Sudan: The Great Divide


October 27, 2010: Several African states are worried that the imminent independence of South Sudan will lead to a radical redrawing of African borders. Libya has stated it openly, but everyone knows the fear is shared by many African governments. Colonial powers drew most of the borders in the 19th and 20th centuries. The borders-drawn-in-parlors often divided tribes and sometimes made very little on-the-ground geographic sense. If South Sudan votes for independence (secession the northerners call it) the thinking goes that this will cause a chain reaction, first in the Grand Sahel (Darfur being another possibility) then throughout the rest of the continent. The already semi-autonomous Government of South Sudan (GOSS) disputes this assessment, and points to Eritrea separating from Ethiopia. That did not cause a continent-wide shake-up. However, it may not be the best of examples, since Eritrea and Ethiopia subsequently fought a long and bloody border war, which is not yet completely settled. The deep background story regarding South Sudan's likely exit is Arab Muslim versus black African. The black African is usually Christian or animist, but can also be a Muslim as well (eg., black Muslim farmers in Darfur). This ethno-religious divide is sharpest in the Sahel region (region below the Sahara Desert). It is the definitive divide between North Sudan and South Sudan. A critic might say these nations are failing states or failed states anyway, why does it matter if they shatter? After the inevitable little wars, the new map might be more stable. It might, and it might not. The eastern Congo shattered and it remains a broken land of militias, guerrillas, frightened tribespeople, corrupt Congolese Army units, and a few thousand UN peacekeepers.

October 26, 2010: The UN is considering reinforcing peacekeeping units in southern Sudan. The peacekeepers could take up positions along the North-South Sudan border prior to the January 2011 South Sudan independence referendum. On October 9, the GOSS suggested the UN to explore conducting such an expanded operation along the border and the UN's peacekeeping office complied. However, the UN's own military advisers have told the Security Council that adding peacekeepers and positioning them along the boundary will not prevent new conflict. One reason is the border is 2,000 kilometers in length-- a lot of line to cover. The UN could put troops in regions of particular concern, the oil-producing Abyei region for example. Abyei is scheduled to have its own referendum, and the latest reports from the area indicate ethnic and political tension is increasing. Around 10,000 soldiers, police, and advisers currently serve with the UN's UNMIS (UN Mission in Sudan) peacekeeping force. UNMIS was formed to help support the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the North-South civil war.

October 25, 2010: The national government assured the U.S. that it will hold the January 2011 southern independence referendum as scheduled. The vote is supposed to take place on January 9, 2011. However, members of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) have threatened to delay the vote.

October 24, 2010: The main Darfur rebel organization, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) announced that it would consider re-opening peace negotiations with the national government. The JEM quit the negotiations in Qatar in May 2010. Since the JEM walked out, violence has once again increased in the Darfur region.

October 17, 2010: The GOSS said that it has recruited over 6,000 new police cadets. Some have already begun training to form a new regional police force. Ultimately South Sudan would have a regional police force with 30,000 officers. UN police advisers are helping train the force. Local security is a major issue in southern Sudan, which is plagued by cattle raiders and attacks by marauding bands of Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) Ugandan rebels.

October 16, 2010: The national government told the UN Security Council that UN peacekeepers may only take up new positions along the North-South border with its permission. The northern government says it must have the final decision on deployments and contends any attempt by the UN to create a north-south buffer zone would infringe on Sudanese sovereignty.

October 13, 2010: Members of the Misseriya tribe in the Abyei region called for face-to-face talks among tribal leaders to resolve pre-referendum tensions. The Misseriya are predominantly cattle-herding pastoralists. They have been fighting with the Dinka Ngok tribe over land and water rights. Would that land and water were the only issues, but they aren't. Abyei has oil, which means the national government and the GOSS are both interested in retaining royalty rights. Many Dinka Ngok also contend that the Misseriya are nomads and therefore are not residents of Abyei. This means the Misseriya should not get to vote in Abyei's special referendum, which (like the southern independence referendum) is also scheduled for January 9, 2011. The issue of voter eligibility has not been resolved

October 11, 2010: South Sudan accused Sudanese Army soldiers (ie, northern soldiers) of trying to start a gun battle in Abyei. A GOSS security spokesman claimed four Sudanese Army soldiers entered a town market and began shooting. One civilian was wounded in the incident. The south contends the north is trying to sow trouble prior to Abyei's referendum. Both the Sudanese Army and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLM, the southern army) have garrisons in Abyei.

October 10, 2010: Police in the capital (Khartoum) broke up a pro-southern independence demonstration. The demonstrators were protesting a pro-unity rally sponsored by the national government.




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