South Sudan: The Birth of a Nation and the Prospects for Peace and Development

Written evidence submitted by Peter Moszynski

The war in the Nuba Mountains: Unfinished business of the CPA

Ever since it became clear that South Sudan was going to become independent a new wave of fighting and displacement has been spreading across the disputed border areas, as Khartoum appears determined to impose its rule across the remainder of the country by force.

Sudan's peace deal, which expired on 9th July – along with the UN's peacekeeping mandate in Northern Sudan – was called the Comprehensive Peace Agreement because it was supposed to find a solution to all of the country's interlocking conflicts, not merely to end the war in the south.


As well as granting Southern Sudan's people a vote on independence, there were special protocols dealing with the three "contested areas" that straddle the new border - Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

These are predominantly inhabited by pro-southern African tribes that supported the SPLA during the war.

Abyei's inhabitants were granted a referendum on joining the South, whilst the people of South Kordofan and Blue Nile were offered an ill-defined process of "popular consultation" on their future status.

None of these aspects of the CPA were ever implemented.

In May Sudan armed forces invaded Abyei, displacing most of its Ngok Dinka population. UNMIS did nothing.

In June fighting spread to the Nuba Mountains area of South Kordofan, and again the UN failed to act – other than withdrawing peace-keepers from the disputed areas after their mandate expired in July.

Given the lack of international response, it is perhaps not surprising that by the start of this month fighting had spread to Blue Nile as well.

Although there is now supposedly a deal in place for UN mandated Ethiopian peacekeepers to supervise the demilitarisation of Abyei, Khartoum has prohibited any outside involvement in either South Kordofan or Blue Nile.

Before pulling out, UNMIS warned that the Sudan Armed Forces were committing atrocities against civilians in the Nuba Mountains.

A leaked report said: "Instead of distinguishing between civilians and combatants and accordingly directing their military operations only against military targets, the SAF and allied paramilitary forces have targeted members and supporters of the SPLM, most of whom are Nubans and other dark skinned people."

Reported human rights violations included: "aerial bombardments resulting in destruction of property, forced displacement, significant loss of civilian lives, including of women, children and the elderly; abductions; house-to-house searches; arbitrary arrests and detentions; targeted killings; summary executions; reports of mass graves; systematic destruction of dwellings and attacks on churches."

The UN also observed "a well known National Security agent wearing a Sudan Red Crescent reflective vest intimidating internally displaced persons (IDPs)." When approached he said "he had received instructions from state-level authorities to move out IDPs from the UNMIS protective perimeter."

It is clear that hundreds of thousands of people are currently cut off from humanitarian aid and hundreds of thousands more have been displaced.


The Nuba Mountains area that constitutes much of South Kordofan state is home to a diverse collection of African tribes, collectively known as Nuba.

They speak a number of different dialects and languages and practise Christianity and traditional religions in addition to Islam – which arrived in the area from West Africa so is much more relaxed than the version currently espoused by the Islamist regime in Khartoum.

The mountains themselves are not very large – the remnants of a massive ancient range that has been worn away to leave large groups of hills sticking out of a raised plateau - but as is the case with Jebel Marra in Darfur - they are large enough to attract significant rainfall, making the area both fertile and virtually impassible in the rainy season (between June and October)

The Nuba mountains have thus served as a refuge for various African tribes for centuries, since people first fled the Arab occupation of northern Sudan and subsequent slave raids.

Their isolation meant that life went on fairly unchanged for people in the mountains pretty much up to the 1970s, when then president Jaafa Numeir began his Sudanisation policy of nation building in the wake of the first civil war, a policy that increasingly defined Sudan as Arab and Islamic rather than multicultural, and which – perhaps inevitably - led to the imposition of Sharia law and renewed civil war in 1983.

This time the Nuba joined in the revolt – believing in the SPLA's original manifesto commitment to a united secular new Sudan that would empower the marginalised people across the country and large parts of South Kordofan stayed in SPLA hands throughout the civil war.

In January 1992 the government launched a Jihad against in the Nuba Mountains, declaring Moslem supporters of the rebellion to be Apostates who had renounced Islam. Given that the crime of apostasy carries a death sentence in Sudan, this effectively gave a green light to the Popular Defence Force militias to commit massive atrocities, a tactic that was subsequently refined by the Janjaweed in Darfur.

The Nuba managed to survive a ten year blockade effectively cut off from the outside world until the siege was finally ended by the January 2002 Swiss brokered Burkenstock Ceasefire Agreement for the Nuba Mountains.

