North Sudan's post-independence conflict spreads to Blue Nile state

The leader of the northern arm of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement says the growing conflict is "about democracy and transformation," not land.

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    Internally-displaced citizens ride a truck to return to their homes after the army took control of the area at Al-Damazin town at Blue Nile State on Sept. 6. Fighting erupted last week in Blue Nile state in Sudan between the Sudanese army and fighters allied to Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the dominant force in newly independent South Sudan.
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As violence continues in Blue Nile and South Kordofan, the leader of the group fighting Sudanese government forces in the two border states called for a “holistic, integrated approach” to Sudan’s multiple conflicts.

“It’s not about Nuba Mountains, it’s not about Darfur, it’s not about Blue Nile,” said Yasir Arman, the secretary general of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement- North (SPLM-N), the political arm of the opposition group, told Enough in a phone interview. “It’s about democracy and transformation. The issue is about how Sudan is going to be ruled.”

Arman said the current piece-by-piece approach toward resolving Sudan’s multiple conflicts has not worked. A “new roadmap” based on consultations with all the political forces in Sudan is needed, he said.

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Fighting between Sudanese government forces and the Sudan People's Liberation Army- North (SPLA-N) in South Kordofan has been ongoing since early June, when government soldiers attempted to disarm members of the SPLA-N in the state. The SPLA-N, comprised of residents of the two northern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, fought alongside their southern counterparts in the South during the civil war. But grievances in these two northern states remain unaddressed, as the specific provisions laid out for the two states in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement were never fully implemented.

Last Thursday, a new front in the conflict erupted in Blue Nile state. The state governor and SPLM-N Chairman Malik Agar, who was popularly elected in April 2010, had warned for weeks that the conflict would spread to Blue Nile. Shortly after fighting began, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir declared a state of emergency and named a military governor in place of Agar. The fighting has displaced at least 50,000 civilians, according to the latest UN humanitarian report on the situation. Both the SPLM-N and human rights group ACJPS have reported on what appear to be arbitrary arrests of SPLM-N supporters throughout Sudan.

“The National Congress has two options: accept change, or it is going to be changed. Change is inevitable,” Arman said, in reference to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party, or NCP.

According to the UN situation report, aerial bombardments have been reported in a number of towns in Blue Nile. The state capital of al-Damazine, which is under government control, and the area around the border town of Kurmuk, under SPLA-N control, are both tense. The government has denied UN agencies and international humanitarian organizations access to vulnerable areas, the report said, and food supplies already placed in the state by the World Food Program are only enough to feed 20,000 people for two weeks.

The US government’s top priorities should include securing passage for humanitarian operations across the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, and Darfur, the SPLA-N’s secretary general said. The US should also push for a Security Council-backed no-fly zone across those territories.

“There are a lot of new realities,” Arman said when asked about the whether negotiations with the government will resume. The secretary general said that investigations into ethnic cleansing and human rights atrocities, a halt to government bombardments, and humanitarian access are needed. “We need to first create a conducive environment,” he said.

According to Arman, SPLM-N representatives are going to Addis Ababa to consult with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in a few days, but he said he did not know what message the prime minister would have for them.

Amanda Hsiao blogs for the Enough Project at Enough Said.

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