Sudans sizeit is the largest country in Africa, with borders that touch Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, and Libyacoupled with its strategic location straddling the Nile River and abutting the Red Sea, made it the target of revolving-door superpower intervention and massive arms transfers throughout the cold war. As unstable civilian governments alternated with governments installed via military coups after independence in 1956, the country slid deeper into economic malaise and social crisis, accentuated by lengthy outbreaks of civil war. The U.S. alone provided successive Khartoum governments with close to $1 billion dollars in arms in the late 1970s and 1980s, usually in the guise of fighting Soviet influence, after pouring hundreds of millions of dollars in arms into Ethiopia from 1952 through 1977. For its part, the Soviet Union provided arms to Sudan in the early 1970s and then supplied Ethiopia with over $12 billion in arms between 1977 and 1991. As the Horn of Africa lost significance to the departing superpowers, Sudan was allowed to wither in arms-bloated poverty, but many of the cold war-era arms are still present throughout the region and are in use by forces on all sides of the conflicts, as direct observation of the arsenals of the warring parties by Human Rights Watch confirmed.
Sudan is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Africa, with a population estimated in 1992 at close to 27 million from nineteen major linguistic groups and nearly 600 sub-groups. According to a 1956 censusthe last for which accurate figures are availablethose who identify themselves as Arabs make up the largest group (40 percent), followed by the southern Dinkas (12 percent), the Bejas of northeastern Sudan (7 percent), and West African immigrants (6 percent). Some 60 percent of the total population identified themselves as Muslims, while Christians made up another 4 percent (a figure likely to have risen since the 1950s due to extensive conversions in the south), and traditional religions the rest.12
The current crisis radiates out in concentric circles from the civil war in southern Sudan, going on for thirty-two of the past forty-three years (1955-72, and 1983-present). Like most of the former European colonies along the Saharas southern rimthe SahelSudan comprises an Arabic-speaking Muslim north and an African south inhabited by ethnically-diverse Christians and practitioners of traditional religions, as well as numerous other politically and economically marginalized groups in the central, eastern and western parts of Sudan which have not been completely Arabized or Islamicized. Since independence, rival northern parties have vied to control the country and to dominate the south. Large-scale injections of weapons magnified these regional, ethnic and political divisions. Rebel forces in the south were armed through Ethiopia by Israel in the 1960s and by the Soviet Union and its allies in the 1980s. This was matched by larger arms flows to successive northern governments, by the Soviets in the 1960s and then by the U.S. in the late 1970s and the 1980s, after the two superpowers switched sides in the region.
The arms race in Sudan accelerated after Gen. Jafar al-Nimeiri seized power in 1969touting a program of pan-Arab nationalism and expressing pro-Soviet sympathies. At that time, Sudan went onto the U.S. enemies list, while Washington stepped up its arms aid to Ethiopia, ruled then by the strongly pro-western Emperor Haile Selassie I, whose U.S.-trained and equipped armed forces had earlier participated in United Nations peacekeeping missions in Korea and the Congo. After an abortive Communist Party coup in Sudan in 1971, Nimeiri did a political about-face and sought aid from the U.S., but Washington at first remained hostile to his overtures as a punishment for having transferred to Egyptian custody, where they were subsequently released, members of a Palestinian guerrilla groupBlack Septemberand others convicted of assassinating the U.S. ambassador to Sudan in 1973. In 1977, however, three years after a military coup in neighboring Ethiopia that led to that countrys realignment with the Soviet Union (and afterthe confirmation of large oil reserves in southern Sudan), the U.S. reversed its policy and embarked upon a massive military build-up in Sudan, which totaled over $81 million in the first year alone.13
After this regional power realignment, Sudan became the pivotal state in a U.S.-supported alliance aimed at containing Soviet influence that included Somalia and Kenya, as well as military facilities which the U.S. leased from Britain on the Indian Ocean atoll of Diego Garcia. By the close of the 1980s, Sudan was among the largest overall recipients of U.S. military aid in the world and by far the largest in sub-Saharan Africa. During this period, U.S. advisers, engineers, and military trainers descended on Khartoum. The U.S. embassy was fortified and reconstructed to include a rooftop helicopter pad for rapid evacuation, while dollars were also dispensed in generous and generally unmonitored economic aid grants. The result, however, was a spate of poorly-conceived and mismanaged development projects that did little to relieve the countrys chronic poverty and spiraling debt.14 At the same time, strains within the country intensified, as the corrupt military government, bloated with new U.S. arms, became convinced it had the power to impose its will on the oil-rich south.