This was the first cessation of hostilities agreed in the conflict, and subsequently became a model for - as well as subsumed by - the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

Until the CPA, the Nuba made up a clear majority of South Kordofan's population, but during the peace talks the state of West Kordofan was abolished and partially incorporated into South Kordofan, with along with its predominantly nomadic Arab population

South Kordofan is crucial to Khartoum: not only was it a key battleground in the last civil war, and is adjacent to Abyei, Darfur and the border with South Sudan, it also contains almost all the oilfields still remaining in North Sudan

During the CPA, the SPLA had around 40,000 troops north of the border, natives of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Following May's occupation of Abyei, Khartoum gave an ultimatum that these forces had to be transferred to the South before June. When this expired, the SAF began to move against them.

Trouble began following May's disputed gubernatorial elections in South Kordofan, supposedly won by the ruling National Congress Party's Ahmed Mohammed Haroun – who had been indicted by the ICC for allegedly masterminding the atrocities in Darfur

The SPLM refused to accept the result, claiming widespread fraud.

The process of Popular Consultation in the two Contested Areas was supposed to have been completed during the first half of the interim period of the CPA, well in advance of the southern referendum, but it was repeatedly delayed.

The late Dr John Garang told me during the CPA negotiations that the popular consultations agreed for South Kordofan and Blue Nile were "exactly the same as the self determination offered to the people of Abyei and the South, except it will be decided by their elected representatives rather than the people themselves."

However, due to a disputed census, in which the authorities failed to enumerate most of the people living in the SPLA controlled areas of the Nuba Mountains, South Kordofan's elections were delayed until May, that is after the Southerners had already voted for independence, and the process of popular consultation never got off the ground.

Although they largely supported the SPLA in the war, the Nuba were amongst the most fervent supporters of keeping the country united, fearing for their future should the southerners vote to separate.

The CPA gave the southerners an opportunity to opt out should unity not prove to be attractive, but gave few guarantees to the population of the contested areas of the north.

Following Garang's death in July 2005 - right at the start of the six year interim period stipulated by the peace deal - it soon became clear that unity was no longer an option for the southerners, but little attention was given to the future of either the people or the SPLA forces in South Kordofan and Blue Nile should the southerners vote to separate

Last December, just before the referendum, Bashir said: "If south Sudan secedes, we will change the constitution, and at that time there will be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity … sharia and Islam will be the main source for the constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language."

Bashir appears to believe that the secession of the South meant that there was no need to implement the terms of the CPA in the rest of the country, and was confident that the international community would fail to react, as was the case in Darfur.

The military takeover of Abyei was relatively easy, but the rugged terrain of the Nuba Mountains has proved more difficult to occupy, particularity in the current rainy season, and the SPLA now actually controls more territory than it ever did during the war.

It's worth remembering that the SPLA in the Nuba are indigenous fighters, experienced after many years of guerilla warfare on their home turf, ready to defend their homes against SAF aggression. Khartoum appears to be responding with exactly the same tactics it used in the last war – attempting to subdue the area by indiscriminate bombing and shelling and through denial of humanitarian aid.

President Omar al Bashir's tendency for violent clampdowns of opponents has placed him at the top of the list of unreconstructed Arab military strongmen and already earned him the International Criminal Court's first indictment against a sitting head of state, for crimes allegedly committed in Darfur by his fellow indictee Ahmed Mohamed Haroun.

Although most people now realise that Haroun is wanted by the ICC for the genocide in Darfur it is much less well known that he was also responsible for many of the atrocities committed in the Nuba Mountains in the last war.

It is easy to understand why the Nuba fear for their future. They saw their rights bargained away during the CPA and complain, with some justification, that their plight is now being ignored by the international community which appears to have been so keen to ensure that South Sudan had a peaceful transition to independence that it has failed to curtail Khartoum's onslaught against the minorities left in the north.

The people of the contested areas are now being refered to as the janubeen jadeed – the new southerners - reflecting their status as marginalised African peoples on the southern periphery of an integrated Arab-Islamist state. Precisely the same situation that led to the southerners voting for independence.

With rebellion still ongoing in Darfur and now unrest also re-emerging in the east there is now fighting along virtually the entire new north south border, but I should stress that this in not an interstate conflict.

The SPLA and the government in Juba appear to have been only too willing to surrender the interests of their former allies in the north in order to achieve their dreams of independence for South Sudan and don't want to do anything that might jeopardise international support - so up to now they have been fairly muted in their criticism.

Although the problems in Abyei, Blue Nile and South Kordofan all stem from the same failure to implement the relevant sections of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement prior to South Sudan's independence in July, their positions are subtly different which has allowed the despatch of UN-mandated Ethiopian peacekeepers to Abyei – which is now an officially disputed region between two independent states - but not to the other contested areas.

However, now that the fighting has spread from the Nuba Mountains to Blue Nile and the border with Ethiopia, I think it will soon become apparent that there will be no possibility of peace in the region until all of Sudan's various conflicts are properly resolved.

October 2011

Prepared 3rd November 2011