Sudan Declares State of Emergency as Clashes Continue

Published April 29, 2012

By Isma’ll Kushkush and Josh Kron, New York Times, 29 April, 2012

KHARTOUM, Sudan — Sudan declared a state of emergency on Sunday along much of its border with South Sudan as the momentum toward all-out war continues to build after weeks of clashes over disputed areas and oil.

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s decree gives authorities in the border areas wide powers to make arrests and set up special courts. It was issued a day after Sudan detained three foreigners and a South Sudanese near the border and accused them of spying for South Sudan, a charge the South denies.

South Sudan, meanwhile, said Sunday that it would remove its security forces from the contested region of Abyei in response to demands from the African Union and the United Nations Security Council. “We are not occupying any contested area,” said South Sudan’s minister of information, Barnaba Marial Benjamin.

But reports of fighting continued through the weekend. On Saturday, Sudanese aircraft bombed Panakuach, a town near the border in Unity State, Mr. Benjamin said. And on Sunday, South Sudan’s army said clashes with what it called a militia group backed by Sudan left 21 people dead in Malakal, near the border. Mr. Benjamin called the militia a “mixture” of Sudanese forces and southern militiamen.

South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July last year after a referendum. A number of pressing issues, however, have not been resolved, including the demarcation of the border, the status of each nation’s citizens in the other’s country, and the sharing of the revenues from the region’s oil.

Hostilities between the two sides erupted this month when South Sudan captured the important oil-producing region of Heglig from Sudan, which soon regained control of it. Sudanese officials have accused the South of using foreign fighters in Heglig and supporting insurgents seeking to topple the government in Khartoum. Both sides deny that they are supporting rebel militias.

In this tense climate on Sunday, Sudan declared the state of emergency in the border districts of the states of South Kordofan, White Nile and Sennar “to achieve security and guarantee the protection of our citizens and repel any attacks,” according to the Ministry of Information.

On Saturday, Sudan said it had arrested a Briton, a Norwegian, a South African and a South Sudanese, accusing them of illegally entering Heglig to spy for South Sudan. Col. Sawarmy Khaled, a Sudanese Army spokesman, said the arrests proved that South Sudan was using foreign fighters, The Associated Press reported.

South Sudan denied the allegations and said the men were working with the United Nations and aid groups to clear land mines and had lost their way in the remote territory. On Sunday, a Norwegian humanitarian organization, Norwegian People’s Aid, confirmed that one of its employees, John Soerboe, was detained while on a mine-clearing mission in the area with representatives from South Sudan and a United Nations agency, The Associated Press reported.

South Sudan’s decision to withdraw from Abyei, which lies between South Sudan and Sudan and is claimed by both, was taken “to reaffirm and demonstrate with concrete measures” the government’s “true commitment to finding a peaceful solution” to the conflict, according to South Sudan’s letter to the United Nations, as reported by Reuters on Sunday.

A referendum was supposed to be held last year to decide what the people of Abyei wanted, but it was shelved because of disputes over who could vote.

Before the south’s succession last year, the northern Sudanese military marched in May into Abyei, forcing thousands of people out. But South Sudanese police — accused by Sudan of being soldiers in police uniforms — have remained in different parts of the larger Abyei region.

But the conflict is also an economic war, with each side largely operating without the oil revenue the nations have long been negotiating over how to share. Most of the oil wells are in the south, but the facilities to export the oil are in the north.

The increasingly martial tone of conflict extends to a proposed law that Sudan’s National Assembly plans to debate on Monday. The legislation would make it illegal for Sudanese merchants to trade with South Sudan and would impose stiff penalties on violators. It is called the Repelling of the Aggression and the Holding the Aggressors Accountable Law of 2012.

China, a close investment partner for both Sudan and South Sudan, has become a pivotal player in what the International Crisis Group called a “delicate dance” in a report this month. South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, visited China last week, partly in hopes of locking down an investment deal for an alternative oil pipeline that would export South Sudan’s oil through Kenya.

Instead, China will give South Sudan $8 billion “for development, telecommunications, infrastructure, roads, agriculture,” Mr. Benjamin, the information minister, said.

Isma’il Kushkush reported from Khartoum, and Josh Kron from Wau, South Sudan.

Article originally published here:

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