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SPLA denies having troops in Sudan’s Blue Nile and S. Kordofan

By John Actually

May 31, 2011 (BOR) – South Sudan’s army (SPLA) has denied the presence of its forces in South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions – which lie north of the 1956 colonial border - following an ultimatum by the Khartoum’s Sudan Army Forces (SAF) for the SPLA to withdraw its forces from the states.

SPLA marching in Celebaration of May 16 Commemoration in Bor. May 27, 2011 (ST)

Speaking to Sudan Tribune from Juba, SPLA spokesman, Col. Philip Aguer Panyang said the SPLA had no forces to withdraw from South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

In accordance with the security arrangement in the 2005 peace deal between North and South, Joint Integrated Units (JIUs) of 24,000 soldiers, 12,000 each from SAF and SPLA were deployed in various towns in South Sudan, Khartoum, Blue Nile and South Kordofan. The forces were to serve as the nucleus for a future national army should the people of South Sudan vote for the unity of the country in a plebiscite agreed as part of the peace deal.

Following January’s referendum in South Sudan and the declaration of its outcome in favor of independence, SAF components of the JIUs in South Sudan withdrew to the north of the 1956 borders.

Many people from the northern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile took up arms with the SPLA in the two decade civil war against various Khartoum governments. Under a 2005 peace deal the two states were given special status but were unable to take part in South Sudan’s vote on independence earlier this year.

Instead of a referendum the two areas were granted popular consultations to assess whether the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) addressed their grievances and define their relationship with the Khartoum government.

However, the consultations have yet to take place as South Kordofan only completed the elections needed to establish the state parliament in early May, over a year after the rest of the country voted. In the election of April 2010 Blue Nile was the only northern state that returned an SPLM governor.

In South Kordofan the incumbent governor, Ahmed Haroun, beat the SPLM candidate in May’s controversial election, which was endorsed by international observers.

Colonel Aguer said the forces in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan and Blue Nile are part of the north and SPLA cannot withdraw them to South Sudan.

“There are no forces to be withdrawn from South Kordofan or Nuba, because the forces that are there in South Kordofan and Blue [Nile] are sons and daughters of Nuba and Blue Nile, so we have no right to withdraw them to South Sudan,” said Aguer.

“We have no forces to be withdrawn because they are not South Sudanese. These are Nubian and Blue people. They come from the North,” he continued.

SPLA military hardware moving behind the SPLA march in Freedom square in Bor, Jonglei state, South Sudan. May 27, 2011 (ST)

The SAF’s demand that all SPLA soldiers move South of the 1956 border comes after the northern army occupied the contested town on Abyei on Saturday 21 May. Khartoum’s military spokesperson has said that the SAF will not leave the region until a comprehensive solution is found - in contravention of the CPA. The northern army say they took Abyei by force in response to an attack on a UN-accompanied SAF convoy near the area by southern armed groups.

Western countries along with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), while acknowledging that Southern forces provoked the attack, called on SAF to withdraw unconditionally. They also urged Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir to revoke his decision to dissolve the Abyei administration council last week.

Abyei’s own referendum to allow residents to choose between joining the North or South did not take place as the NCP and SPLM could not agree on who was allowed to vote.

Colonel Aguer repeated the line of South Sudan officials this week that the soon-to-be independent country will not go back to war with north over the issue of Abyei. He said the dispute over Abyei – which is currently part of South Kordofan state - should be resolved with the help of the international community.

“We are not going to war. We have left the case of Abyei to the international community. UN will see that issue. The violation of CPA and violations of Abyei protocol are in the hands of UN”, he said.

Between 20,000 and 40,000 civilians have fled Abyei since the SAF took control of the town. As well as air strikes and ground bombardments destroying houses, property was also looted. The presence of the SAF in Abyei is seen by some analysts as a way of forcing South Sudan into compromises in the ongoing negotiations regarding implementing the provisions of the CPA – such as demarcating the North-South border – and post-independence issues.

Aguer accused the SAF of blackmailing the world and denied that the South Sudan army was present in North Sudan. “Why should we bring northerners to South Sudan?”, he said.

The second Sudanese civil war broke out between the Khartoum government and Southern rebel leaders in 1983 but the SPLA were later joined by rebel armies in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

Many people from the two regions joined the SPLA complaining of oppression, marginalization, human rights violations and racial and in some cases religious discrimination. The two regions also straddle Sudan’s largest known oilfields that were discovered in 1979.

Aguer said people of Blue Nile and South Kordofan have arms which they acquired during the civil war. As part of the CPA the SPLA was made the official army of South Sudan. He said it is up to the north whether to demobilize, reintegration or disarm those with arms in Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

“North [Sudan] is supposed to discuss what to do with the forces in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. It is [a] northern conflict and we are not part of it,” Aguer added.

(ST)

Listen to SPLA spokesperson, Philip Aguer interviewed John Actually