The latest round of civil war started in 1983 after the Nimeiri government gutted a regional autonomy agreement that had ended the first round at a peace conference convened in Addis Ababa in 1972. In 1977 Nimeiri brought into government northern forces opposed to the Addis Ababa agreement, including the Islamists. In 1978 he proposed to refine oil discovered in the south in a northern city. In June 1983 he dissolved the institutions of southern self-government, the Regional Assembly and the High Executive Council, and divided the southern region into three, each with administrators appointed by Khartoum.15
Shortly before Gen. Nimeiri imposed Islamic shari'a law throughout the country in 1983, southerners resumed their armed uprising and formed the SPLA. The rebel group chose as leader a defecting Sudanese military officer, Dr. John Garang, and acquired the patronage of the Soviet-backed Ethiopian government of Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam. The SPLA also was provided with Soviet-made arms in the early 1980s by Libya. The war took the form of a hit-and-run guerrilla conflict, with rebels operating at will throughout large swathes of the countryside and the government holding most towns and cities. This changed in 1987 when stepped-up Ethiopian aid in the form of artillery and tanks gave the SPLA the capacity to fight positional battles and to capture and hold population centers.
When famine ravaged the Horn of Africa in 1984, U.S. food aid poured into Sudan, both for Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees and for hungry Sudanese, but it failed to rescue Nimeiris flagging popularity in the face of chronic corruption and economic disaster. After large-scale civilian protests in 1985, Nimeiri was overthrown by dissident military officers, who immediately pledged to hold national elections the following year. However, the civilian government elected in 1986, under the leadership of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi of the Umma Party, did little to change the countrys basic policies. During the next three years of indecisive, faction-ridden civilian rule, direct U.S. aid declined but did not end. Meanwhile, the countryscontinuing slide into chaoswith the economy in perpetual crisis, the political class riven by fratricidal competition, and the civil war with the south dragging onset the stage for a coup by Islamist forces, days before a peace agreement was slated to be signed between the government and southern rebels. On June 30, 1989 a military junta led by Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan el-Bashir seized power. In the ensuing months the National Islamic Front (NIF) emerged as the power behind the coup, further polarizing the country along ethnic and religious lines, just as the cold war wound down. Support from Iran, which rushed to strengthen relations with its first sub-Saharan African ally, enabled the NIF-controlled government to make massive arms purchases from China and former Soviet republics, which it used to step up the war in the south in an effort to end the protracted civil war with a military victory.
Under NIF leadership, the government of Sudan banned political parties, trade unions, and other nonreligious institutions.16 It imposed tight controls on the press and strict dress and behavior codes on women. More than 78,000 people were purged from the army, police and civil administration, thoroughly reshaping the state apparatus, while dissidents were routinely detained in ghost house torture centers. Conscription of child soldiers by both sides increased, and forms of slavery, first reported in the late 1980s, appeared to spread.17 Under a 1992 policy termed the Comprehensive Call, the NIF merged religious indoctrination and conversion with education, social services, economic development, and political mobilization. The NIF also established Peace Camps in the Nuba Mountains under the paramilitary Popular Defense Forces as part of its strategy to promote Arabization and Islamization.18
Following a strategy going as far back as 1983, the new NIF-dominated government stepped up support for ethnic militias and breakaway factions of the SPLA in an effort to further divide the southern opposition against itself.19 A major split within the SPLA occurred in 1991 after three military commanders attempted a coup but failed to unseat Garang as chairman of the movement. The group that broke away then, led by Riek Machar, came to be known in 1995 as the Southern Sudan Independence Movement/Army (SSIM/A). A second force, headed by William Nyuon, a Nuer who defected from the SPLA in August 1992 with many Nuer followers, joined Machars mostly Nuer forces, as did the mostly Dinka forces of former SPLA commander Kerubino Kwanyin Bol after his escape from long-term arbitrary detention by the SPLA in late 1992. As a result of fighting among rival armed factions of the SPLA, government forces managed to recapture a number of garrison towns and to regain the use of some roads and communications infrastructure in 1992. Estimates of the civilian casualties of the intercommunal conflict in this period runto the tens of thousands.20 Thousands were internally displaced by incessant cattle raiding and asset stripping by all warring parties that forced whole communities to migrate in search of food; some became refugees in Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia.
