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Sudan's Fragile Peace
by Cat Ellis
2010-01-05 08:38:45
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The New Year signals new hope for the Sudanese people; a hope however that remains enshrouded in fragility. As elections draw nearer, so to does the 2011 referendum, which will see the south choose whether to break away from the Islamic north. There are growing concerns however, that the road to the referendum is paved with further fighting.

During the civil war, the government in the north  armed militias (janjaweed) in the south, which lead to deadly clashes with rebel groups. Such rebel groups believed that the Muslim Central government were neglecting the black Africa ethnic groups. Many civilians were killed by the janjaweed and a dire humanitarian crisis ensued. 

2005 saw the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which ended the civil war that had spanned two decades and claimed the lives of two million people.

Last year saw the worst violence since the CPA was signed in 2005. In 2009 there were 2000 deaths related to violent conflict in Sudan. The southern state of Jonglei has been the epicentre of of inter-tribal tensions, with tribal clashes over land and cattle remaining a stark reality in southern Sudan.

The dismal lack of security is exacerbated by the lack of civilian protection throughout the country. Many of the local population continue to carry weapons to protect themselves. Civilian disarmament remains a key issue. But with many people in the south having access to small arms and light weapons, it is difficult to see how trust can be built in the lead up to elections scheduled for April.

There are also concerns over a new security law that curbs the powers of Sudan’s National Security Service. President Omar al-Bashir’s party passed the bill, which shortens the amount of time suspects can be held, but approved existing powers of arrest and search. Critics note that it puts limits on freedom and democracy and could prevent people going to vote due to fear.

As well as concern in the lead up to the elections, the looming issue of the referendum could also spell further tensions. In December, both President Bashir of the NCP and Salva Kiir, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), reached a compromise on the details of the referendum. This move ended months of squabbling between the north and south about how the referendum should be conducted.

Changes however, were then introduced to the original text, removing an article saying that southerners who live outside the region will be allowed only to register and vote in South Sudan. The NCP, under pressure from the US and EU, removed the amendment.

Secession is the most likely outcome in next year’s referendum, but this would mean Khartoum losing control of most of the country's oil reserves.

At present, there is relative calm in the country, but this could change rapidly in the next few months. The situation in Sudan, for now, remains fragile and highly unpredictable.

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