Sudan's tangled conflicts fuel border battles
By James Copnall BBC News, Talodi, South Kordofan
18 April 2012 Last updated at 07:53 GMT
As Sudan and South Sudan slip ever close towards all out conflict, a related
Sudanese civil war is intensifying - and, indeed, fuelling the international
Rebels in South Kordofan are taking advantage of the South Sudan-Sudan
clashes in the oil fields in Heglig to fight their own battles nearby.
The state governor, Ahmad Haroun, who has been indicted by the International
Criminal Court for alleged war crimes, says South Sudan is supporting the
Juba denies the accusations - but there can be no solution to the problems
between Sudan and South Sudan without addressing the wars in South Kordofan
and Blue Nile.
Mr Haroun points at the wreckage of a house, its tin roof a ruin scarcely
held up by a battered brick framework: "The rebels have targeted the town,
it's deliberate targeting," he says.
Charred stubs of walls
Elsewhere in Talodi, a town in the Nuba mountains, there is evidence of
A jagged-edged hole larger than a football has been punched in a fuel tank
at the power station.
A fire apparently burnt for three days, and the electricity was out for many
Some huts have been hit too, and all that remains is charred stubs of walls,
the floor now open to the skies.
Mr Haroun and local residents told the BBC that Talodi was shelled by the
SPLM-North rebels, as part of a failed assault on the town.
The government says development projects like roads and dams have been
affected by the fighting.
Sudanese experts often say that the country's many wars were partly a result
of the decades of neglect and underdevelopment of areas like South Kordofan.
> 'New front' in
Sudan border clashes
What is apparent is how central this Sudanese civil war is to the ongoing
problems between Sudan and South Sudan.
The SPLM-North fighters who took up arms against Khartoum in South Kordofan
and in Blue Nile, which is situated in the east, once fought alongside the
rebels who won independence for South Sudan.
They were left north of the border at separation.
A 2005 peace deal promised to sort out their situation within Sudan, but
this never happened.
Now SPLM-North controls most of the Nuba mountains in South Kordofan, and
can threaten towns like Talodi.
"These rockets and ammunition and supplies come from South Sudan," Mr Haroun
"The border is very near. They provide all the weapons. Until now the
[rebel] soldiers are part of the South Sudanese army."
South Sudan says this is nonsense.
> a recent report by Small Arms Survey suggests there are strong links. It
also accuses Sudan of supporting South Sudanese rebels.
The generals of the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA) are regularly seen in
Khartoum, alongside other South Sudanese rebels.
Small Arms Survey has traced where the various rebel groups get their
weapons from, and the evidence suggests, in essence, that both countries are
running proxy armies in the other's national territories.
The timing of certain attacks raises eyebrows too.
When Sudan seized the disputed region of Abyei last year, the SSLA attacked
just further south on the same day, tying up part of South Sudan's army.
The first South Sudan army advance on Heglig, at the end of March, coincided
with a SPLM-North attempt to take Talodi.
"They orchestrated these attacks on Talodi and Heglig simultaneously, they
did it from one plan and one target," Mr Haroun says.
Several sources say Darfuri rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement
are also fighting in and around Heglig now.
Jem is one of several Darfuri groups that has signed an alliance with
They are clearly taking advantage of South Sudan's occupation of the oil
fields, a moment of real weakness for Khartoum, to launch further attacks in
All this means that when delegations from Khartoum and Juba sit down to
discuss security in Addis Ababa, proxy armies are high on the agenda.
For now, those talks are suspended.
But Sudan and South Sudan will not be able to make peace while rebel groups
in both countries cloud the picture.
In the meantime, people are suffering.
The dominant narrative of the conflict in South Kordofan, at least in the
Western media, has been that of Sudanese planes killing and injuring
civilians in the Nuba mountains.
This undoubtedly happens.
The UN estimates hundreds of thousands more people, unable to farm due to
the bombings, could flee the Nuba mountains - and hunger will begin to bite.
But people in the government-held areas have suffered too.
Mr Haroun says 35 people were killed, 54 wounded, and more than 28,000 were
forced to flee the area because of the attack on Talodi.
It is impossible to independently verify these numbers, but a UN statement
confirms many people did flee Talodi.
Hamid Tir said two of his brothers died in a car crash as they tried to
escape the shelling.
He still has scars on his nose from the accident.
Talodi is now calmer, and people have started to return, but Mr Tir's
bicycle repair business is struggling.
"The prices are soaring because of the war," he says.
"I used to get more before, but now people cannot afford to repair their
bicycles so it has affected my income very much."
War of religions?
Many of the people in Talodi South Kordofan
> have been given weapons to
Most are Arabs, who are often perceived to support the government.
"They are losing the war in Southern Kordofan, and they are dependent on
trying to divide people along ethnic and religious lines," says Yassir
Arman, the secretary general of the SPLM-North rebels.
The conflict in South Kordofan is far more complex than black African Nuba
against Arabs, as it is sometimes portrayed.
Some Nuba, like Mr Tir, support the government.
The Nuba follow Islam, Christianity and traditional religions.
But Mr Haroun's followers do sometimes perceive this as a war of religions.
Ibrahim Mohamed Musa looks every day of his 55 years.
But he has an AK-47 strapped to his bike, and has signed up to a
paramilitary police force.
"We are protecting our religion, so they will not take the area," Mr Musa
"They are non-believers, and we are Muslim, so they will not defeat us."
Mr Haroun, who travelled around Talodi in a convoy of white 4x4s with only a
small escort, was greeted by ululating women and men shouting "Allahu Akbar"
(God is great) everywhere he went.
For these people he seems to be a hero. For many others he is anything but.
Mr Haroun was indicted by the ICC for his apparent role in alleged war
crimes in Darfur, another Sudanese civil war.
He rejected claims his troops were committing abuses in South Kordofan.
"We have a professional army," he says.
What about the civilians dying from bombs rolled out of the back of the
government's Antonov planes in the Nuba mountains?
"We try to do our best always to select military targets," Mr Haroun says.
"But as you know in a war you cannot measure things accurately. There is
friendly fire sometimes."
SPLM-North says Mr Haroun is carrying out atrocities in the Nuba mountains
and elsewhere in the region.
"War is becoming the only agenda of people within the regime headed by
[President Omar al-] Bashir," Mr Arman told the BBC.
I asked Mr Haroun if he was worried he would face further charges from the
ICC for alleged crimes in South Kordofan.
"I don't care about that, it is a political court, it is not professional,"
he says - and he accuses the SPLM-North - and the rebels' alleged South
Sudanese backers - of carrying out human rights abuses.
As long as the war in South Kordofan continues, it is difficult to imagine a
peaceful relationship between Sudan and South Sudan.
Sudan: A country divided
> Water &
> Oil fields
Satellite image showing geography of Sudan, source: Nasa
The great divide across Sudan is visible even from space, as this Nasa
satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken
only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes
of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.
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Received on Wed Apr 18 2012 - 11:55:52 EDT