A leader of a Sudanese rebel movement says his group is ready to pause a bloody war with Sudan’s armed forces so that people affected by nearly two years of fighting can receive desperately needed humanitarian aid.
“The SPLM-North is ready to sign a humanitarian cessation of hostilities,” Yasir Arman, secretary general of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, said in an interview on a visit to Washington last week. “We are ready to make a cessation of hostilities that will save the civilian population, create a conducive environment for a political settlement and put an effective demilitarized zone between the north and the south.”
The war between the SPLM-North and Sudan’s armed forces in the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, located north of the border between Sudan and South Sudan, has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and created a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s government has prevented humanitarian aid from reaching those affected by the conflict for fear the aid will end up in the hands of the rebels.
Gen. Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in another conflict in Sudan’s western state of Darfur.
Mr. Arman said the Sudanese leader is committing another war crime by bombarding civilians in South Kordofan and Blue Nile and denying them humanitarian aid.
“This is the ugliest humanitarian crisis in Africa today,” he said. “It needs the attention of the international community.”
The SPLM-North is a vestige of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, a southern rebel group that for decades fought a civil war against Sudan’s armed forces that left about 2 million dead.
South Sudan became an independent nation on July 9, 2011, and is led President Salva Kiir of the SPLM.
Political marginalization of the southerners who chose to stay in Sudan and broken promises by the Sudanese government in Khartoum to address their long-standing grievances lie at the heart of the conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
The SPLM-North has joined forces with rebel groups in Darfur to form the Sudan Revolutionary Front, which seeks to overthrow the Bashir government.
Mr. Arman said the alliance is interested in a “holistic solution” to the conflicts in Sudan and not the piecemeal approach favored by Khartoum.
“We want a solution that will bring democracy. Without transforming Khartoum you will not get any permanent peace,” he said. “It’s just like if the policies are wrong in Washington, they cannot be correct in California or Iowa.”
Emad Altohamy, Sudan’s top diplomat in Washington, said Khartoum will not accept talks with any rebel group that is working to overthrow the government.
“It is very hard to believe in the SPLM-North’s willingness to cease hostilities because it has exerted large efforts to establish the ‘new dawn’ front last month in Uganda to magnify the armed confrontation against the government of Sudan,” Mr. Altohamy said.
Khartoum has set another condition for talks with the SPLM-North: The government of South Sudan must prove that it is no longer arming the rebels.
“It is hard to tell exactly what Khartoum’s calculations are, but clearly they have prioritized the security aspect of the current situation very highly,” said Jonathan Temin, director of the Sudan and South Sudan program at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
The SPLM-North had strong linkages to the SPLM prior to South Sudan’s independence. Those bonds still exist, according to Western officials and activists who frequently visit the region.
Mr. Arman denies that his group receives arms from South Sudan.
“This is part of [Gen. Bashir’s] blame tactics to buy time,” he said. “Bashir has a master’s degree in buying time.”
The onus is on the government in Khartoum to prove that South Sudan is still helping SPLM-North, said Omer Ismail, a senior policy adviser at the anti-genocide Enough Project.
The rigid positions adopted by the Sudanese government and the SPLM-North make it very unlikely that the war in South Kordofan and Blue Nile will end anytime soon, say analysts.
“We see two people who say, ‘We are all for talks,’ but they are coming from different perspectives that are not easily reconcilable,” said Mr. Ismail. “In fact, they are miles away from each other.”
In his meetings in Washington and New York, Mr. Arman impressed upon his interlocutors at the State Department, in Congress and at the U.N. Security Council the urgent need to address the humanitarian crisis in South Kordofan and Blue Nile and to press for a political solution to the conflicts in Sudan.
“In asking for negotiations with a national scope and a more inclusive participation, the SPLM-N is not only trying to raise the stakes; it is also respecting agreement with its SRF partners,” the International Crisis Group said in a report last week.
The international community favors a comprehensive solution to end Sudan’s civil wars.
“Everybody is pointing toward the need for political negotiations between SPLM-North and Khartoum,” said Mr. Temin. “That is really the next logical step.”