Sudanese return to war-struck state, mine threat

Jan 19, 2005 (Reuters)

The population in southern Sudan's war-ravaged Nuba Mountains area has doubled in the past three years as refugees return home because a truce is holding, the head of the ceasefire monitoring mission said on Wednesday.

But Brigadier General Jan Erik Wilhelmson said that it could take 5-10 years for all the land mines, not counting the unexploded ordnance, to be removed from the area, which saw some of the fiercest fighting and mass human rights abuses during the latter period of Sudan's almost 22 years of civil war.

"According to my statistics over the last 3 years there has been a 100 percent increase in the population and the last figures I got is 1.498 million -- it used to be 750,000," he told reporters in Khartoum.

The Nuba Mountains mission, which began in early 2002, has overseen relative calm, with no clashes between the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and government forces. It will be replaced by U.N. peacekeeping forces, expected to be deployed over the next six months in Sudan.

But Wilhelmson said the coming post-peace period needed patience before the deal, signed last week, took effect on the ground in terms of water and food provisions and development.

"I don't think these requirements here...will be fulfilled immediately so patience is one big factor here." He said before the war there were about 3,500 water pumps and now there were only 300 in Nuba.

He said the majority of the ceasefire violations were bad behaviour or violence towards civilians, and blamed Sudan's emergency law, in place since 1999.

"We have a martial law in this country and the law enforcement is not done by the police but by the military and in my opinion as a military (man) the poorest policeman you can get is a military (man)."

He added demining key areas, with a list of 85 villages to begin with, was a long, slow process, even though both parties had been very cooperative with providing maps and personnel.

"Demining is a long long term process the resources are always too small and it might take 5-10 years before every mine is out of the ground," he said, adding Nuba Mountains was better off than other areas in the south.

Wilhelmson expressed concern that military and political activity before elections, due to be held within 4 and a half years under the peace deal, could lead to both sides trying to win more ground.

"Too much of this activity as long as we have the martial law can destabilise the situation in some areas," he said.

The southern civil war broadly pitted the Islamist government based in Khartoum against the mainly Christian, pagan south, complicated by issues of oil, ethnicity and ideology.