Fears of military build-up in Sudan

In the second of a three-part series, we investigate the reported build-up of forces in Sudan's South Kordofan state.


    The reported build-up of forces in South Kordofan could exacerbate tensions in Sudan  [Nick Clark]

    On the tarmac of an airfield in north Sudan, 100 miles from the proposed border with the south, the governor of South Kordofan arrives back home in Kadugli, the state capital.

    It demonstrates the precarious nature of Sudanese politics and international diplomacy, when a man pursued by the International Criminal Court flies in on a United Nations aircraft.

    He is Ahmed Haroun, self-proclaimed man of the people, wanted for rape, murder and crimes against humanity - charges he dismisses out of hand.

    I take my place in a welcoming line of barrel-chested army officers, UN representatives and nervous-looking local officials, as the main man works his way down, slapping shoulders and laughing heartily.

    "Later, later!" he exclaims as I shake hands and attempt to firm up our pre-arranged interview. And then he's gone, a cloud of dust hanging above the road as his convoy disappears into town.

    So we head to the governor's compound and wait. Eventually his car sweeps in, followed by his armed guards perched in the back of an open truck.

    Another line of sweaty officials and beribboned military men and much laughing at every Haroun humorous aside. The line ends and he turns towards us. Suddenly a gaggle of implacable, slightly menacing intelligence men talk urgently with the governor, gesturing towards us.

    The usual requests for ID are made and despite all the officially signed paperwork and permits we're carrying, it's my business cards that they want to keep.

    "No, no, not possible," we're told. And away goes Ahmed Haroun. It can only get better.

    Governor's garden

    Late that night we get a call asking us to come first thing in the morning. So in the parched, early light we're driving along the rutted streets, past the donkey carts and packed beaten-up buses to set up our equipment in the slightly incongruous setting of the governor's rose garden.

    Sprinklers twitch away across green swathes, trees give voluminous shade and the roses are blooming and red. We're ready and not that hopeful.

    But suddenly the man himself emerges from breakfast, comes over and sits down. We're on! He settles into his chair, sharp-suited and comfortable. I've read somewhere of him being described as feline.

    We principally wanted to put to Haroun allegations that the Sudanese army has been contravening the Comprehensive Peace Agreement by mobilising weapons and soldiers in large numbers along the border with the south.

    It's suggested there could be as many as 55,000 troops in strategic areas.

    "As head of state I can reconfirm we are not going back to war!" was the riposte.

    "Any movements here and there are down to the state of uncertainty about the future," Haroun said.


    The difficulty is that it's very hard to verify exactly what's going on. We could see for ourselves a small amount of artillery in the state capital Kadugli - and heard from people who'd seen convoys on the move and rumours of tribal groups receiving weapons.

    A few weeks ago, after a shooting incident in a nearby village, police uncovered a surprisingly sophisticated weapons cache with heavy machineguns and two RPGs.

    Haroun said he didn't have any information about tribal leaders being armed. I asked about secret documents discovered by the Small Arms Survey with the heading: "Arming The Tribes".

    These were apparently top-level instructions for handing out arms to tribal leaders, with issuing and receiving orders including one for 300 AK machine guns to be passed on. They carried the signature and stamp of the defence minster and the army chief of staff.

    "If you are talking about these documents that have been exchanged in the last two years, we have investigated these," the governor said.

    "And I was part of the investigation team -  it has been proven that all these documents were fake. It is a propaganda war that is all. We proved they were fake."

    War crimes

    There then followed an exchange about his ICC indictment.

    Al Jazeera: "South Kordofan is a very sensitive state – you have 49 counts of war crimes issued against you by the ICC. Given that, is it right that you are in charge of South Kordofan?"

    Haroun: "It is a very comic play what is going on in the ICC. It is a comedy play directed against Africans and Africa in general. It is neo-colonisation style towards Africa and we don't believe in this comedy."

    Al Jazeera: "So you are innocent? If you are, why don't you go to the Hague and prove your innocence?"

    Haroun: "It doesn't even deserve a response. The ICC doesn't deserve a reply. Who is it that has the legality to call upon people and do this?"

    Al Jazeera: "It is the view of the international community."

    Haroun: "The international community is a very broad phrase - it might mean the neo-colonialism of Sudan? It's the same phrases always with the white man when the West was for years calling Africa the Third World. Europe will remain Europe and Africa will remain Africa."

    The chances are Sudan will not remain Sudan, not as one anyway. Like many in the north, Ahmed Haroun does not want separation but is adamant there will not be war.

    As for the arms, well there are legitimate reasons why Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir may want to bolster security here in South Kordofan. This could soon be part of north Sudan's international border with the south after all. And these are uncertain times.

    The bottom line though is any violations of the peace agreement on either side can only exacerbate the rising sense of tension.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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