Sudan’s Coming Civil War

Omar al-Bashir (wikimedia)

Omar al-Bashir (wikimedia)

For many years, Sudan had a vicious civil war between the northern-dominated central government and rebel movements based in the south. More recently the situation has calmed down thanks to peace agreements that, among other things, promise a referendum on independence. But as John Norris writes, there’s likely to be serious trouble ahead in the near future:

In 2011, Sudan is scheduled to hold a referendum that will allow South Sudan to vote on severing its ties with the North and declaring independence. Almost every observer has concluded that if this referendum happens, the South will vote overwhelmingly for independence, sundering in half the largest country in Africa (that’s why the road ahead could not be clearer). But it’s the actions taken now, by the Barack Obama administration, that may well determine if Sudan’s breakup occurs peacefully or is steeped in blood and a return to full-blown civil war.

The early signs are discouraging. There has been a sharp uptick in violent clashes in South Sudan of the same sort that have already killed hundreds this year. So dramatic is the escalation that the United Nations recently noted that the violence there is now worse than that in Darfur. There have been abundant allegations that the Sudanese government, headed by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir (who is still wanted on outstanding war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court), has been rapidly rearming proxy militias in the South to do Khartoum’s bidding. The use of proxy militias has long been a favorite tactic of the ruling party — both in Darfur and South Sudan. Officials from the South accuse Khartoum of distributing “thousands” of AK-47s in recent months. The U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Sudan has also noted the presence of more modern and powerful weaponry in recent clashes than has traditionally been the case.

The notorious Lord’s Resistance Army from Uganda has also stepped up its level of activity in southern Sudan. It would make a lot more sense for the international community to try to intercede with the Sudanese government now before any gigantic humanitarian catastrophe emerges rather than doing the normal thing and ignoring a basically back-burner situation until calamity is already under way and extremely difficult to stop.