violence in southern Sudan – which, in the last year left 2,000 dead and 250,000 displaced – has been attributed to land and cattle disputes between traditional ethnic rivals. Others have suggested Khartoum is behind the incidents in an effort to undermine any move towards southern independence or, if this is unavoidable, to ensure that the North emerges with the best spoils following any partition of Sudan.
Southerners have also regularly accused Khartoum of using the Ugandan rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army, as a proxy to destabilise the South. The LRA has carried out attacks in southern Sudan that have left hundreds dead and tens of thousands displaced, though recent action by the SPLM and neighbouring government forces have weakened LRA effectiveness. However, reports now claim the LRA has found sanctuary in Darfur, where the Sudanese government is allegedly providing its fighters with arms and logistical support in preparation to infiltrate it back into southern Sudan.
In Darfur, ceasefire deals signed in early 2010 between two rebel groups and the Sudanese government led President al-Bashir to declare that ‘the crisis in Darfur is finished’; but the ceasefires show no signs of being converted into genuine peace deals, with disagreements existing between the parties over power and wealth sharing, refugees and the integration of rebel fighters into the Sudanese army. The rebels are also divided, with the larger JEM insisting the LJM has no authority to discuss with Khartoum the future of Darfur. Moreover, a third Darfur rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Army, has so far refused to enter negotiations with the Sudanese government, with reports emerging of fighting in the SLA stronghold of Jebel Marrar between the SLA and government forces backed by the janjaweed Arab militia. The government’s land and air offensive has apparently left hundreds dead and 100,000 displaced.