23 January 2013

Sudan: AU Action Urged On South Kordofan, Blue Nile Crisis

Photo: Olivier Chassot/United Nations
Displaced by fighting between government and rebels.

Addis Ababa — A coalition of over 350 African civil society organisations issued a joint statement on Wednesday urging their leaders to press Sudan and South Sudan to urgently address the worsening humanitarian crisis in border states Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile.

The statement comes ahead of an African Union (AU) summit in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa in which the issue will be discussed by the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, and his South Sudanese counterpart Salva Kiir at a side meeting on Friday.

The statement was presented to all members of the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC), as well as former South African president Thabo Mbeki, who is leading the AU's efforts on Sudan and South Sudan.

The strongly-worded statement described the conflict as a "scar on Africa", saying the humanitarian situation on the ground was "verging on catastrophic".

The coalition have called on African leaders to take decisive action on the issue to break the deadlock between the warring parties, which it says is in danger of destabilising the entire region and jeopardising chances for lasting peace.

"It is a cycle of violence that only our African leaders can, and must, now break," the statement said. "Only unified, sustained, high-level political pressure will break the deadlock in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. Failure of our African leaders to rise to this challenge will jeopardise our shared dream of Sudan and South Sudan living as two viable states side by side in peace," it continued.

Conflict flared in 2011 between Khartoum and rebels from the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), who are active in the Sudanese states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile and fought alongside the South during a protracted civil war with the north.

The Sudanese government last September reluctantly accepted a tripartite proposal for humanitarian access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile, but so far no aid relief has been delivered and fighting continues.

In a bitter tit-for-tat, Khartoum accuses the South of harbouring and supporting its former allies, while Juba has accused the neighbouring government of undermining a cooperation agreement signed by the two parties last September.

Efforts to end the stalemate received a further setback this week after talks between the neighbouring states were adjourned until mid-February after the two sides failed to forge an agreement on a wide range of security and border issues, with South Kordofan and Blue Nile among the unresolved disputes.

The coalition statement paints a grim picture of life on the ground in SPLM-N-controlled areas, where it says an estimated 700,000 people have little or no access to food, water, sanitation or healthcare - the majority of these being women, children and the elderly.

It said the situation was now "too critical" for further "political intransigence" on the matter.

"Intense and indiscriminate aerial bombing" and ground attacks in civilian areas by Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) has meant local people have been forced to flee their homes and take shelter in mountains and caves, it said.

Unable to cultivate or harvest their crops, many are surviving on just one meal every five days or the meagre sustenance from wild fruits and leaves, the statement continues.

It said the "serious health and developmental implications for the many children subjected to this level of deprivation and violence are deeply disturbing" and warns of a looming "man-made famine".

The coalition wants the AU to press for an immediate cessation to hostilities and to allow humanitarian aid into the region. It is also calling for direct political talks between the Sudanese government and the SPLM-N, saying at a minimum "both parties must be required to meet time-bound milestones and be held accountable for non-compliance".

"Given the lives that are at stake, the AU PSC must ensure that Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile are accorded a similarly determined response that provides no leeway for further delays, prevarication or inaction," the statement said.

In a separate statement released earlier this week, UK-based aid agency Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) called for an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly perpetrated by the Sudanese government in the conflict-torn states.

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