Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

War Threats Sounded

Tensions escalate across Sudan as al-Bashir says popular forces should mobilise to confront South Sudan.
By Isaac Swangin
Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir’s recent call for the mobilisation of paramilitary groups is the latest in a series of unsettling moves that have further clouded the future of Sudan.



Al-Bashir’s call came after a host of ministers from the semi-autonomous region of South Sudan quit the coalition government on October 11.



The coalition government was formed after a 2005 peace agreement ended more than 20 years of bloody civil war in the south. But that administration appears on the verge of collapse as the calls for war seem to be drowning out the calls for peace.



“Now we order the Popular Defense Forces (PDF), the legitimate son[s] of the people, to open their camps and gather their mujaheddin (holy warriors),” al-Bashir told a rally this month.



The purpose was “not to wage war”, however, but he added, “it is obvious that we should be ready”.



The response from the south has been equally combative.



Pagan Amum, secretary general of the dominant Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement, SPLM, in Juba, South Sudan, said that forces have begun to mobilise in the South in response to al-Bashir’s call.



Amum acknowledged that military capabilities have increased on both sides since the peace accord was signed on January 9, 2005.



Malik Agar, vice-chair of the SPLM, said that although the south is not advocating war, it is preparing to defend itself.



“There is no return to war after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement’s historical achievement,” said Agar.



Al-Bashir’s mobilisation call also appears to contradict earlier statements.



“Dialogue is the only way to preserve national unity,” he has reportedly said, adding that he wanted “an effective and responsible partnership with the SPLM” and that the ruling National Congress Party, NCP, “needs peace and stability to carry out its development projects” in Sudan.



South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir, however, pulled his ministers out of the coalition government last month after accusing al-Bashir of not implementing key components of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, CPA, including the sharing of power and valuable oil revenues.



Rather than moving toward an agreement, both sides seem to be separating, despite the fact that Sudan is already struggling with a rebel war in its western Darfur region.



The PDF took part in a two-decades-long conflict in the south which claimed the lives of an estimated 1.5 million people and ended with the CPA accord. The PDF reportedly has also been implicated in conflict in Sudan’s western region of Darfur.



Following directives by the UN to look into the Darfur conflict, the International Criminal Court, ICC, indicted al-Bashir’s minister for humanitarian affairs, Muhammed Harun, along with Ali Kushayb, a leader of the Janjaweed militia, for war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with the Darfur conflict.



In Khartoum, the youth department secretary of al-Bashir’s NCP, Haj Majed Suwar, said that many party members were ready to answer the president’s call to mobilise the PDF.



The Sudan Media Centre in Khartoum quoted Suwar saying that “jihad” was a tradition that could not be stopped by peace agreements.



“[Suwar] said our target in the upcoming possible war is not the SPLM, but the elements that back it,” reported the centre.



Suwar’s comments raised worries about a possible confrontation between the northern and southern governments.



In addition to failing to implement the peace agreement, South Sudan has accused al-Bashir’s government of failing to withdraw the Sudan Armed Forces, SAF. from the southern territories, primarily its oil rich regions around the Abyei province.



The south supports a boundary line between itself and the north that was drawn in 1956, and would give it control over much of the oil-rich Abyei region. A report that recently affirmed that boundary was rebuffed by al-Bashir.



Kiir, who heads the SPLM, has said al-Bashir must comply with the provisions of the CPA by January 9, the third anniversary of agreement’s signing.



Political forces across the south have been rallying behind Kiir.



Four political parties said they back the withdrawal from the unity government, including the Sudan African National Union, SANU, United Democratic Salvation Front, UDSF, Union of Sudan African Parties, USAP, and some members of the NCP who live in the south.



“We stand with the CPA,” said Juma Said, a member of NCP. “The southern members of the NCP are battling within the party to ensure that the comprehensive peace agreement is fully implemented. Our war is democracy, equality and development.”



Meanwhile, the chairman of the USAP, Eliaba Surur, accused al-Bashir of trying to bully South Sudan. “This is an intimidation. We all stand behind you (Kiir),” he said.



Chairman of SANU Dr Toby Madut said he was disappointed that the CPA is not being implemented, and urged cooler heads to prevail.



Madut said Kiir and al-Bashir should resolve the stalemate peacefully.



Isaac Swangin is an IWPR journalist based in Juba.