Who Is Misleading Obama On Ethnic Cleansing In Southern Kordofan?

There is a growing anger among South Sudanese about what happened and is continuing to happen in Abyei, Nuba Mountains and most likely soon to follow in Southern Blue Nile State.

By Jacob J Akol (Editor, Gurtong):

This anger can easily boil over soon after the celebrations and formalisation of what is in reality an already independent state of South Sudan. While South Sudanese are now solidly behind Salva Kiir Mayardit in his refusal to respond to Khartoum in kind, the South Sudan's president will soon find it difficult to contain the Southern sense of lost should Bashir's provocations continue.
If it is not clear to anyone else, it is crystal clear to South Sudanese that the so-called "Sudan People's Liberation Army (PLA)'s attack" on North Sudanese troops under the escort of the United Nations Forces, used by Khartoum as the pretext for unleashing terror on the Ngok Dinka of Abyei, is total nonsense. There is no conclusive evidence that the troops under the command of Salva Kiir were responsible for the attack. The SPLA has no incentive whatsoever for such an attack in just a matter of weeks before independence of the South.

South Sudan welcomes the United Nations forces and would indeed have them stationed at the border to monitor and prevent violations of peace there. Why would they then turn around and attack Khartoum’s troops being escorted out of Abyei by UN troops? It does not make sense. Except for those interested in appeasing Khartoum and President Omer al Bashir, such a concoction cannot stand.  

On the other hand, Khartoum and, the Missyria Arabs and the so-called “friendly” southern militiamen opposed to Juba, have every reason to cause the attack in an attempt to interrupt the inevitable formalisation and celebration of the independence of South Sudan on July 9th or make it an excuse to expel the Dinka from their land and occupy it.
The same forces rejected the Abyei Boundaries Commission (ABC) findings as well as the International Court of Arbitration (ICA) judgement on the Abyei boundaries. It stands to reason that force would follow to legitimise wild claims to the land of the Ngok Dinka. Call spade a spade: What is happening in Abyei, Nuba Mountain and soon to spill over to Southern Blue Nile, is ethnic cleansing in an attempt by Khartoum/Bashir to grab lucrative land for settlement of sympathetic Arab tribes of Southern Kordofan and beyond. 

However, South Sudanese are grateful that there are some foreign observers who see it the way it is and say so, unlike those hiding behind eventually destructive diplomatic niceties:       
Obama Overstates Role of ‘Both Sides’ in Conflict:
Posted by Laura Heaton on Jun 16, 2011

Amid worsening reports on the severity of the fighting in Southern Kordofan and the impact on civilians, President Obama made a statement via audio recording late Tuesday night calling for an immediate ceasefire across a swath of Sudan’s border recently embroiled in fierce fighting.

Addressing the leaders of the governments of northern and southern Sudan, President Obama called for a negotiated solution. “Both sides must agree to end the violence, to allow the free movement of aid workers and relief supplies to help those in need, to fulfil their commitments under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and to resolve their differences peacefully.”

President Obama’s message focused on the potential for a solution at talks in Ethiopia. He warned that Sudanese leaders who “flout their international obligations” will face consequences, including halting steps toward normalization of relations with the United States.

On the heels of Secretary Clinton’s recent engagement with Sudanese leaders and the ongoing diplomacy of U.S. special envoy Princeton Lyman, the president’s statement underscored the Obama administration’s high-level attention to what many fear could be a resumption of war between the North and South.

But it also demonstrated a continued reluctance by members of the international community to identify outright which party is most responsible for the ongoing violence. It is a trepidation that has characterized much of the international discourse about the fighting of recent weeks, beginning with the confusion surrounding the provocation of the SAF offensive in Abyei.

The narrative of the SPLA’s initial attack on the convoy of northern soldiers and U.N. peacekeepers set the stage for a more tempered international response when the SAF offensive began in Abyei. President Obama called for an immediate cessation of offensive actions by the Sudan Armed Forces and SAF withdrawal in the case of Abyei, reiterating the standing demand of the U.N. Security Council, U.S. State Department, and White House spokesperson, among others. But beyond this position, there has been no visible attempt by the international community to step it up when statements fail to achieve the desired results.

This cautious approach is evident in the U.N.’s backstepping on whether to use the term “ethnic cleansing” to describe the violence in Abyei. An initial draft of an internal U.N. memo stated that the SAF’s occupation of Abyei was “tantamount to ethnic cleansing,” Foreign Policy reported. However, the final version more conservatively warned that conditions “could lead to ethnic cleansing” if Ngok Dinka were unable to return home.

The tendency to shy away from the reality on the ground has dangerously carried over into the crisis in Southern Kordofan, even amounting to international silence over serious aggressions by the Sudan Armed Forces. Such is the case with this week’s assault on the town of Kauda in Southern Kordofan, where many civilians displaced from the capital have gathered and U.N. peacekeepers have a base. The airstrip in Kauda was reportedly bombed numerous times, rendering it unusable. Sudan expert Eric Reeves explained the significance in an email:

"This runway has no military purpose; its destruction is meant solely to obstruct humanitarian relief. Bombing it is ipso facto a war crime, leave aside the proximity of civilians and peacekeepers."

Reeves said that the international community should have anticipated that it would be targeted, given the apparent policy of targeting of civilians and obstructing relief efforts. "It is criminal negligence not to have warned Khartoum in the strongest possible terms against targeting this crucial piece of infrastructure, and yet there is still no outcry," he added.

By all accounts thus far, the northern and southern armies are not equally at fault in the current crisis. Considering the SPLA’s own record, it is likely that forces aligned with the South have committed atrocities as well, and getting verifiable information from Southern Kordofan is next to impossible right now. But what governments and most immediately the U.N. peacekeeping mission do know should be enough to act on, as journalist and author Rebecca Hamilton recently noted.

Instead, there’s an emphasis on the responsibility of “both sides,” “both parties,” to “live up to their responsibilities” to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. While President Obama’s own voice lends welcome attention and gravitas, the problematic rhetoric remains the same, misconstruing the nature of the current violence by giving the impression that the northern and southern governments evenly share the blame. As a result, the current debate over what should be done lacks the outrage that the North’s blatant targeting of civilians and humanitarians deserves.

Darfur and Southern Sudan Peace Prevention Protection War Crimes Laura Heaton's blog 1 Comment

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