Several recent developments in Sudan regarding the conflict in South Kordofan, where over 200,000 individuals have been killed, injured, or forcibly displaced according to UN reports, highlight the volatility that currently exists in the Sudanese political arena. President Omar Hassan al-Bashir recently declared a ceasefire in South Kordofan, but reports of continued fighting and aerial bombardment by the Sudan Armed Forces, or SAF, indicate that this truce has already been broken.
Earlier this week during a surprise visit to Kadugli, the capital of South Kordofan and the center of recent human rights allegations, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir announced a two-week unilateral ceasefire to re-assess the situation and observe the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement – Northern Sector’s, or SPLM-N’s, reaction. “We will seek an end to the war and peace in South Kordofan,” President Bashir declared.
The ceasefire announcement came as a surprise to both sides of the conflict, including Bashir’s own military, as it followed only days after unsuccessful negotiations that had “dissolved in disagreement” between the President and the SPLM-N chairman Malik Aggar. Voicing his party’s skepticism, Yasir Arman, the SPLM-N’s secretary-general, told the Sudan Tribune that the truce agreement was a deceitful “public relations stunt” seeking “to cover up human rights violation, genocide and ethnic cleansing committed by Al-Bashir’s forces in South Kordofan."
In addition to announcing the truce, Bashir banned access for all foreign organizations to the devastated area and stated that aid would be delivered only through the Sudanese Red Crescent Society. This directly contradicted a previous announcement from the Government of Sudan, made a few days earlier, that the government would allow several UN agencies to assess humanitarian needs in South Kordofan during a six-day period, under local supervision.
Plans for a Sudanese-controlled humanitarian effort paralleled the government’s announcement on Sunday that it would establish a Sudanese taskforce to “monitor the humanitarian, political, and media developments in South Kordofan.” The purpose of the body is to refute the “baseless” accusations against Sudan outlined in a July UN report and heard in the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council, explained Al-Ubayd Muroah, official spokesman of the Sudanese foreign ministry. At this point, it is unclear how this local-led monitoring committee will conduct its investigation, coordinate with international bodies, and establish its legitimacy on the international stage.
Voicing the Sudanese government’s perspective, Mahdi Ibrahim, who chairs the foreign relations committee of Sudan’s parliament, explained its perception of subversive foreign involvement:
Out of all these experiences, we feel that this is an open project of continued intervention in Sudan. ‘Don’t allow this country to be stable.’ This is the very clear message that we see.
In sum, over the course of just a few days, there was an unexpected announcement of a ceasefire in South Kordofan which was then broken by continued fighting, the approval and subsequent refusal of UN humanitarian assistance into South Kordofan, and the establishment of a Sudanese monitoring task force to investigate human rights allegations that have taken place in the region. These attempts by Bashir to manage the conflict and the international community’s response, especially in light of increased UN attention and Sudan’s unchanged status on the list of states sponsors of terrorism, reflects his desire to avoid ‘pariah-state status’ while maintaining government control over the war-torn crisis areas. While the substantive effects of these changes remain to be seen, humanitarian assistance and information-gathering remain highly restricted and victims’ suffering persists.
Photo: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir (AP)