North and South Sudan are sliding back towards war, a think-tank warned as a separate report said both sides were caught up in an “arms race” in defiance of global embargoes.
The oil-producing nation’s north and south fought each other for more than two decades until a 2005 peace deal that promised national elections, due in April, and a referendum on southern independence in January 2011.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) said relations between the two sides had since broken down and Sudan needed more time to prepare for a widely expected ‘yes’ vote for southern independence if it wanted to avoid a violent break-up.
Armies from both sides, and array of rebel groups and militias, are also stocking on weapons ahead of any conflict, despite arms embargoes imposed by the European Union and the United Nations said a report by the Small Arms Survey.
“Sudan is sliding towards violent breakup,” said ICG Sudan adviser Fouad Hikmat in a statement.
“Unless the international community cooperate to support both CPA (the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement) implementation and vital additional negotiations, return to north-south war and escalation of conflict in Darfur are likely,” the report from the Brussels-based group said.
The ICG publication, titled ‘Preventing Implosion’, said northern and southern leaders needed to negotiate a new agreement setting out how any transition to an independent south would be managed.
It also called on Sudan to delay its national elections to November 2010 to give it more time to pass a raft of democratic reforms and get a ceasefire in the separate Darfur conflict, to give that region’s citizens a chance to vote.
The ICG urged the United Nations, the African Union and other blocs to agree on incentives and penalties to press Khartoum, and to appoint one mediator to keep the process going.
Arms deliveries reported by Sudan’s government rose sharply from 2001 to 2008, the Small Arms Survey said, adding more weapons were getting through from neighbouring countries and other sources with the help of brokers, some of them European.
“Both the NCP and the government of Southern Sudan continue to acquire small arms and light weapons destined for their armed forces in what is taking on the character of an arms race,” the Small Arms Survey report said.
Iran and China were the main suppliers to the north, it added, while the south was getting much of its weapons via Kenya and Ethiopia, with a transfer of tanks coming from Ukraine through Kenya documented in 2007 and 2008.
The report said Sudan’s northern army had around 225 000 troops, armed with an estimated 310 000 small arms, while the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) had around 125 000 men with 175 000 small arms.
Both armouries were dwarfed by the estimated 2 million weapons in the hands of Sudanese civilians, the report said.
Two million people were killed and 4 million fled their homes between 1983 and 2005 when Sudan’s north and south fought over differences in ideology, ethnicity and religion.