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

"We are going to have a political and military umbrella," the SPLM-N's Arman said.

He said SPLM-N was about to sign an alliance with the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), two Darfur rebel groups which have some historical ties with southern-allied opposition.

He said he envisions a group with a single leader which would later include "all other opposition political forces."

Analysts say such an alliance could pose a threat since the SPLM-N in South Kordofan and Blue Nile has several thousand troops and some military hardware left over from the civil war.

"The combination of extensive (combat) experience and regional network of the SPLM-N with the ongoing ability of the SLM and JEM to hold ground and maintain pressure in Darfur suggests that such an alliance has considerable military potential that could change the dynamics of politics in north Sudan," said Sharath Srinivasan, director of the Center of Governance and Human Rights at the University of Cambridge.

JEM spokesman el-Tahir el-Faki said an agreement would be inked in the next few weeks.

"The first process was the formation of a political and military process. The next step is discussing how that framework will work," El Faki said.

Analysts say the SPLM-N would be a fit for Darfur rebels who are searching for new allies after the fall of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, who gave them support and allowed the use of his territory.

"It's very clear that the SPLM-N have no other choice than mobilising their constituents for a popular uprising," said Fouad Hikmat at the International Crisis Group.

"An alliance would allow their forces to be more dynamic. I think it could be beyond rhetoric. It could go from an alliance to a joint command and create a wider opposition in the north but only time will tell if they can turn that into reality," he said.


Magdi El Gizouli, a fellow at the Rift Valley Institute, said the success of the planned alliance would depend whether it got any significant backing from abroad.

"Politically it's good because it sounds like there's a ring of rebellions in a big alliance. But militarily, they can't link all these fronts, not with the number of troops that they have," Gizouli said.

"This is going to be a long war," he said.

Western powers are pressuring South Sudan to stay out of the fighting. Analysts say its army, the SPLA, might have some ties with fighters on the ground but Juba denies it supports them.

"With the historic relationship there it's a temptation (to interfere) and it's one we want them to resist because... they are in a position to encourage the peace process," U.S. Special Sudan envoy Princeton Lyman said last week in Khartoum.

To ease tensions in the poorly marked joint border area, Khartoum and Juba agreed to withdraw their forces from Abyei which both sides claim, the U.N. said last week.

"These offensives in Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile are a manifestation of a regime that is worried about their future," said Roger Middleton at Chatham House.

"The main threat is no longer just in Darfur. I don't know if they have the military capability to walk into Khartoum, but they might not need to. If they can keep the government tied down then it opens the possibility that political opposition can take the advantage through a popular uprising in Khartoum or a coup," he said.

(Additional reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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