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Sudan's Bashir is instigating trouble to avoid the fate of Mubarak and Ben Ali: activists

Political officials tell Ahram Online they view the North’s invasion of the contested hotspot in the centre of Sudan, Abyei, as a provocation of war to deflect attention from the problematic Bashir regime

Khaled Nour, Monday 23 May 2011
Omar al-Bashir
Omar al-Bashir, the President of the Republic of Sudan, addresses a gathering of the Southern Sudan Council of Ministers in the southern Sudanese capital of Juba (Photo: AP)

Political activists in Sudan told Ahram Online that the invasion by Sudanese government forces (from the north) of the city of Abyei, which is literally at the centre of the dispute with the South, is “an attempt by the ruling party in Khartoum to incite a war to silence critics and suppress freedoms. This would prevent the Arab Spring from coming to Sudan,” which toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zein Al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Sudan television quoted a military source stating that “the [northern] armed forces have reached Abyei, have tight control over it and have expelled enemy forces to the South.” The move was condemned by the US.

Walid Sayed, head of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) office in Cairo, admitted this is the way "the military apparatus in Sudan assessed the situation." However, the Sudanese army stopped short of issuing any statement to clarify its stance.

Fighting began between North and South Sudan in the disputed oil-rich region of Abyei on Thursday night when a unit from the north Sudanese army was attacked, which Khartoum claims was carried out by the South’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

The SPLA denied any culpability and accused the Sudanese government forces of “shooting first.” Yen Matthew, spokesman for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the ruling party in the South, told Ahram Online that his government is urging the world community to intercede. Matthew rejected that the South “could be coerced into war” and emphasised that southerners have the right to defend themselves.

“Since before the referendum we have lived through a series of provocations by the National Congress Party (NCP) [which rules the North] to bully the South into war,” he said. “There are elements within the NCP who have a vested interest in mobilising the North to go to war with the South in order to divert the attention of the people from the serious problems they are suffering.”

A referendum in Abyei was scheduled to take place at the same time as the one in South Sudan so local residents could decide whether they want to be part of South or North Sudan. The plebiscite was postponed because of disputes between the North and South over who has the right to vote in the referendum.

“We hold President [Omar] Bashir responsible, because he is the one who ordered the borders closed between North and South,” asserted Matthew. “He prevented basic goods from reaching us [the South], and dissolved the committee administrating the region. Before that, his party rigged election results in South Kordofan, where Abyei is located.”

Elections were held in the state of South Kordofan, which is mostly populated by African Nubian tribes and Arab tribes, after being postponed from April, 2010. The winner was the ruling party’s Ahmed Haroun, who is accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of war crimes in Darfour. Haroun defeated SPLM’s Abdel-Aziz Al-Helw.

“I predict more tensions,” Al-Shafie Al-Akhdar, the political secretary of the Sudanese Communist Party, told Ahram Online. “Within days we might hear that the southerners have taken back the city, and then the northerners will overpower them. This will launch an endless cycle of instability. There are elements in the NCP whose interests will be served through overall tension in the country, to silence critics and suppress freedoms. This would protect the regime from the Arab Spring coming to Sudan.”

On the other hand, Sayed from Cairo's NCP office, ruled out the possibility of Sudan being infected by any sort of revolution along the lines of those in neighbouring countries. "Sudan’s regime is immune to these kinds of revolutions. Bashir is always communicative with his people, either socially through events of congratulations or condolence, as well as politically, through popular meetings."

In an interview published simultaneously in the Qatari Al-Sharq and Sudan’s Al-Intibaha newspapers, Bashir said that Sudan is not invulnerable to Arab revolutions, although he considers himself safe.

"Arab revolutions were carried out by Islamists, but in Khartoum, Islamists are part of the regime," concluded Sayed.

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