While Obama has been concerning himself with Israel’s “unjust” borders, a Muslim Middle Eastern country launched a military offensive on the weekend to forcibly settle a border dispute that was to be decided peacefully by referendum.
Dozens of black African Sudanese were killed when the Arab and Muslim government of northern Sudan broke the 2005 George Bush-brokered Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended a 22-year civil war between North and South Sudan and launched a well-planned invasion of the disputed Abyei border region. Dozens of tanks, hundreds of troops and government warplanes were used in the attack that saw the capture of Abyei, a town bearing the region’s name, and villages bombed from the air. Thousand of Abyei residents, who, like most southern Sudanese, are predominantly Christian or animist, fled their homes in terror.
This escalation in fighting has brought Sudan once again to the brink of civil war. The Government of South Sudan (GOSS) called the North’s seizure of the town of Abyei “illegal” and said it will respond in self-defence. UN observers present in Abyei have accused troops of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) of “burning and looting.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he condemned the “escalation in violence” and asked both sides “to cease military operations.”
The White House immediately issued a statement condemning the Khartoum government over its use of force and called the North’s invasion “blatant violations of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement” that “threaten to undermine the mutual commitment of the CPA parties to avoid a return to war.”
“The United States calls upon the SAF to immediately cease all offensive operations in Abyei and withdraw its forces from Abyei,” the statement read. “Failure to do so could set back the process of normalising relations between the Sudan and the United States and inhibit the international community’s ability to move forward on issues to Sudan’s future.”
Last January 9, southern Sudan voted successfully to separate from the North and will become the world’s newest state in July. The vote was 98 percent in favour of secession. According to the CPA, the oil-producing Abyei region was to have its own referendum last January to let its majority African Ngoc Dinka population decide whether to join the North or the South.
The referendum never took place – and probably was never intended to. The Arab North knew the Dinka would vote for joining the African South, since they had been so brutally treated by Arab forces during the last civil war. Two million Sudanese perished, mostly African southerners, and four million were displaced after the northern Arab government launched a new conflict against its southern citizens in 1982, the second such civil war since the country got its independence from Great Britain in 1956. The southern Sudanese, however, heroically fought this attempt to force them to become Arab and Muslim, leading the North to declare jihad against them in 1989. The war in southern Sudan was a prelude to Darfur.
The most horrifying aspect of the war concerned the several hundred thousand black southern Sudanese who were captured in barbaric Arab slave raids. Under the CPA, 200,000 were allowed to return home. An escaped Dinka slave, Francis Bok, told his story in FrontPage Magazine of his ten years as the child slave of a cruel Arab master and of his amazing odyssey to freedom in America, where he is now a citizen.
Facing certain defeat in the Abyei referendum, the Khartoum government manufactured an excuse not to hold the vote last January. It wanted nomadic Arab Messiria tribesman, who seasonally cross the Abyei region seeking water and grazing lands, registered as voters, knowing, however, this would never be accepted.
There have been sporadic clashes in Abyei since the CPA was formally accepted by both sides in 2005. The latest round saw 22 northern soldiers killed in a clash with southern troops last Thursday, which Khartoum used as the excuse to launch its weekend attack. But an indication that Sudanese President Omer Hassan Al-Bashir, who is under indictment by the International Criminal Court for genocide in Darfur, intends to hold on to Abyei is that he abolished Abyei region’s administrative council immediately after the invasion.
Al-Bashir is also showing his contempt for international opinion regarding his latest aggression when his vice-president and foreign minister cancelled meetings with a visiting United Nations Security Council delegation. Sudan’s state minister also confirmed the UN mission in Sudan (UNMIS) will have to leave Sudan on July 9, the South’s independence day and the end of the transitional period. The UN had wanted to extend its mission beyond that date, because Abyei’s situation and border demarcation require special attention. A lack of UN personnel will also assist al-Bashir in manipulating the referendum on Abyei that he will probably hold after his forces have chased enough Dinka away.
There are several reasons for al-Bashir risking war with southern Sudan and defying world opinion by seizing Abyei. One is oil. Eighty percent of Sudan’s oil reserves are located in the south. Abyei is not only an oil-producing area, it also has an important oil pipeline running through it to a Red Sea port, which altogether makes it a valuable territory. And by depriving GOSS of Abyei, he probably hopes to help weaken the new country, so that it becomes a failed state which must rejoin the North or at least remain under his control.
Another reason is a new war with the South will allow al-Bashir and his governing National Congress Party (NCP) to justify a continuation of their iron-fisted rule of northern Sudan and avoid a repetition of events in Tunisia and Egypt. A new conflict will also heal or patch over any divisions in the ruling party. Some NCP members would like to see the government launch a program of political reforms, but the government has refused so far.
Obama was hoping to entice al-Bashir to live up to the CPA by offering to drop Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. This would see a lifting of sanctions against Sudan, which have been in place since Osama bin Laden resided there in the 1990s.
But in the case of al-Bashir, a leopard cannot change its spots, much like Gaddafi in Libya and the Palestinian government. He will never renounce jihad and terrorism and respect human rights despite any claims to the contrary. Bin Laden’s death gives a good insight into his government’s unsuitability for rejoining the community of nations. The speaker of the national Sudanese legislature praised the dead al-Qaeda leader as a mujahid (holy warrior), while some parliamentary members interjected with shouts of “martyr.” The speaker also called the US-led War on Terror “genocide against Muslims.”
In 2008, Obama criticised the Bush administration for supposedly making an “unseemly deal” with the Khartoum government in order to help the UN mission in Darfur and for not holding it accountable for a “failure to implement key elements” of the CPA.
“Washington must respond to the ongoing genocide and the failure to implement the CPA with consistency and strong consequences,” Obama said back then.
In regard to Abyei, the world is now waiting to see what Obama’s “strong consequences” are and how quickly and consistently he will apply them. Hopefully, America’s first black president has not ruled out using military force against a government of a country where black slaves captured in jihad are still bought and sold.