Sudan: War and independence was made by Callum Macrae and John D McHugh. Here Callum Macrae writes about meeting the leader of the SPLA rebels in the disputed border area of Southern Kordofan.

Abdel Aziz Adam Al Hilu, the leader of the SPLA rebels in the disputed border area of Southern Kordofan, emerged silently from the darkness, beaming genially. 

We had travelled for the best part of a day and night for this meeting, and we had no idea where we were, beyond the fact that we were in the open, somewhere in the Nuba mountains. We had travelled in strict radio silence - all satellite phones switched off to ensure Sudanese intelligence in Khartoum could not trace us.

Abdul Aziz had agreed to give Al Jazeera English his first exclusive interview since the outbreak of hostilities in this remote but strategically important and resource rich border state, which lies between the newly separate countries of North and South Sudan. And despite the difficulties he was as good as his word.

In pictures:  The plight of South Kordofan's Nuba people

Once a respected commander in the Sudan People's Liberation Army under John Garang, Abdel Aziz and his Nuban forces were central to Garang's partial victory in the long and bitter civil war with Khartoum - a partial victory which culminated in the creation of the world's newest nation, South Sudan, on July 9.

I say 'partial' because it should not be forgotten that Garang and his movement were not originally fighting for independence for the South, they were fighting to bring down the Khartoum regime and build a new united Sudan, under a new, less Arabic centred, administration.

But as Aziz quickly made clear in our historic interview, that dream of a new administration in Khartoum is still alive. It is often assumed that Abdul Aziz's fight is still tied to that of the SPLA in the South.

And in one sense it is - they are still allies - indeed they still share the same name. But now of course Abdel Aziz's SPLA exists in a different country. It is, strictly speaking, an independent rebel army based in the north and fighting the Khartoum government. And that is not an assessment Abdel Aziz rejects.

"We believe that we are part of the North," he says. "But we want a new government, we want fundamental change in Khartoum. We want a restructuring of central government so that each region, each state, is represented in the centre according to its weight. We want a new a new Sudan, built on new basis of justice, of equality, of freedom."

And he issued what amounted to little less than a call to arms to all the forces in the north which oppose the increasingly isolated regime of Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum.

"I call upon all the Sudanese people, the forces of democracy, people who are aspiring for justice to unite," he says. "We will struggle to topple this regime - to remove it and to bring a new democratic system of governance and put an end to wars and continuous hatred between the Sudanese people."

The problem, of course, is that those words could well have been spoken a decade ago by John Garang, before compromising reality intervened and the alternative goal of an independent southern Sudan became fact.

And when pushed Aziz admits that there is, in effect, a plan B: A scenario where having failed, like the SPLM under Garang, to create a new administration for a new united Sudan, he might consider falling back to the idea of secession by South Kordofan, presumably into some kind of quasi-federal relationship with the South.

But that, he is clear, is not the prime target.

"We are aspiring for unity of all the marginalised people, we are actually inviting the Blue Nile, the Dafurians and the rest to come under one umbrella and defeat Khartoum, bring a fundamental change in Khartoum."

But if that unity cannot be achieved - and even if (as they appear to be doing at the moment), the undoubtedly brave and determined Nuba fighters under his control continue to win battles against the superior forces of Khartoum's SAF - he seems to accept that ultimately this is a struggle with ramifications far beyond the borders of this beautiful and troubled state.

"There is no solution to the problem of Southern Kordofan at the state level," he says, "because the policies that produce wars and instability here are created in Khartoum. They are created by the National Congress Party. We don't think that we can have a solution to the problem of the state without changing Khartoum."

Follow Callum Macrae on Twitter @Callum_Macrae


This episode of People & Power can be seen from Wednesday, July 13, at the following times GMT: Wednesday: 2230; Thursday: 0930; Friday: 0330; Saturday: 1630; Sunday: 2230; Monday: 0930.

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Source: Al Jazeera