|© africa-confidential.com 2010|
Among the loads of news regarding Tripoli, Gaddafi's fate and the future of Libya pouring these days from international networks websites, yesterday afternoon a piece of news regarding Sudan broke in. During an unexpected visit to Kadugli, Southern Kordofan State's capital, president Bashir announced a unilateral ceasefire in the region. As Reuters reports, the president's offer consists of:
* two-week ceasefire
* at the end of that period, an "assessment on the ground"
* no permit to any foreign aid organisation to enter the state: all the aid will be channelled through Sudan's Red Crescent.
Let us start from this final point. To my understanding, if confirmed it would be in (at least partial) contradiction with what Sudan's ambassador to the UN said just few days ago, announcing that Khartoum would let a inter-agency UN assessing mission enter Southern Kordofan. Maybe the explanation of the contradiction is in that "under local supervision", which could hide Khartoum's will to escort and control the UN mission on the ground.
As to the proposed ceasefire, it remains to be seen whether or not it actually takes place. A difficult point to ascertain independently, to be honest, as both foreign journalists and diplomats are not allowed to enter the state.
But the point is: what triggered Bashir to say what he said? Nothing, it is just a smokescreen, the SPLM-N has reacted. It might be so, even if Khartoum has never really felt the need to appease the international community too much. Ok, UN final report on human rights violations in Southern Kordofan State was released just days ago (saying that 'if substantiated, violations of international criminal law and international humanitarian law which are alleged to have taken place in Sudan's Southern Kordofan State in June "could amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes"'), but in other moments a move of this kind by an international body would have hardened, not softened, Khartoum's position.
Thus it might also be that Khartoum tried a surprise move to rock the boat. It seems quite clear that after having rejected June's framework agreement with the SPLM-N, Khartoum is now trying to find ways to start a dialogue, or at least consultations, again. To its own conditions and benefit, of course, which may not fit SPLM-N's conditions and benefit, as last Sunday meeting between president Bashir, Ethiopia's prime minister Meles Zenawi, on an unexpected visit to Khartoum, and SPLM-N Chairperson and Blue Nile State's governor Malik Agar showed. But again, why now? Is Khartoum afraid of the alliance the SPLM-N has forged with first-hour Darful rebel groups, JEM, SLM/A-Abdul Wahid and SLM/A-Minni Minnawi?
Difficult to answer. What it is clear, as Julie Flint rightly said in an interesting op-ed written for Lebanon's Daily Star at the beginning of August, is that "no one outside Sudan knows how to address" the war in Southern Kordofan. And, maybe, no one inside Sudan does either.
The map, taken from Africa Confidential wesite, shows clearly how strategic Southern Kordofan is: for its border with South Sudan, especially with oil-producing Unity State, that with the Abyei area, still disputed between North and South Sudan, for the oilfields and oil infrastructure. What the map does not show is the importance land, migration routes and water has always had for local population and investors coming from outside.