A devastating conflict could erupt in the central Sudanese state of southern Kordofan unless long-standing grievances are urgently addressed, a think-tank has warned.
"The Khartoum government must rapidly address the worsening situation or face the prospect of a devastating new conflict," Fouad Hikmat, Horn of Africa project director for the International Crisis Group (ICG), said.
Southern Kordofan lies in the critical border area between the North and South and is occupied by Arab (mainly Misseriya and Hawazma) and African (mainly Nuba) groups that are deeply polarised along political and ethnic lines.
"There is animosity over resources, representation and interests," Hikmat said. "Local communities are frustrated with the NCP [National Congress Party] and the SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] government." He was speaking at the launch of a report, Sudan’s Southern Kordofan Problem: The Next Darfur?
The NCP and the SPLM make up the Government of National Unity, formed after the 2005 signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). But the Nuba have no representation at the SPLM in Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan.
"They feel neglected," Hikmat added.
The Nuba are bitter because they believe their SPLM allies did not negotiate a better deal for them in the CPA. Instead, the SPLM gave priority to the oil-rich Abyei territory in the state, stated the ICG report. Another priority was the independence referendum due in 2011.
At least 5,000 of their troops are supposed to be demobilised but now do not want to give up their guns, Hikmat said. The Nuba constitute the biggest group in the SPLM after the Dinka, with about 10,000 troops.
"The feeling of political marginalisation and lack of genuine representation has always been pervasive among Nuba communities," Sara Pantuliano, a research fellow with the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), said in an analysis of the eastern sector of the state.
"This feeling continues today among groups which supported the uprising [in the south] and is fuelled by a perception that the integration of the SPLM alongside the NCP in the state government, as envisaged by the CPA, is far from genuine," said Pantualiano.
Lack of progress on integration between the two parties until recently has fostered the progressive isolation of former SPLM areas that also lack infrastructural support, she said, adding that hard-line groups have been strengthening their control in these areas. More recently, the dismissal of the state minister of finance (SPLM) by the state government (NCP) has reignited animosities between the two parties.
The predominantly pastoralist Misseriya also feel their livelihoods are under threat, according to Hikmat.
|Patients wait to see a doctor in the Nuba Mountains region, in Southern Kordofan, in this past photo: The region suffers a lack of basic services|
During the war, militias comprising local Arab pastoralists fought for the government and were rewarded with arms, land and support for their livestock. "This support has reduced after the war," he said.
The region suffers a lack of basic services, acute underdevelopment, economic marginalisation and rampant poverty. Development projects have also stalled.
Hundreds of people have died in disputes over land and grazing rights - a situation exacerbated by the thousands of returnees. A land commission, proposed by the CPA, to investigate the problem of land ownership has still not been established.
Future of the CPA
"If this area slides into war then it could derail the whole CPA," Hikmat said. "If the parties fail to implement the protocol of the CPA it will be a challenge to the CPA itself as a framework. Then, if it fails here, can it solve Darfur, yet that is a bigger problem?"
According to Hikmat, major steps to address the situation have to be taken now. "This is because the rainy season has ended, and with it pastoralist migration from the North to the South through parts of the region, such as the Nuba Mountains and the oil-rich region of Abyei will start," he said.
The SPLM is adamant it will not allow arms into its territories. "Without action this could deteriorate into a dangerous situation," he warned.
"Tribal reconciliation based on negotiation of a common agenda, establishment of an efficient state government administration and adherence to the CPA's principles of power- and wealth-sharing has to be fostered," the ICG report recommends.
"The excruciatingly slow implementation of the [comprehensive peace] agreement has done little to build confidence in the prospect of durable peace in the region," Pantualiano said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions