Clashes in Sudan Intensify and Thousands Flee, United Nations Says

From the New York Times:

NAIROBI, Kenya — The northern Sudanese military is going on a “house-to-house” hunt for opposition forces in the embattled city of Kadugli, near Sudan’s disputed internal border, as intensifying clashes are forcing tens of thousands of people to flee, United Nations officials said Friday.

Recent aggression by the government in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, has “put into grave jeopardy” the possibility of normalized relations with the United States, a top American official said.

Heavy fighting in Kadugli, the capital of Southern Kordofan — a northern Sudanese state with a large southern Sudanese-aligned population — erupted Sunday, just weeks before the scheduled separation on July 9 of southern Sudan from the north.

Many of the soldiers who fought alongside the south during the decades-long civil war with the north are from Southern Kordofan, particularly the Nuba Mountains area, and the state was due to hold vaguely defined “popular consultations” on its political future this year.

But last week the northern military deployed tanks and thousands of soldiers to Kadugli to forcibly disarm the southern-allied soldiers there, and fighting soon broke out in a number of locations and has since continued to spread.

Many analysts believe that the sudden flurry of military activity — northern forces occupied the contested region of Abyei last month in overwhelming numbers and a few days later sent a letter to southern Sudan saying it was going to do the same in two more politically-volatile states, including Southern Kordofan — is part of a calculated, hard-knuckled negotiating strategy to pressure the south into conceding more oil or money to the north as Sudan prepares to split into two.

While the south holds roughly 75 percent of Sudan’s oil reserves, the north has the refineries and pipelines; conventional wisdom argues that the two sides need each other for their economies to survive.

United Nations officials’ reports of house-to-house searches in Kadugli were corroborated by church groups in the Nuba Mountains. The United Nations also said the northern Sudanese military conducted aerial bombardments on four locations in the area on Thursday.

While the United Nations has said it would try to protect civilians in the area, there have also been reports that northern Sudanese forces were abducting civilians from a displaced-person camp adjacent to a United Nations peacekeeping base in Kadugli.

“The S.A.F. are trying to consolidate their grip over the town,” said Hua Jiang, a spokeswoman for the United Nations in Sudan, referring the northern Sudanese army.

“The fighting has been ongoing,” Ms. Jiang said. “Looting is ongoing, and some of the U.N. agencies’ warehouses and offices have been ransacked.”

“This is a very serious situation,” she added.

The United Nations also said that the northern army bombed a southern Sudanese military base along the border between the north and south on Thursday. One United Nation’s official, speaking on condition of anonymity, warned that if negotiations over the next week between northern and southern officials failed, the tensions could “blow.”

The southern Sudanese military on Friday said that the bombing had occurred 12 miles into southern Sudanese territory, but that the army would not retaliate.

“Definitely it is an attack on southern Sudan, and we are expecting more attacks,” said Colonel Philip Aguer, a spokesman for the southern Sudanese military, adding that he feared that northern land forces were advancing toward southern territory.

“The borders have not been demarcated,” Col. Aguer said, “and they are occupying what they think the border should be.”

Northern Sudan has agreed to honor the independence of the south in part because the United States, which helped brokered a 2005 peace agreement between the two sides, indicated that it was willing to lift sanctions on the north and normalize diplomatic relations, if the government in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, met certain conditions.

But Susan E. Rice, the American diplomat to the United Nations, said the recent northern aggression, especially in Abyei, was not helping Khartoum’s case.

“They have put into grave jeopardy the implementation of the roadmap,” she said. “Because they have not only not fulfilled their obligations; they are doing the opposite.”

“But if they were to pull out and withdraw their forces, and allow for a neutral peacekeeping presence” in Abyei, Ms. Rice said, “it’s not necessarily too late. But they have to hurry. The world is watching and waiting.”

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