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Austin Bay
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Sudan's Simmering North-South War


Sudan's genocidal Darfur war still attracts international attention, and though large battles pitting national government troops against Darfur rebels are less frequent there, violent anarchy still afflicts that sad region.

A much larger and more dangerous war haunts Sudan, however: a re-ignition of the "North versus South" civil war. This reviving horror has ominous implications not only for East Africa but all nations straddling sub-Saharan Africa's "Arab-Black" ethnic and "Muslim-Christian" divides.

The last North-South war (the Second Sudan Civil War) lasted for two decades, left approximately 2 million dead, created millions of refugees and — despite ritual denials by the northern, Islamist, "national government" in Khartoum — involved slaving operations by northern-backed "Arab" militias. The evidence for this evil was damnably clear. South Sudanese black tribespeople would be kidnapped and then sold as laborers in the north.

The "third civil war" would be as vicious as the last, but given current political conditions, could rapidly expand beyond Sudan and become a regional war involving several other impoverished, fragile states in East Africa — a war of the poor creating greater poverty and anarchy.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed in January 2005, created a map with interim milestones for resolving the civil war. Today the peace map is tattered. Interim successes have been undermined by cynical manipulation, corruption, chaotic bloodshed and — here's the deep worry — the likelihood of calculated "proxy war" instigated by the north and thinly masked as tribal disputes.

The situation has deteriorated despite U.N. peacekeepers deployed in the south. UNMIS (UN Mission in Sudan) was initially regarded as a success. China contributes troop contingents.

China's role as peacekeeper, however, is overshadowed by its role as oil field developer and oil customer. Sudan's oil fields inconveniently stretch across the North-South boundary, but to classify the conflict as another oil war vastly oversimplifies the complex problems.

In fact, China may have played a passive role in exposing what many southerners believe is revenue-cheating by the national government.

The CPA guaranteed a fair split of oil income between the national government and the semi-autonomous Government of South Sudan (GOSS). Recently, a human rights group sympathetic to GOSS said it had evidence that Khartoum reported less production from the oilfields than the Chinese oil company operating the fields reported. Khartoum denies the accusation.

Oil revenue sharing is but one trouble. The CPA called for a fair border demarcation process that would take into account "verbal information" from tribal leaders as well as "physical features of the landscape." A demarcation decision issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague this July was regarded as a major accomplishment — until affected tribespeople spurned it, with good reason.

The civil war destroyed traditional settlement patterns, as people fled the violence. Now returning refugees clash with new settlers. This happened in the oil-rich Abyei area, when Ngok Dinka returnees (southerners) clashed with the "Arabized" Misseriya tribe. (Abyei was the scene of an outright battle between northern and southern security forces in 2008.)

Khartoum and the GOSS have yet to agree on census figures, which are required for conducting honest national elections — which leads to what Khartoum really fears: a vote by southerners favoring the formation of a completely separate state.

Suspicion abounds. Southerners suspect this year's spate of inter-tribal violence in South Sudan is being stoked by the north. At least 1,200 people have died in these ugly battles. The southerners believe Khartoum's goal is to undermine the independence referendum by destabilizing the south.

Other wars intertwine. Uganda always insisted that the Ugandan rebel Lords Resistance Army (LRA) was a tool of Khartoum. Now a revived LRA is appearing in South Sudan, and more than a few Ugandans suspect that "Arab" Khartoum has assisted the LRA.

GOSS says it will fight to protect its people. Kenya and Uganda (both predominantly Christian nations with a substantial number of Muslim citizens) are lined up behind GOSS.

The stage is set for an East African conflagration.

To find out more about Austin Bay, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



1 Comments | Post Comment
I've been to Uganda and I heard the same charge while I was there - that the "muslim rebels" coming down from the north (from Sudan) were responsible for untold atrocities. I heard more of this when I visited a refugee camp in north-central Uganda, and was told that the rebels had pushed all the way to the very spot where I was standing, along the way herding villagers into huts and setting them afire. The International Red Cross was there doing what it could, but their resources were extremely limited, with poor sanitation in the camp and children walking around without shoes or even clothing. A Ugandan army camp had since been established nearby and the rebels were pushed out of the area and forced to retreat back north. Thanks to generous amounts of private financial donations from churches (like mine) in the United States, the camp I visited has since been emptied of the war orphans that were living there, with these children relocated to Christian-sponsored orphanages in other parts of the country. However, if the fighting flares up again, that impoverished nation will see thousands more internally displaced refugees, more human rights abuses, and another humanitarian crisis. After seeing what was going on in Uganda, I can only imagine what the situation must have been like in Sudan. If you'd like to make life a little easier for the children affected by these wars, visit to find out how you can help these orphans receive food, medical care, clothing, and education.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Matt
Tue Sep 29, 2009 11:03 PM
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