Clashes erupt in South Kordofan between SAF and SPLA

5 June, 2011 (Sudan Tribune)

Fighting broke out on Sunday in the key northern border state of South Kordofan, just weeks before oil-rich South Sudan is due to separate from the north.

Multiple sources told Sudan Tribune that northern tanks and heavy artillery were stationed in and around the state’s main town of Kadugli while clashes have been reported in surrounding villages.

Last week the northern Sudanese army issued an ultimatum to soldiers from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) to move out of the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, which border South Sudan.

There were also reports of clashes between the northern Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) of the Khartoum government and the SPLA in Umm Dorain about 12km south east of Kadugli.

A member of the the main opposition party in the state, the northern sector of the SPLM - the SPLM’s southern sector governs South Sudan - told Sudan Tribune that Umm Dorain had been attacked by the SAF as they believed SPLA forces were in the area.

The reports of fighting in Umm Dorain were also confirmed by the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).

"There were two attacks. One happened in Kadugli town itself, where a police station was attacked last night (Saturday) by unknown gunmen," UNMIS spokeswoman Hua Jiang told Agence France Presse (AFP), adding that there was no information on casualties.

"We have also had reports of shooting in Um Dorain today. We have sent land and air patrols to the area to investigate," she said.

But a statement from Sudan’s state news agency (SUNA), quoted the northern army as saying the "the incident" was a case of an individual soldier firing at random.

The statement went on to say that Kadugli was calm, the situation was "contained" and that relations between the SAF and NCP with the "the other party", the SPLM, were stable.

According to reports received by Sudan Tribune the SAF moved tanks south from El Obeid through the Dilling area and stationed them at Kadugli airport and near the compound of the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) early on Sunday. Some of tanks were redeployed to Um Dorain Reuters reported.

Fighting was reported to have begun on Sunday morning in Kadugli, which eyewitnesses and other sources say is now full of military personnel, hardware and vehicles.

The UNMIS spokesperson told Reuters that late on Saturday unknown armed groups attacked and stole weapons from a police station in Kadugli.

A member of the SPLM - the political wing of the SPLA - Nassir Kuku, told Sudan Tribune that the SAF had entered Kadugli at 9 am on Sunday. He said that there had been "serious fighting" in the villages Alburam and Miri, although this has not been confirmed.

“There has been serious tension here in Kadugli before and [after the] elections [results] were announced. The National Congress [Party] (NCP) rigged elections and again wanted to initiate the fighting," he said.

In early May the NCP, which governs North Sudan, beat the SPLM in controversial state elections, which were delayed from last year over a census dispute, to decide the state governor and the makeup of South Kordofan’s legislative assembly. Incumbent NCP governor, Ahmed Haroun was reinstated in office after defeating his deputy, the SPLM candiate Abdul Aziz Adam El-Hilu.

International monitors endorsed the election of Haroun, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur, allegedly committed while he was Sudan’s interior minister (2003-2005) and minister for humanitarian affairs (2006-2009). In 2009 he was appointed as governor of South Kordofan.

Haroun was quoted by state media as saying that some of the joint police units attacked the wildlife police in Kadugli while the garrison in Um Dorain came under assault from SPLA troops.

Sudan Tribune failed to reach El-Hilu on Sunday but senior SPLM figure Musa Kaka, said that the SAF had been entering Kadugli for some time but only started their operation on Sunday.

“They started their operation today on Sunday at 9:00am. They moved tanks and other machine guns. More than 12 tanks appeared in the town today”, he said. Eyewitness including sources from the UN confirmed the entry of the SAF to Kadugli and the subsequent eruption of fighting.

The SPLM has strong support in the northern border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile as many people from the areas joined the SPLA/M in fighting Khartoum during Sudan’s second ’North-South’ civil war. However, with South Sudan due to secede in July, after a referendum earlier this year both states will remain north of the border and governed by the NCP in Khartoum.

As part of the 2005 peace deal that ended the conflict and granted South Sudan the right to self determination, the two states were accorded ’popular consultations’ to consider whether the Comprehensive Peace Agreement addressed their grievances and to propose what their future relationship with Khartoum might look like.

The much delayed processes are yet to be completed despite there being only a little over a month until the official end of the peace deal and South Sudan’s independence on July 9.

Sunday’s fighting is thought to have been triggered by the north’s demand that all SPLA soldiers move south of the 1956 border - created by the British at Sudan’s independence - or surrender their weapons.

In accordance with the security arrangements in the 2005 peace deal, 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.

However, the south voted resoundingly to separate and the SPLA, which became the official army of South Sudan after the 2005 agreement, will in July become the army of an independent nation.

The SPLA is adamant that soldiers from the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan and Blue Nile cannot relocate to the south as they are not southern Sudanese. On 31 May the SPLA’s spokesperson, Philip Aguer indicated to Sudan Tribune that the SPLA in South Sudan was no longer responsible for SPLA soldiers north of border.

He said: “North [Sudan] is supposed to discuss what to do with the forces in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. It is [a] northern conflict and we are not part of it.”

UN Mission in Sudan

The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) shut the doors to its compound on Sunday morning, Sudan Tribune has learnt, as SAF military police with up to 10 vehicles with heavy weaponry positioned themselves outside.

UNMIS’s response to the breakout of fighting in Kadugli is likely to be heavily scrutinized after the criticism its peacekeepers received for their inaction when the SAF overran the contested region of Abyei last month.

The UN mission was also accused by Khartoum’s representative at the UN of not doing "anything" when an SAF convoy they were escorting was attacked by a southern armed group in a precipitous clash, Reuters has reported.

A leading UN military official is being dispatched to Abyei to investigate the claim that Zambian peacekeepers stayed in their barracks for two days while the town was being burnt and looted.


The SAF’s entry into Kadugli comes less than three weeks after it moved into the disputed territory of Abyei. The strategically important region was occupied by the northern military on 21 May.

Abyei, along with South Kordofan and Blue Nile was one of the ’three areas’ given special status in the 2005 peace deal, but instead of ’popular consultations’ Abyei was granted a referendum on whether it would remain in South Kordofan or join South Sudan.

The future of Abyei also remains uncertain and a source of potential renewed north-south conflict as its plebiscite did not go ahead, leaving the area in limbo and at the center of the high stakes military and diplomatic calculations as the SPLM and NCP try to agree on post-independence issues such as oil and debt as well as implement remaining issues from the peace deal such as border demarcation.

With the south’s secession Sudan will lose 75 percent of the country’s known oil reserves.


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