Fighting has erupted in Blue Nile. SAF reportedly attacked various positions, the state governor's residence included. Which means Malik Agar's, chairman of the SPLM-N and former commander of SPLA troops in Southern Blue Nile during the civil war. As of this early morning, few details are out about what is going on in the state and its capital, ad-Damazin. Disclaimer: those available come from the SPLM-N leadership and have not been independently confirmed. This said, what happened in Damazin? This is what Malik Agar himself told Bloomberg: three vehicles used by the SPLA were shot at by Sudanese soldiers while approaching the southern part of Ad-Damazin and "when our [SPLA] forces shot back at them, they just heavily bombarded my house and all sites of the SPLA in the capital". SPLM-N Secretary General's version, reported by Sudan Tribune, does not differ.
It is too early to say whether a new conflict has just begun in Blue Nile, a risky development many were expecting, or whether the crisis can be wound down. There has been no official statement by the NCP or the SAF so far, as a quick look at the Sudanese Media Center's website can show.
But there are two reflections which can already be made:
* what reportedly happened in ad-Damazin recalls what happened in Kadugli on June 5th, with SAF's attack on various SPLA target, the former deputy governor's (and former SPLA commander in the area) residence included. Same allegations, same results. I expect SAF and GOS to repeat what they said in June: SPLA troops shot first. Either the SPLM-N or the SAF/NCP lack any originality.
* While Abdel Aziz al-Hilu has been given the rebel label in the government-friendly press for the last three months, in the same period Malik Agar has been described as the one detaching himself from the hardline followed in the Nuba Mountains by his deputy in the party, as this SMC's news shows. The one to talk and negotiate with, the one who could meet president Bashir only few days ago, probably thanks to his official position in the country's institutions, being the elected governor of one of Sudan's states. Is this going to change? If yes, why now?
What will happen next? Stay tuned for updates...
Few hours later: Mine was an easy bet: here is a more detailed article by Reuters, which reports on SAF's version: "Sudanese army spokesman Al-Sowarmy Khaled Saad told Reuters that SPLM forces had attacked the Sudanese army late on Thursday in and around al-Damazin but the army was now in control". Here is what Al-Sawarmy told SUNA, Sudan's official news agency.
It may be extremely useful to recall today what Julie Flint wrote exactly one month ago on Lebanon's Daily Star, in an article I already linked. Speaking of the conflict in Southern Kordofan, Flint said that
Ever since the Khartoum government and the SPLA signed a peace agreement in 2005, ending two decades of civil war, South Kordofan’s neighbor, Blue Nile, has been the most peaceful of the areas monitored by United Nations peacekeepers. Although twinned with South Kordofan in a special protocol in the agreement, and having many ethnic and political similarities with it, the SPLA in Blue Nile has so far left the Nuba to fight alone. That may be about to change. In the last month, Malik Agar, an SPLA veteran who is now governor of Blue Nile, has said repeatedly that he cannot sit on his hands for much longer. He has warned that the Nuba war will spread, igniting a front that will extend from Darfur to the Ethiopian border, unless agreements signed with South Kordofan and Blue Nile are honored. (...) Blue Nile is of enormous strategic and economic importance: Three-quarters of all Nile waters enter Sudan through it, and Sudan’s biggest irrigation schemes depend on the Blue Nile dam at Roseires. Widened violence could draw in regional actors including South Sudan and Ethiopia, Blue Nile’s eastern neighbor and early SPLA ally. ...Are we already there?
In the pic, Malik Agar at the luncheon offered by the President of the newly independent Republic of South Sudan on July 9th, 2011, in Juba. It was taken just few minutes after several cannon shots had officially ended the independence celebrations.