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Analysis: Sudan border fighting challenge for Bashir

Sep 14, 2011, 7:03 a.m.
Internally-displaced citizens walk to their homes as armed guards pass by on a vehicle, after the army took control of the area at Al-Damazin town at Blue Nile State, Sudan September 6, 2011. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

By Hereward Holland

JUBA (Reuters) - Fighting spreading along Sudan's new southern border could develop into a coordinated insurgency and encourage efforts to mount a political challenge to President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Clashes broke out earlier this month between the army and rebels loyal to Sudan's opposition SPLM-N party in Blue Nile state, the third area along the border with the newly created South Sudan to explode into violence in recent months.

The Sudanese army is already fighting SPLM-N rebels in South Kordofan, an oil state west of Blue Nile. And the United Nations is enforcing a ceasefire in the disputed region of Abyei after Khartoum seized it in May.

"There's a new 'South' in the north of Sudan. From Blue Nile to Darfur, people are seeking the restructuring of the center," Yasir Arman, secretary general of the SPLM-N, told Reuters.

"This will put an end to Bashir's regime," he said.

Apart from South Kordofan and Blue Nile, dissent is simmering in other regions such as Darfur and east Sudan, a neglected region which has seen an insurgency in the past and where opposition groups demand more development.

Analysts say instead of seeking political compromise, Khartoum is counting on the military to crush rebellions and wants to placate hardliners in the army who see the loss of the south as a humiliation.

Bashir has replaced the SPLM-N's elected governor of Blue Nile, Malik Agar, with a temporary military leader and imposed a state of emergency.

The government blames the SPLM-N for the fighting and offers fighters who surrender the opportunity to become integrated into the regular army. It says the SPLM-N is an illegal party.

Some analysts say the fighting could push Agar, a popular SPLM-N leader who has built good working relations with Bashir's party since the 2005 peace deal, firmly away from resuming talks with Khartoum.

"Khartoum believes that the only way it can survive is by cracking down, but I think that could backfire. There's a possibility that this could fuse opposition factions," said Harry Verhoeven, a PhD candidate at Oxford University focusing on Sudan.

With much wealth and power concentrated in the hands of a few families in Khartoum, Sudan has faced insurgencies and armed opposition on its peripheries since independence from Britain in 1956.

While foreign investment has been on the rise since the 2005 peace agreement ended decades of civil war with the south, little has been done to develop infrastructure beyond the capital and central Sudan, which is fuelling anger elsewhere.

The government is building a huge new airport for Khartoum, but the capital of Blue Nile state, Damazin, has only a tiny airport, for example.

If the fighting continues to spread in a sustained way, it will put significant financial pressure on Bashir. Khartoum faces budget problems after losing 75 percent of its oil production when South Sudan became independent in July.

PARTY SPLIT

The SPLM party split into north and south along with the country itself earlier this year. The northern party now says it is looking to team up with rebels in the western region of Darfur, scene of an almost decade-long insurgency, on both a political and military level.

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