A series of cease-fires brought some respite in 1995, but negotiations to end the fighting failed to get off the ground. In April 1996, the government of Sudan entered into a political charter with the SSIM/A, signed by commanders Riek Machar and Kerubino Kwanyin Bol and other minor commanders.21 On April 21, 1997, this charter was institutionalized in the Sudan Peace Agreement by representatives of the government of Sudan and a group of breakaway SPLA factions and pro-government militias. On April 28, the leaders of the six southern factions that had signed the peace agreement then signed an agreement in which they united all their forces under the name of the United Democratic Salvation Front (UDSF) headed by Dr. Riek Machar. Coalition members included the SSIM/A led by Machar, breakaway SPLA factions led by Kerubino Kwanyin Bol and Arok Thon Arok (who died in a 1998 plane crash), the South Sudan Independents Group, the Equatoria Defence Force, and the Union of Sudanese African Parties.22 At the same time, the government of Sudan entered into a separate peace agreement with the SPLM/Nuba Mountains, itself a coalition of two Nuba mountains factions, led by Muhammad Harun Kafi.23 In August 1997 Machar was rewarded with a cabinet-level post in the government of Sudan with the title of President of the Coordinating Council of the Southern States and Assistant of the President of the Republic.24 Kerubino was reinstated in the Sudan armed forces in August 1997 with the rank of major general, and made Deputy Chairman of the Coordinating Council of the Southern States and Minister of Local Government and Public Security in Southern Sudan in January 1998. In late January 1998, he defected from the government of Sudan, realigned his forces with the SPLA, and with the SPLA launched surprise attacks on government forces in three towns in Bahr El Ghazal. These attacks failed. As a result of the fighting between 60,000 and 150,000 civilians fled the towns into the rural areas, where 250,000 were already predicted to be at risk of famine. This, and the immediate two-month ban on relief flights imposed on Bahr El Ghazal by the government substantially contributed to the 1998 famine in Bahr El Ghazal.
During the early 1990s, the government of Sudan also opened its doors to rebel groups from countriesin the region and throughout Africa and the Middle East. These included two opposition groups from neighboring Eritreaa new organization known as Eritrean Islamic Jihad (EIJ) and factions of the Eritrean Liberation Front, which had split into rival groups in the 1980s during Eritreas thirty-year war for independence from Ethiopiaas well as armed groups from Ethiopia and Uganda. By 1993, the Eritrean groups, operating from bases in northeastern Sudan and drawing on the large impoverished Eritrean refugee population there, were carrying out sporadic raids and ambushes within Eritrea.25 Informal talks between Eritrea and Sudan carried out through a regional forum, the Intergovernmental Authority for Drought and Development (IGADD, later renamed the Intergovernmental Authority for Development, IGAD), failed to reach an agreement to end the cross-border raids. Finally, after an attack in December 1994 in which Eritrean forces claimed to have killed a half dozen guerrillas, including at least two from other countries, the Eritrean government broke diplomatic relations with Sudan and publicly called for the overthrow of the NIF-controlled government.26
Unrelenting domestic repression limited the prospect of serious internal challenge from within Sudan, but armed rebellion by groups with bases outside the country increased steadily after 1995 when the Eritrean government opened its doors to the Sudanese opposition. Eritrea hosted two opposition conferences by an emerging political and military coalition, the NDA, and gave them the Sudanese embassy in Asmara for their headquarters. An unsuccessful assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa on June 26, 1995, allegedly carried out by an Egyptian hit-squad armed and trained in Sudan, nudged the Ethiopians into a tacit alliance with Eritrea behind the NDA.
