September 7, 2011 (KHARTOUM) – The United States special envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman expressed concern today over the recent upsurge in fighting between government forces and Sudan People Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
Tensions have mounted in these two states and other territories along Sudan’s poorly-defined border with South Sudan since the south declared independence in July.
The territories are all still home to tens of thousands of people from ethnic groups that sided with the south during decades of civil war that led up to independence.
Last week fighting broke out between Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and SPLM-N units in Blue Nile state. Both sides traded blame over who provoked the clashes. Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir declared a state of emergency in Blue Nile and removed its SPLM-N governor Malik Agar.
In June of this year SAF and SPLM-N engaged in heavy fighting in the oil-rich state of South Kordofan that has yet to be quelled. As with Blue Nile, the two sides accused each other of firing the first shot.
President Bashir scrapped an African Union framework agreement on South Kordofan despite being signed by his powerful assistant Nafie Ali Nafie. The Sudanese leader instructed SAF to continue military operations until they capture the former deputy governor Abdel-Aziz al-Hilu who is leading SPLA units there.
A recent mediation attempt by Ethiopian president Meles Zenawi failed to yield results.
The visiting US special envoy on Wednesday said the situation in the border states is “very dangerous”.
“The two sides are not still talking to each other. That means the situation remains very dangerous. Fighting is going on,” Lyman said after meeting Sudan’s Foreign Minister, Ali Ahmed Karti, and other officials.
Lyman also criticised Khartoum’s decision to close down SPLM-N offices.
“If there is going to be a discussion and political talks, who are you going to talk to? Of course you are going to talk to the SPLM-North. It’s a major political party in Sudan. Closing down offices does not help,” he said.
The US official also warned Sudan that the process of normalising ties is in danger given the humanitarian situation in the two states.
“We continue to want to move along that path to normalisation” of relations between the United States and Sudan,” the special envoy said.
“But clearly when you have a situation like has happened in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, that throws an obstacle in the way,” he said, adding that the violence raised a number of “serious problems,” including charges of human rights violations that have to be investigated and addressed.
“Certainly we can’t go forward… if we have a major conflict going on, and we have humanitarian and human rights issues that haven’t been addressed”.
Today the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that “UN agencies and international humanitarian partners… have requested permission from the government to travel to Sennar [the neighbouring state] and to secure parts of northern Blue Nile state to assess the situation and assist in addressing humanitarian needs”.
“But they have so far been denied access to do so,” it said, adding that, as in nearby South Kordofan, where a similar three-month-old conflict is still raging, the government has insisted that aid be provided through national partners such as the Sudanese Red Crescent.
Today the Sudanese army issued a statement revealing fresh fighting south of the Blue Nile state capital of Damazin.
“The armed forces clashed with remnants of Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) on Wednesday afternoon near Bau town in Blue Nile state, and inflicted heavy losses on them,” Al-Sawarmi Khalid Sa’ad was quoted as saying by the Sudan’s official news agency (SUNA).
The army spokesperson also said that several SAF soldiers had been killed or injured.
Sudan accused its southern neighbour of pushing the SPLM-N to rebel against the central government but Juba dismissed the claims.
The US official suggested that Khartoum’s claim may have merits and urged South Sudan to stay out of the conflicts in the two states and instead try to encourage the SPLM-N to find a peaceful solution with Khartoum.