Sudan has chosen Ahmed Haroun, wanted by the International Criminal Court on Darfur war crimes charges, as governor of a sensitive north-south border province that contains key oil fields, state media said this morning.
State news agency SUNA said President Omar Hassan al-Bashir had named Haroun to lead the province of South Kordofan, which includes the contested border town of Abyei, site of clashes between northern and southern armies last year.
A spokesman for the former southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement had no immediate comment on the move, saying the appointment was Khartoum‘s to make, Reuters adds.
North and south Sudan, whose conflict is separate from the ongoing violence in Darfur in Sudan’s west, have had a troubled relationship since signing a peace deal in 2005 to end two decades of civil war.
The International Crisis Group think tank said in October the peace deal was at risk in South Kordofan, which had “many of the same ingredients” that sparked the conflict in Darfur.
Scores of people were killed and more than 50,000 displaced last year when northern and southern armies clashed in Abyei. Both north Sudan and the country’s semi-autonomous south claim the town. At stake is control over nearby oilfields and a pipeline funnelling crude to Sudan‘s Red Sea coast.
Sudan says it produces 500 000 barrels of oil a day, a figure which it hopes to raise to 600 000 in 2009.
The move, part of a small cabinet reshuffle, comes as Sudan is preparing for presidential and parliamentary elections set for February 2010 that will pave the way for a referendum on southern independence the following year.
The elections and referendum are key to implementing the 2005 peace deal, in which northern forces were also to be reduced to pre-war levels in South Kordofan, where large parts of the population backed southern rebels during the war.
Haroun, before being named as governor of South Kordofan, was minister of state for humanitarian affairs. Bashir, who is himself the subject of an ICC arrest warrant on charges of masterminding war crimes in Darfur, named former census official Abdel Baqi Al-Jailani to replace him in that post, SUNA said.
The ICC accuses Haroun of recruiting and arming ‘Janjaweed’ militias in Darfur while working at the Interior Ministry, and of having full knowledge of their atrocities against civilians.
UN officials say as many as 300 000 people have died and more than 2.7 million driven from their homes in almost six years of ethnic and politically motivated violence in Darfur. Khartoum says 10 000 have died.
Haroun has defended his record in the Darfur conflict. “What I did there was part of my professional job and responsibility as stipulated in the constitution and the law,” he said in March, adding that he had no chance of a fair trial at the ICC because it was a “political organisation backed by Europe“.