Head of Sudan conflict state 'committed to peace'

AFP , Tuesday 26 Jul 2011

While North Sudan continues its military campaign in South Kordofan, governor Ahmed Harun insists the North is doing its best to keep the conflict brief and wants rebels at the negotiating table

The governor of Sudan's embattled state of South Kordofan said on Tuesday he was committed to peace, and that the aim of the ongoing military campaign was to get the rebels to the negotiating table.

"We are doing our best to keep the length of this conflict as short as possible, because we believe that military operations are not a goal, but are a tool to push the other side to the negotiating table," Ahmed Harun told a news conference in Khartoum.

"We are committed to peace and to dialogue," said Harun, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes in Sudan's western Darfur region.

Fighting has raged in the ethnically divided border state of South Kordofan since early June, between the Sudanese army and Nuba militiamen who fought with the SPLA, the former rebel army of the south, during their decades-long war with Khartoum.

The conflict erupted shortly after, and partly because of, Harun's re-election as governor in a bitterly disputed May poll that pitted him against Abdelaziz al-Hilu, his former deputy and a senior SPLA commander, who pulled out of the race alleging fraud.

"It is the plan of Abdelaziz to colonise Kadugli, in coordination with the Darfur rebel groups, and then to march on Khartoum," Harun charged.

He claimed that Kadugli, the state capital, which has seen some of the fiercest fighting in the conflict, was one of just three out of 19 localities in South Kordofan, along with Buram and Kauda, that have been affected by the conflict.

The UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan (UNMIS), whose mandate expired with the secession of the south on 9 July, has also reported army air strikes in Talodi and Deleng, and estimated that more than 70,000 people have been displaced in South Kordofan.

An internal UN report seen by AFP said the army's systematic attacks, targeting the state's indigenous Nuba peoples, could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

UNMIS, together with the UN humanitarian office (OCHA) and the World Food Programme (WFP), have repeatedly complained about restricted humanitarian access to those in need.

But Harun dismissed the UN allegations on Tuesday, saying there was no ethnic dimension to the war, and insisting that he was fully cooperating with the different humanitarian agencies operating in South Kordofan.

"Our partners in this are WFP, UNICEF (the UN children's fund) and WHO (World Health Organisation). I have never heard a complaint from those agencies about restrictions on their freedom of movement," he said.

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