9 January 2008

Sudan: Fresh North-South Fighting Tampers Hopes for Building of Trust

Juba — Two months after the Cabinet boycott by the South, damage is continuing on the North-South Sudan border with no sign of a let-up.

As recent as last Friday, Southern Sudanese troops said militias supported by northern soldiers mounted an attack on them, threatening a fragile peace deal.

In November, President Omar el-Bashir called on Mujahideen fighters to train in their camps ready to defend their country.

At that time, President el-Bashir said that his party had signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with former Southern rebels not because of weakness, but from a point of strength after the mujahideen had won many battles in Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile State and in Tawrit - northern areas where the Southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) has a large presence.

"The NCP is ready for war and we will not abandon any piece of Abyei for the SPLM, or retreat from 1905 borders," said President el-Bashir.

Two days later, a presidential adviser said President el-Bashir was not calling for war, but alerting people to always be prepared.

But, if President ell-Bashir figured he was joking, the chickens have apparently come home to roost.

Northern tribesmen and south Sudan officials are trading accusations over the source of fighting during the Christmas holidays that left about 100 dead even, and reignited again on Friday.

Aid agencies and local chiefs say that Mujahideen are behind the attacks at the border areas and efforts to tamper the fighting from the north and south are, apparently, coming to naught.

North-south Fighting erupted again on January 4 between Arab militia and southern Sudan army, tampering hopes for a quick end to a conflict that has raged since the Christmas holiday.

The fighting first erupted on December 21, near the disputed Abyei oil areas, leaving up to 100 dead, when Khartoum-backed Baggara Arab militia attacked a southern army garrison, following the latter's refusal to allow the armed nomads into Southern Sudan.

Both sides accuse the other of starting the fight, with the Sudan People Liberation Army (SPLA) which is in charge of the autonomous southern region, saying that the Arab nomads, aided by northern army elements, planned the attack in advance. The militia said the SPLA bombarded them first.

"They have attacked again," SPLA deputy Chief of Staff Major General Hoth Mai told this correspondent. "They attacked late in the night, and the fighting is still going on."

The current round of fighting in Bahr el Gazal State erupted as a combined north-south team of Sudanese ministers and security personnel went to the scene of fighting to investigate the cause.

The team from the northern government, including Defence Minister Abdul-Rahim Mohammed Hussein and Cabinet Affairs Minister Pagan Amum arrived in Aweil, the Northern Bahr el-Gazal capital, on Thursday. Major General Hoth said the current fighting is centered in Warguet, also in the same state.

The fighting erupted hours after the visiting security team left for Khartoum last Thursday evening, said Major General Hoth.

The team from the southern government, including Internal Affairs Minister and Ceasefire Political Committee co-chairman, Paul Mayom, with southern Defence Minister General Dominic Dim Deng, who was due in the area at the weekend didn't go for lack of transport.

General Dim said he was leaving for Aweil with the rest of the team. Area chiefs told reporters in Juba that the invaders came on horseback and the attack took place an estimated 30 kilometers into southern territory.

In a statement, Christian Solidarity International said the the group was the Mujahideen, the militia President el-Bashir asked to prepare to defend the country if attacked.

According to the chiefs, the northern army not only armed the militias, but gave them money to fight and annex parts of the border areas to the north. The north-south border is yet to be demarcated.

In an ominous sign, the residents and security officials say that some among the attackers are recognised faces among the northern troops in the area and the north-aligned forces.

One newspaper quoted a security source as saying that the attacks during the Christmas break in border places called Gerenty and Majok Nyinthiou had had been planned for a long time.

They said that the fighting was delayed due to the differences over why war should be waged without a clear reason. One newspaper named the training camp as Harzai and Sitab inside a forested border area.

At the camps, the Arab tribes are reportedly trained in how three people can use one horseback, while firing guns in the battle, and the fighting militia has been named Green Pillar Battalion.

Further complicating things is that in their statement, the chiefs gave actual names of officials in the northern army who reportedly were behind the training.

"There's no confirmation," Maj-Gen Hoth said when this correspondent asked him whether the Sudan Armed Forces directly led the attack.

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