The failure of the government of Sudan to honor an Ethiopian extradition request for three of the assailants, who fled to Khartoum on a Sudan Airlines flight, also led the U.N. Security Council to impose limited sanctions on the government of Sudan.27 Meetings later that year among Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni consolidated regional support for the NDA.28
The SPLA provided the core of the new coalitions military capacity, with SPLA leader John Garang appointed the NDAs military commander. The alliances largest political constituents, apart from the SPLA, were the traditional northern partiesthe Umma Party and the Democratic Unionist Party, which had dominated Sudanese politics since independencebut neither one initially fielded military forces. The newly formed SAFa grouping of primarily Arab but also non-Arab Sudanese dissidents, military and civilian, led by former military officersdeveloped a military force that operated from bases in Eritrea andEthiopia. The Beja Congress, whose social base was among peoples living along the Eritrea-Sudan border and whose origins as a social movement date to the 1950s, also received Eritrean support and fielded a small military force that operated in northeastern Sudan. Among the smaller NDA constituents with little or no military capacity were the Sudan Communist Party (SCP), the Sudan National Party (SNP), and the Sudan Federal Democratic Alliance (SFDA). The SCP, the oldest communist party in Africa, enjoyed support in trade unions and on university campuses up through the late 1980s, when government repression and post-cold war defections sharply reduced its membership. The SNP, originally a legal political party which fielded candidates for office when Sudan held multiparty elections, drew its membership from the Nuba Mountains. The SFDA drew support from the Darfur region of western Sudan.
In April 1996 and again in September, Asmara-based officials of the SAF claimed that their units had attacked Sudanese government positions near Kassala in northeastern Sudan, killing fifteen government troops in each of the two raids.29 Almost two years later, after a string of cross-border raids and ambushes, SAF leaders claimed to have killed ninety-one government troops in an attack with artillery and infantry at al-Dud, an island garrison located between tributaries of the Atbara river on the Sudan-Ethiopia border.30 In each case, the government of Sudan charged that Eritrean troops led the attacks. Whether or not Eritrean forces were involved in the fighting, the launch of a northern armed opposition to the government of Sudan, first from bases in Eritrea and later from Ethiopia, that was allied with the southern oppositionalready operating within Sudan with logistical support through Ethiopia and Uganda and developing bases in the northeast with Eritrean supportposed an additional threat to the central government. This further characterized the conflict as a multi-front warwith dangerous regional implications: the growing involvement of neighboring states could lead to an expansion of the fighting to their territories as well as Sudan. At the same time, the creation of the SAF by (primarily) northern Arab Muslims and the opening of an eastern front have added to the weight provided by the SPLAs Nuba wing against the SPLA settling the conflict on southern separatist grounds.31
The SAFs military operations in the northeast were often coordinated with the New Sudan Brigade (which was under the command of the SPLA) and the Beja Congress. Each of these forces was trained at bases in western Eritrea.32 For its part, the main body of the SPLA was in southern Sudan and the Nuba mountains, where it controlled substantial areas of territory, initially captured in the 1980s and expanded after 1995. The SPLA supplied these forces primarily through Ethiopia and Uganda, while it maintained its principal external political offices in Nairobi, Kenya.
