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Sudan: symbol of a deadly chaos

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After the events of the last few weeks, Sudan’s future looks all the more on its past through the resuming of conflicts that were never resolved, the aggravating of existing conflicts for which there seems to be no sustainable settlement at sight and the proven military weakness of the regime.

First there was the attack of the Darfurian rebel group, Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), on the Sudanese capital’s twin city, Omdurman. After a heavy three hour during fight, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and security forces were able to repulse the rebels, killing one of Khalil Ibrahim’s lieutenants, Jamali Hassan Jelaladin. Nevertheless, they were not able to catch the leader itself, in contrast with earlier expressed statements by army and government officials. More than a week after the sudden assault, many analysts still are wondering how JEM was able to reach the capital without any kind of interference of the SAF.

An answer on that question can be found in the decision of the al Bashir’s regime to break diplomatic relations with the Chadian regime of Idriss Déby. It’s no secret that Chad supports financially and militarily the rebels of Ibrahim. There are various reasons for this allegiance: ethnic ties, internal pressure, personal relationships, but the most important one is without doubt the support of Sudan for Chadian rebels, whom use Darfur as an operational basis to attack Chad. The National Congress Party (NCP) regime of al Bashir believes that the overthrow of the Déby’s regime will make an end to the Darfurian rebellion. The problem with this strategy is that it led to the regional extension of the conflict, a dynamic which the proper regime of Khartoum clearly isn’t able to control. Hence, many see the attack on Khartoum as an act of revenge for the heavily Sudanese supported attempt to topple Déby in February this year through an attack on Ndjamena by a coalition of three Chadian rebels groups. Because both countries rebels are used as proxy allies, the conflicts in Chad and Darfur cannot longer be separated, leading to a further complication of the crisis in Sudan’s province.

The defence minister and army officials explain the fast advance of the rebels and the failure of the SAF to intercept them by pointing to Chad, France and Libya, which would have provided the necessary means –for example making available satellite intelligence, used to avoid government troops- to execute such an operation. Nevertheless it’s a public know that the Sudanese army lacks leadership and is plagued with a shocking level of incompetence, something that the Darfurian society already knew giving the government decision at the end of 2003 to use militias (the janjaweed) as principal forces in their counter-insurgency strategy. American sources say that JEM received help from the Sudanese army, an opinion that they see confirmed in the arrest of mid-level army officers in the aftermath of the fighting. Whereas many followers of Sudanese politics always described Sudan as ‘a weak state but with a hard grip on it by its regime’, the attack shows clearly the vulnerability of the NCP.

At the same time, and because JEM only used 50 to 100 vehicles and 1,000 fighters, far too few to conquer successfully the capital, analysts and journalist are divided about JEM’s intention. John Prendergast, senior adviser of the International Crisis Group and member of the ENOUGH Project, states that they wanted to weaken the regime in an attempt to sign directly afterwards a power sharing deal without the other Darfurian rebel movements. According to him, the attack is nothing else that the continuation of an internal battle between two Islamic factions, the NCP, of al Bashir, and the Popular Congress Party, of Hasan al Turabi. In such, he’s on the same line as the Sudanese regime and the Bush administration, namely identifying JEM as nothing else than the Darfurian agent of Turabi and equalling its struggle as the latter’s bid to regain power in Sudan; ignoring Khalil Ibrahim various declarations that he broke with Turabi and that JEM’s struggle is against the political, economical and social marginalization of Darfur. Other analysts interpret the attack as a wake-up call for the residents of Khartoum who have for so long ignored the suffering in Darfur and as an attempt to cause a popular rebellion in the capital and the rest of the country.

Many fear that the immediate consequences of the attack will be a major offensive of the government in Darfur and a further hampering of the deployment of UNAMID. Jean-Marie Guéhenno, chief of UN peacekeeping operations, admitted that the attack took them by surprise through serious shortfall in aerial reconnaissance capacities –the mission still doesn’t possess no single helicopter-, confirming the undercapacity of the mission and hence its incapability to improve the situation in Darfur. He reported also that JEM and Chadian armed elements had crossed the border into Western Darfur and that the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLA) prepared itself to attack Al Fasher, capital of North Darfur. New large-scale violence in Darfur will not only force more people to flee their homes and complicate even more humanitarian aid, which is already affected by the great insecurity in the region –this year already 64 World Food Program contracted trucks were hijacked and two contracted drivers killed-, but can set up the whole peacekeeping operation if the Darfurian population agitates against the international force as a reaction for its incapability to provide a minimum of security in the region.

Unfortunately Darfur is not the only burning region of Sudan. In Abyei there were last week direct clashes between SAF forces and forcers of former southern rebel army, the SPLA, causing the displacement of 30,000 at 50,000 people. Although SPLA forces participated in military operations to secure Khartoum during JEM’s attack, the clashes in Abyei demonstrate that the CPA (the peace agreement between the NCP and the south) is a very fragile process. Concerning Abyei the CPA stipulates the withdrawal of SAF and SPLA and the creation of Joint Integrated Units. Nevertheless, two years after the signing of the agreement there are still SAF and SPLA troops in the area and many Sudan specialists fear that Abyei has the potential to drag the country in a new civil war.

The reason why Abyei constitutes such a danger is because it forms the border area between northern and southern Sudan and the elites of both sides are eager to incorporate its oil fields, which, according to estimations, yield $ 670 million in 2006, good for 13 % of Sudan’s total oil export revenues. From the NCP point of view, giving up Abyei will only led to a further weakening of its political and economic power. Sudan may have a lot of petroleum, the problem for the north is that the majority of the oil fields are situated in the southern part, which has the chance to go their own way in 2011. The southern part on the other hand can use every dollar to rebuild its society, which is devastated after decades of war. Although the SPLM heavily criticised the rebels attack, it must understand that the CPA cannot be fully implemented without reaching a sustainable agreement about Darfur. Hence, defending the CPA implies defending the demands of the Darfurian population. Given the capacities of UNAMID, this is a lesson that the international community still has to learn. Let’s hope that the post Eurovision age will bring us to our senses.

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