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SUDAN: Southern Kordofan – A State of Ghost Towns

KHARTOUM, Jun 29 2011 (IPS) - While humanitarian organisations try to bury the corpses scattered across Southern Kordofan, aid to the thousands of people displaced by the fighting is slow as the country’s humanitarian commission has prohibited most aid organisations from working in the area.

The Politics of Southern Kordofan

Mohamed, a postgraduate student at the University of Khartoum has fond memories of Kadugli in Southern Kordofan. As a child growing up there in the 1980's and early 1990's before the fighting became very intense, he recalls a green mountainous area where the Arab world and Africa intertwined in the form of tribes peacefully coexisting for decades.

"Kadugli has a mix of northern Arab tribes and Nubas. There was no real ethnic divide until the Nubas joined the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the 1980s. They were recruited in the SPLM's army, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and they felt empowered as this elevated their social status as a marginalised minority in Sudan. They felt that their political struggle could be in the context of the SPLM," he added.

Southern Kordofan along with Abyei and Blue Nile are the three states known as protocol areas because they are geographically part of the north.

Many of their citizens were involved with the SPLA during the civil war and the states are predominantly populated by non-Arab tribes. In Abyei, the majority hail from the largest southern Sudanese tribe, the Dinka.

The protocol to resolve the conflicts in these states was signed in Kenya in 2004 and it entails that the three states hold popular consultations to determine whether they will remain in the north or become part of the south as stipulated in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005 by the Sudanese government and the SPLM to end Africa's longest- running civil war.

In December 2009, the president of Sudan signed the Abyei Referendum Act that allowed the Abyei referendum to be held simultaneously with the South referendum as agreed in the CPA. However, the two peace partners disagreed over the terms of eligibility to vote and this led to the postponement of the referendum until further notice.

Blue Nile is currently undergoing popular consultations, which are time-consuming as it is compromised of many phases. However, Southern Kordofan is lagging behind since the state-level elections that should have been held in April 2010 were only held in May 2011.

On Jun. 5 heavy fighting broke out between forces loyal to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) in Kadugli and other towns in the state. Kadugli is the capital of Southern Kordofan, one of Sudan’s 25 states.

Since the start of the fighting, aerial bombardments were carried out by the SAF, which according to the United Nations (U.N.), lead to the displacement of 75,000 civilians from Kadugli, Kaunda and surrounding areas with the numbers going up on a daily basis. In addition, 35,000 are expected to head to El Obeid, a town in north Kordofan.

“We have reports of ethnic Nubas being denied entrance to El Obeid. They divide the displaced based on ethnicity and the Nubas are (left) in the middle of nowhere under the scorching sun, ” said Fatima* a human rights activist. The Nubas, who are a minority in Southern Kordofan, are believed to have been targeted in the fighting.

Sudanese organisations and civil society groups are already calling for food donations and sending trucks full of supplies to aid the people of Southern Kordofan.

In an attempt to help out within their limited mandate, some humanitarian organisations are burying corpses scattered in Southern Kordofan. But the Humanitarian Affairs Commission (HAC), the body responsible for coordinating all humanitarian affairs for local and international organisations in Sudan, has prohibited the majority of local and international organisations from working there.

“We held a meeting with the HAC yesterday and we asked them to give us permission to aid the displaced and they said that they are sending an investigative mission to assess the situation. I don’t know when this will happen,” said Suhaila*, who works for a national development non-governmental organisation in Khartoum.

She said she was concerned about the availability of food in the region. “This is the time right before farming begins, families are nearly running out of stored food and many of the families living in safer towns are hosting displaced families and sharing their food with them,” said Suhaila.

Many displaced people are making public schools their homes as the summer season ends and the rainy season begins in July.

“The government does not want to establish IDP (internationally displaced persons) camps, they said they don’t want this to turn into another Darfur, but people cannot simply go back to their homes. The situation is deteriorating, ” said Fatima.

In January 10 states, which compromise the southern part of Sudan, voted in a referendum on whether they want to remain part of the north or have a separate state. Over 98 percent voted in favour of secession.

But the security situation in the state became tense after Ahmed Haroun won the governorship of Southern Kordofan in a controversial state election in May.

Haroun is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur for his involvement in instigating attacks and arming and recruiting militias to fight the insurgency. Haroun beat Abdel Aziz Al Helow, the SPLM’s candidate in the elections.

“It is fair to say that 75 percent of civilians in the state are SPLM supporters but they lean towards the National Congress Party (NCP), the ruling party, because they want to survive,” Samira*, an U.N. employee said.

She said prior to the elections the SPLM began distributing flyers through tea ladies, bakers and people in the market area that warned of dire consequences if the NCP’s candidate won the governorship.

Samira arrived at work at the United Nations offices on Jun. 5 to find that many of her colleagues known for their pro-SPLM sentiments had already fled the town.

“I started asking questions and wondering if something was going to happen. The fighting started that day and for the first time, there was a power cut in the entire city.

“Our only option was to hide under the bed or next to a wall because it was pitch black and it was hard to locate where the gunshots were coming from,” said Samira. She was evacuated and is now safe in Khartoum with her family. “I saw a large number of women and children fleeing the town and I could tell that they have been walking for a long time… I couldn’t stop crying,” recalls Samira of the day she was evacuated.

But the fighting continues and Suhaila says that based on information received from her colleagues working in Southern Kordofan, there have been a number of political assassinations.

“The SPLM launched attacks that targeted certain leaders loyal to the NCP and this sparked a retaliation from the Khartoum government. Even the citizens of Kadugli and other towns were asked to leave because the situation became characterised by political assassinations,” said Suhaila.

Suhaila added that there are snipers located in the mountains and her colleagues informed her that politically active civilians have been shot dead inside their homes. * Names have been changed to protect our sources.

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