War breaking out across Sudan’s Kordofan State
The last war had ended in Kordofan in 2002 with the Bürgenstock Ceasefire. Large parts of the state, however -- particularly the Nuba Mountains -- remained under the control of SPLA forces led by the former deputy governor Abdelaziz Al Hilu. In the state’s elections last month, Al Hilu lost a bid for the governorship and his party refused to recognize the outcome.
Recent efforts by government troops to disarm Nuban fighters may have precipitated the gunfights that began in Kadugli last week. As fighting raged since Sunday in the state capital, particularly around the residence of Al Hilu, skirmishes began to break out elsewhere as well, and SAF brought heavier armaments into the contest. Bombing sorties began at the latest on Friday and continued today. SAF tank forces overran two villages south of Kadugli: Korongo Abdalla and Kafina. Other clashes were reported near Kauda.
Even after a week of fighting, the SAF 14th Division, headquartered in Kadugli, appears not to have full control of the immediate area. Infantry and artillery skirmishes broke out today in suburbs and outlying villages. Radio Dabanga received but could not confirm reports that soldiers were searching house-to-house for insurgents, rounding up ethnic Nubans, demolishing houses, and planting mines in parts of the town.
Warplanes reportedly bombed on Saturday in more than one location of Nuba Mountains but this was not directly confirmed by Radio Dabanga. Gamar Dalman, an advisor to the SPLM’s chairman in South Kordofan, said in an interview that Antonov bombers caused 50,000 people to flee. He said that SPLA still controls one-third of the territory of the state.
As the fighting spread in Kordofan, neither side in the conflict called for restraint. Abdelaziz Al Hilu, contacted by phone on Wednesday, announced to the London-based newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat that he intends to fight. He described his rebellion as an effort to overthrow the National Congress Party. “We will not go back to dialogue with them again because they betrayed an accord we reached a few days ago and assassinated SPLA who were working as part of joint units,” he said.
In turn, government leaders announced efforts to crush the rebellion. Governor Ahmed Harun vowed to punish Al Hilu for leading “a rebellion against the state.” Harun, who headed the government’s Darfur Security Desk from mid-2003 to late-2005, also blamed SPLM Northern Sector leader Yasser Arman for the outbreak of violence. "I do not see the opportunity for dialogue on the horizon," he said in remarks on the national state-owned radio. President Omar Al Bashir was quoted by the official news agency as saying "the situation in South Kordofan is under the control of the Sudanese Armed Forces which are now clearing the state of the remaining rebels."
Many civilians in Kadugli fled the town at the outbreak of the conflict last week. International organizations tried to evacuate their foreign staff or sheltered them in walled compounds in the town, where some remain stranded. The military authorities closed the airport. Looters on Saturday overran the compound of World Health Organization.
Aid work has generally come to a halt, except for assistance to several thousand refugees encamped near the UN peacekeepers’ compound. According to one aid worker, however, “the current priority is not about humanitarian relief – it is about protecting civilians.”
Extra-judicial, ethnically-targeted killings in the state drew the attention of the US Government. In a statement Friday, the US President’s press secretary said "the United States condemns reported acts of violence in Southern Kordofan that target individuals based on their ethnicity and political affiliation." The White House statement also referred to "accounts of security services and military forces detaining, and summarily executing local authorities, political rivals, medical personnel, and others."
Meanwhile in more remote western and southern parts of the state, Darfuri rebels allegedly twice attacked government and oil installations. In the first incident, the Justice and Equality Movement overran a military outpost in the western part of the state, one of their local commanders claimed. The JEM forces struck again on Thursday night at Hegleig oil field. Field Commander Elnazir Osman told Radio Dabanga that rebels infiltrated the heavily defended oil fields and launched RPGs at installations belonging to the Nile Petroleum Company. The attack temporarily stalled production.