Sunday,17 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1298, (2 - 8 June 2016)
Sunday,17 December, 2017
Issue 1298, (2 - 8 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Sudan: Rising violence

While civil war continues in Sudan’s Blue Nile, South Kordofan and Darfur areas, protests among students are escalating in Khartoum and elsewhere, writes Haitham Nouri

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Violence has begun to rear its head anew in Sudan. For the last six weeks it has acquired new political and social salience in the capital and areas riven by civil war, among students, in working-class neighbourhoods and marginalised areas, and even among the middle classes.

Violence erupted in Khartoum after the government announced it intends to sell the land and historic buildings of Khartoum University to investors; the university is the oldest in the country. The minister of tourism announced that since the university is older than 100 years, it is subordinate to the National Antiquities Agency.

The university was founded by the British colonial government in 1902 to commemorate a colonial ruler of the country, Charles Gordon, who was killed during the Mahdist revolution of 1885.

The news raised the ire of university students, alumni and professors, especially after the university director and vice president, Hassabu Abdul-Rahman, met to discuss moving the university’s faculties to the Soba area, south of the capital.

Student protests against the announcement erupted on 12 April. The government met the demonstrations with widespread violence, using teargas, rubber bullets and live ammunition, according to reports last week from Human Rights Watch.

Police actions led to the death of a student at Kordofan University on 19 April and another at Omdurman University on 27 April. Protests escalated at universities around the country, in the wake of which dozens of student and activists were arrested, according to Human Rights Watch.

The English-language Sudan Tribune reported on 29 May that Sudanese authorities had released Khartoum University students who had been detained for more than a month, but others remain in detention.

Human Rights Watch said that several students were beaten and mistreated. Some had been held more than a month without charge and had not been permitted to contact lawyers or their families. The students’ families had protested their detention, expressing concern for the conditions of their confinement.

The ministers of justice and interior refused to take responsibility for the detention of the students, telling journalists in parliament, “The question should be put to the security and intelligence apparatus,” according to the online Al-Tariq news site.

The protests spread to working-class neighbourhoods that have long suffered from deteriorating services, including electricity and water, as well as increasing inflation, which reached 12.9 per cent in February.

Sudan has faced severe economic difficulties since the secession of the south in July 2011 and Khartoum’s subsequent loss of 65 per cent of state revenues.

Police said that one person was killed in demonstrations in Al-Jareif area in the eastern part of the capital, known for its brick factories.

The Sudanese police were accused of killing 170 people during protests in September and October 2013, opening fire on demonstrators in more than one area of the capital at the time.

The protests this time spread not only to working-class areas, but also to a renowned law firm in the capital that was preparing to file a suit on behalf of students expelled from universities in connection with the protests.

Nabil Adib, a lawyer and rights activist, said that the storming of his office in central Khartoum was “a manifestation of the hardship of lawyers in Sudan”. Adib represented Saleh Othman Mirghani, the editor-in-chief of Al-Tayyar, which has been suspended by Sudanese security more than once in recent years.

On the civil war front, the Sudanese government expelled Ivo Freijsen, director of the Sudan office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), becoming the fourth UN official asked to leave Sudan in two years.

In a joint statement, the US, Britain and Norway (the Troika) condemned the move and asked the government to reconsider its decision not to renew Freijsen’s permit.

“The actions of the Sudanese government exacerbate the difficulty of meeting the humanitarian needs,” the statement read. “There are more than 5.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.”

The Sudanese Ministry of Social Care and Insurance said in a statement last week that Freijsen was working in Sudan on a temporary basis until June 2016 and that the UN had not nominated a replacement for him. As such, the statement said, “it has been decided to decline to renew Mr Ivo’s residency.”

The statement added that Freijsen’s tenure had seen “poor coordination with the government and tension in relations due to negative stances, seen in the lack of objectivity in dealing with humanitarian issues in Sudan”.

Al-Hajj Warraq, editor-in-chief of the Sudanese online site Hurriyat, said the reason for the decision was the exposure of poor humanitarian conditions in areas wracked by the civil war, including Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and the Southern Blue Nile area.

“In Darfur, for example, nearly four million people have been expelled from their homes since the beginning of the civil war in 2003,” Warraq said. “Most of them are in displacement camps in Sudan, while a not insignificant number moved to Chad.”

The government of President Omar Al-Bashir is well known for forming the Janjaweed, militias made up of Arab tribesmen who have been fighting rebellions by African tribes for a decade.

During the conflict, the Janjaweed have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, allegedly planned by the Sudanese president, who was the subject of the first arrest warrant issued against a sitting head of state in 2009. The prosecutor with the International Criminal Court believes Bashir is the “mastermind” of these crimes.

Since the arrest warrant was issued, Bashir has become even more embattled. During his recent visit to Uganda, to attend the inauguration of President Yoweri Museveni, several European ambassadors in Kampala left the ceremony as soon as the wanted Sudanese leader arrived.

The government of President Jacob Zuma in South Africa was put in an embarrassing situation when civic associations asked for the arrest Bashir during his attendance at the African Summit in June last year.

“The expulsion of a high-level UN official comes after the Haiban massacre, in which six children were killed in South Kordofan in an air strike, and the St Vincent Elementary School in Kado in the same province was shelled,” Warraq said.

Government aircraft have targeted civilians every day for the more than five years in the area, according to a statement from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N), which is leading the war against the Sudanese government in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

Under the terms of peace agreements between the north (the Sudanese government) and the south (the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement) in 2005, Blue Nile and South Kordofan provinces were given the right to popular self-determination. But the Sudanese government has not honoured the agreement, especially after its loss in gubernatorial elections in the two regions in 2011.

The government mobilised thousands of fighters into rapid-response forces to finish the battle with the SPLA-N before the rainy season begins in late June, according to statements from numerous humanitarian organisations and media outlets.

“The rapid-response forces are surrounded in the Nuba Mountains [in South Kordofan],” Warraq said. “If they’re defeated, the regime will lose an important prop for its own continuation.”

Although an SPLA-N statement Sunday evening declared the defeat of the rapid-response forces, events on the ground are as yet unclear.

The government denies responsibility for both the Haiban massacre and the Kado strike. In fact, it has declared victory in its war in both of the border provinces, as well as in Darfur. Government reports say the army has no need to shell civilian areas since the rebellion “has been crushed” and believes peace will come through the laying aside of weapons and joining the national dialogue.

“The government victory in Darfur is genuine,” Warraq says. “But in the Nuba Mountains it’s uncertain. In fact, reality indicates that defeat is imminent.”

 

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