SAF gives Sudan’s SPLA ultimatum to withdraw from Blue Nile & South Kordofan

29 May, 2011 (Sudan Tribune)

The Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) on Saturday said it had given an ultimatum to the South Sudan army, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), to withdraw its forces south of the 1956 borders from the two northern states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

This new development will likely add pressure to already strained tensions between North and South Sudan as the latter approaches independence. A week ago, the SAF occupied the disputed town of Abyei, in response to an attack on one of its convoys that it blamed on SPLA.

The SAF convoy that came under attack was being escorted by peacekeepers from the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).

Western countries along with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) while acknowledging that Southern forces provoked the attack they called on SAF to withdraw unconditionally.

They also urged Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir to revoke his decision of dissolving the Abyei administration council last week.

In accordance with the security arrangement in the 2005 peace deal between North and South, Joint Integrated Units (JIUs) of 24,000 soldiers, 12,000 each from SAF and SPLA were deployed in various towns in South Sudan, Khartoum, Blue Nile and South Kordofan. The forces were to serve as the nucleus for a future national army should the people of South Sudan vote for the unity of the country in a plebiscite agreed as part of the peace deal.

Following January’s referendum in South Sudan and the declaration of its outcome in favor of independence, SAF components of the JIUs in South Sudan withdrew to the north of the 1956 borders.

Speaking to the United Nations Radio, SAF spokesperson, Al-Sawarmi Khalid Sa’ad, said they have given a deadline to the SPLA to withdraw their forces from Blue Nile and South Kordofan states before Wednesday June 1.

Malik Agar, Blue Nile’s governor, said on Sunday night to the New York Times (NYT) that northern forces had recently moved “dangerously close” to the bases of southern-allied fighters and that he did not think the southern-allied forces would surrender.

“It’s like putting a cat in a corner,” Mr. Agar said. “They will fight.”

Agar said that he had recently received a written order for the southern forces in his area to disarm.

According to a letter provided to The New York Times, dated May 23 and marked “Top Secret,” the northern Sudanese army will “redeploy its forces to all areas north of the 1/1/1956 borders starting from 1 June 2011.” The letter is from Ismat Abdul Rahman Zain al-Abideen, the chief of staff for the Sudanese military. Western officials have said the northern military has threatened to attack any southern-allied soldiers north of the border who do not withdraw immediately.

The southern-allied fighters there are in a more desperate situation than southern troops were in Abyei. There is no easy way to flee to the south even if they wanted to. And if the fighters in these areas give up their weapons, they will be at the mercy of the northern Sudanese forces whom they have fought for years.

“If it were only so simple for them to move south,” Mr. Agar said. “But they are not southerners. They are from Blue Nile and they don’t have any other place to go.”

But southern leaders indicated that they would not fight over Blue Nile or Southern Kordofan either.

“It is not our priority now to get involved in a war,” said Barnaba Marial Benjamin, the information minister for the government of southern Sudan.

“The move into the Nuba in particular will be explosive,” said Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College and one of the leading academic voices on Sudan. “The amount of weaponry and men under arms is tremendous.”

Meanwhile officials from the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) on Saturday confirmed that the advancing SAF forces from Abyei have destroyed the bridge south of Abyei that connects the region to Warrap state after they captured it from the SPLA.

The Minister of Regional Cooperation in the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS), Deng Alor, warned that South Sudan will not allow the presence of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) in Abyei after 9th July independence.

Alor pointed out that the two partners to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) may not reach an agreement over post-referendum issues before July 9 as SAF is occupying Abyei.

The vice president of the Government of Southern Sudan, Riek Machar, arrived in Khartoum on Saturday to meet with Sudan’s second vice president Ali Osman Taha to try to defuse the escalating tensions between north and south Sudan over the Abyei crisis.

Also on Saturday the SAF announced that it has ended its military operation in Abyei which lies on the North-South borders, a week after it moved in to seize control of the region, saying the situation had returned to normal. It added that the forces will stay in Abyei until a new security and political arrangement is reached by the parties concerned and called on the fleeing Dinka Ngok and Misseriya populations and other residents to return to Abyei.

Earlier, Al Dirdiri Mohamed Ahmed, a member of the National Congress Party, had said in press statements that Khartoum is ready for talks with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).

South Sudan president Salva Kiir on Thursday admitted that the cause of the fighting in Abyei involved SAF and SPLA soldiers. He however explained that it occurred as a result of quarrel between two soldiers; one SAF and another SPLA, which then escalated into clashes involving the two forces.

The 2005 CPA promised Abyei residents a referendum over whether to join north or south, but that did not take place as neither could agree who was qualified to vote.


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