Calls for Nuba Mountains independence

August, 23, 2002 (IRIN)

A leading southern Sudanese activist has called for independence for the Nuba Mountains region in southwestern Sudan, as part of a final negotiated peace deal expected to follow ongoing talks to end the country's long-standing conflict.

The Sudanese veteran politician and leader of the Free Sudanese National Party (FSNP), Father Philip Abbas Ghabbush, was quoted in the Sunday edition of the Khartoum Monitor newspaper as saying he would like to see the Nuba Mountains made independent under international trusteeship if the peace talks being held in Kenya failed to address the issue of the region.

The negotiations are being conducted in the southwestern Kenyan town of Machakos under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Drought and chaired by Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi. They are a follow-up to talks in July at which a landmark agreement was reached between the Khartoum government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) on the holding of a referendum in the south in six years' time to decide between unity and secession.

However, the issue of the Nuba Mountains did not feature in the July talks, according to Ghabbush. "We will ask for making the Nuba Mountains an independent entity, under the responsibility of the United Nations. It was not stated during the talks that the Nuba Mountains belong to the north or the south," he said.

Khartoum has so far insisted that southern Sudan is defined by boundaries set at independence from Anglo-Egyptian rule in 1956. These exclude Nuba Mountains, southern Blue Nile and other disputed and marginalised regions, whose inhabitants, the SPLM/A argues, identify with the southern struggle, although not physically in the south.

Philip Neroun, the executive director of the Nuba Relief Rehabilitation and Development Organisation (NRRDO), and a supporter of the southern struggle, told IRIN on Friday in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, that the ongoing negotiations in Machakos were expected to address the inclusion of the Nuba Mountains as part of the south, but not as an independent region. "We respect his [Ghabbush's] ideas for Nuba to be separate, but SPLM/A wants the Nuba Mountains to be part of the south," he said.

"According to the [Machakos] Protocol [arrived at in July], boundaries are not defined. The issues are being pushed in this round," he added.

During the July talks, negotiators withdrew a proposal to use the 1956 geographical definitions of southern Sudan, after the SPLM/A raised objections, according to Neroun. With the July talks having succeeded, regional political sources believe that the current round of talks provide a good chance for the parties to substantively address the issues of wealth-sharing, and the fate of the Nuba Mountains and other disputed areas.

Ghabbush is supported by an alliance of three political parties active in the region - the Nuba Mountains General Union, the Sudan National Party, and his own party - which have echoed his demand for Nuba Mountains to be treated as an entity separate from both the north and the south.

In a letter addressed to Lazarus Sumbeiywo, Kenya's peace envoy to Sudan, on 5 August, the alliance said the three parties were "extremely concerned about the Nuba Mountains' future, because the issue of the Nuba Mountains, as well as the marginalised areas in northern Sudan, was not mentioned in the agreement".

"We in the alliance, and on behalf of the Nuba people of Sudan, would like to bring to your attention that the Nuba Mountains borders of the 1925 Provinces Act clearly indicate that the Nuba Mountains is a separate region which has its own entity. Therefore, it is important to bear this fact in mind at your next negotiations in Nairobi," it added. The Machakos protocol referred only to north and south with, "no reference at all to the Nuba Mountains, as if Nuba Mountains is part and parcel of either south or north", the letter said.

The main demands by the alliance are that the Nuba Mountains region be administered from either the north or the south, under the supervision of international bodies during the six-year transitional period agreed upon in the Machakos protocol; and that at the end of the transitional period, the Nuba people should have the same right as the southern Sudanese people to determine their political future in the referendum, according to the alliance.

The 19-year Sudanese conflict, which has killed an estimated two million people, has often been portrayed as a war between the Muslim fundamentalist north and the largely Christian and animist south, but analysts argue that in reality, it is much more complex. The conflict also is believed to be further complicated by the ongoing oil exploitation being undertaken by the Khartoum government, with Canadian, Chinese and other foreign partners in the disputed regions of south-central Sudan, such as western Upper Nile.

In the Nuba Mountains, the war has resulted in devastating humanitarian problems, prompting the United States government in September 2001 to appoint Senator John Danforth as its peace envoy to Sudan. Danforth early this year successfully negotiated a six-month ceasefire for the Nuba region. The ceasefire, which expired in July has been renewed for another six months.