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Southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit

War footing

Sudan | Sudan's president calls out his militia while southern leader draws his own line in the sand

Issue: "Not angry anymore," Dec. 1, 2007

In 1990, as civil war flamed between Sudan's North and South, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir met with a UN official to discuss 400,000 Ethiopian refugees camped in Sudan. The UN official agreed that Bashir needed help caring for them but said an equal number of Bashir's southern Sudanese, also refugees, were languishing in Ethiopia. "They're not my people," Bashir retorted.

It's a conversation Roger Winter, U.S. former special representative to Sudan, remembers well. Bashir, a Sudanese Arab, apparently views his southern African countrymen with the same disdain today. On Nov. 17 the president re-activated his war-time militia during a rally south of Khartoum called to celebrate the 18th anniversary of his Popular Defense Force (PDF). In his speech Bashir referred to the PDF as his "mujahideen" and "the legitimate son of the people" and ordered it to "open its camps and mobilize troops and get prepared for any eventuality."

Bashir has refused to implement key provisions establishing borders between northern and southern states and dividing oil wealth accordingly, despite a peace agreement reached five years ago that calls for sharing power with the South. In his belligerent remarks at the rally, Bashir criticized members of an international commission who recently concluded that his government bears "primary responsibility" for failing to uphold those provisions. "They should dilute and drink it," he said of the report.

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The growing stand-off between North and South over the the hard-won Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA, has been stewing for months, prompting the South to withdraw its ministers in October in protest over the unity government's failure to fulfill the agreement. The move prompted world leaders to remember that Sudan's problems extend beyond Darfur, where Western advocacy has been focused almost exclusively. Without peace in the South, experts note, no peace will come to conflict-battered Darfur.

"The CPA is moving like a drunken person, struggling going forward," said southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit on a November trip to Washington. "But it is still holding. It has not fallen and it will not fall."

If the peace deal is to stay upright, however, it will need heavy U.S. involvement, the kind that brokered the peace to begin with. But the United States has not learned to "walk and chew gum at the same time" when it comes to Sudan, said Winter. Focus on Darfur, the site of the latest violence committed by Khartoum and its militias, has come at the expense of long-standing North-South problems.

"You need to be concerned about the CPA if you care about Darfur," Winter told WORLD. "If all you're trying to do is feed and protect people in Darfur, what you really do is leave the source of the problem intact."

The source, Winter says unequivocally, is Bashir's Arab-Islamist government, which in multiple incarnations has monopolized the country's power in Khartoum in the North while for decades shutting out the South's predominantly Christian population, along with Muslims to the west in Darfur and tribal areas to the east.

The United States has sent mixed signals leading up to the brewing crisis. In early October, Andrew Natsios, the special U.S. envoy for Sudan, offered a five-point proposal of "confidence-building measures" supposed to relieve the impasse over disputed territories. He distributed it to Kiir, Bashir, and some European countries.

In effect, the plan would have aborted the CPA. One provision was to include Saudi Arabia and China-Khartoum's effective war accomplice-in talks to resolve the land disputes and border issues. Kiir categorically rejected it, reportedly writing "death of CPA" in the proposal's margin.

The Bush administration ignored the proposal, and it fizzled, but it was a sign that Washington may not be engaged on Sudan as it was before the war in Iraq. "For the last two years, the assumption was things were going OK-not perfect, but OK," said Ted Dagne, Africa specialist for the Congressional Research Service. "What [Kiir's] visit underscored is that the CPA is on life support, and your legacy is at risk, and immediate intervention is necessary."

Khartoum waged war against the oil-rich South for more than two decades, unleashing similar militia attacks, killings, and rape that are now employed in Darfur. The southern conflict killed 2.5 million people, making it at least as deadly as the conflict in Darfur. In January 2005, however, with steep pressure from the United States and other Western powers, Khartoum signed the CPA with the South. The agreement is effectively the South's constitution-its sole working agreement after decades of war.

The South's main rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), has since held positions in the central government with Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP). In 2011, the South will decide in a referendum if it wants to become independent from the North.

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