Africa's new threat: Sudan at flash point
Only quick, concerted international action can avert a nationwide war and keep the peace.
Sudan, the largest country in Africa, is on the verge of plunging into yet another north/south civil war. International failure to guarantee the key provisions of a linchpin peace agreement means that a renewed war could be the most widespread and destructive in the country's half century of independence.Skip to next paragraph
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The 2005 "Comprehensive Peace Agreement" (CPA) between the present National Islamic Front/National Congress Party (NIF/NCP) regime in Khartoum and the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) ended one of Africa's longest civil wars, with nominal agreement on security, wealth sharing, and governance issues.
However, the international community – including the African Union, the US, the European Union, and China – has not taken implementation of the peace agreement seriously enough for oil-rich Sudan. This has enabled Khartoum to renege on key elements of the agreement with little consequence and to manipulate ethnic, political, and military tensions throughout the region.
Without meaningful pressure, the NIF/NCP regime has also delayed the legislation that will guide a referendum in which South Sudan votes on whether to secede or remain part of a unified Sudanese state. The vote is scheduled for January 2011, but referendum legislation is already two years behind schedule.
The self-determination vote is critical for all of Sudan, and if compromised, southern Sudanese are likely to consider this the final straw and resort to renewed war to gain the independence the majority seeks. In anticipation, Khartoum may launch a preemptive military campaign.
This is particularly bad news
Potential war could quickly escalate to include other marginalized regions within Sudan, including the Darfur region of western Sudan. Conflict there over the past seven years has already led to the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians and displaced some 3 million people.
Increased tensions throughout Sudan make it probable that if the 2005 north/south peace agreement collapses, Darfur's massive conflict will be but one component of the first nationwide war in Sudan, The potential of such conflict to destabilize the country and the region can hardly be overstated.
Who else would participate in a war in Sudan?
Tensions are high in the Nuba Mountains and southern Blue Nile regions, as well as in eastern Sudan. Although lying geographically in northern Sudan, all were allied with the SPLM during the civil war that raged from 1983 through the peace agreement of 2005. More than 2 million people died, and as many as 5 million were displaced – and much of the worst fighting occurred in these areas.
That's why Khartoum's refusal to demarcate the north/south border, one of its most fundamental obligations under the terms of the 2005 agreement, is of urgent concern. This refusal has led to dangerous military escalation on both sides of a region lying in the midst of Sudan's very large oil reserves.
The regime's military strategy in the event of war would probably be to control as much of the southern reserves as possible and create a vast defensive perimeter. Southern resistance would almost certainly be fierce and civilian casualties heavy.