In January 1997, the SAF and the New Sudan Brigade (the SPLAs branch in eastern Sudan) launched attacks in the east from positions within Ethiopia, and the SAF and the New Sudan Brigade carriedout joint operations in the northeast along the Red Sea coast from bases in Eritrea. In each instance, the opposition forces threatened key economic targetsthe Roseires Dam near Damazin in the Blue Nile region and the highway linking Port Sudan with Khartoum in the northeast. In March 1997, the SPLA launched a major attack on government positions along the Uganda-Sudan border, taking Yei, moving up into Bahr El Ghazal, and capturing a string of garrison towns in that region for the first time. The campaign on the West Nile bank was dubbed Operation Thunderbolt by the SPLA; that on the East Nile bank was called Operation Jungle Storm.33
Sudanese government officials dispute rebel claims of credit for these military advances, charging that the campaigns were led and waged by the armed forces of Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Uganda on behalf of opposition forces, who were later given control of captured territory.34 Nevertheless, reports of the victories encouraged other NDA partieschief among them, the Umma Partyto mobilize military units to do battle with government forces. For its part, the government responded to these new armed incursions with a call for a national mobilization and a renewed quest for arms from its global suppliers, while charging its neighbors with invading its territory.12 Human Rights Watch/Africa, Behind the Red Line, p. 2. 13 U.S. military sales to Sudan in 1977, the year the arms trade began, totaled $81,591,000. Between 1977 and 1989, the year it ceased to trade arms with Sudan following the coup detat that brought Gen. Omar el-Bashir to power, the U.S. delivered $326,049,000 in military equipment to the government of Sudan. U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Security Assistance Agency, Fiscal Year SeriesAs of September 30, 1997 (Washington, D.C., 1998), p. 344. 14 Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, Sudan: A Country Study (Washington, DC, 1991). 15 Abel Alier, Southern Sudan: Too Many Agreements Dishonoured (Ithaca, NY: Ithaca Press, 1990), pp. 246-60. 16 A February 1997 report to the U.N. Human Rights Commission by the U.N. special rapporteur on Sudan, Gáspár Bíró, warned that all Sudanese citizens living in areas controlled by the Government of Sudan are potential victims of human rights violations and abuses. Commission on Human Rights, Situation of Human Rights in the Sudan, E/CN.4/1997/58 (U.N. Economic and Social Council, February 3, 1997), introduction. 17 See Human Rights Watch/Africa, Behind the Red Line. For a detailed analysis of the use of child soldiers, see Human Rights Watch/Africa and Human Rights Watch/Childrens Rights Project, Children of Sudan: Slaves, Street Children and Child Soldiers (New York: Human Rights Watch, September 1995). 18 See Human Rights Watch/Africa, Behind the Red Line, pp. 192-220. 19 Sudans minister of defense under Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi gave full approval to the arming of ethnic militias for counter-insurgency purposes in 1987, starting with the Baggara Arabs of southern Darfur. Human Rights Watch/Africa, Behind the Red Line, p. 274. 20 Human Rights Watch estimate. The OLS estimated that excess mortality for 1993 was 220,000 in southern Sudan when factional fighting produced extreme displacement, disease, and hunger. OLS press release, UNICEF Preparing for Renewed Emergency in Southern Sudan, Nairobi, January 31, 1994. 21 See John Prendergast, The Outcry for Peace in the Sudan (Washington, DC: Center for the Strategic Initiatives of Women, October 1996), pp. 1-29, and Human Rights Watch/Africa, Behind the Red Line, pp. 293-97. 22 BBC Monitoring Service: Middle East: Republic of Sudan Radio, Former Rebel Leader Machar Calls on Garang to Join Southern Factions, Omdurman, Sudan, April 29, 1997. See also, Republic of Sudan, The Sudan Peace Agreement (Khartoum, April 21, 1997). The SPLM-United (a Shilluk faction of the SSIM headed by Dr. Lam Akol) entered into the Peace Agreement on September 21, 1997 via an amendment to the agreement that was negotiated by Dr. Akol (who became the government of Sudans minister of transport shortly thereafter); signed by Cmdr. Akwoch Mayong Jago; Maj-Gen Bushra Uthman Yusuf, secretary of military affairs, Upper Nile military area; and Cmdr. Awad Jago Musa al-Mek Kur, member and animal resources minister; and witnessed by His Majesty Reth Kwongo Dak Padiet, the reth (king) of the Shilluk. 23 BBC Monitoring Service: Middle East, Republic of Sudan Radio, Peace Accord with Rebel Factions Signed in Khartoum, Omdurman (Sudan), April 21, 1997. 24 While Dr. Machars business cards indicate he is the president of the council, he is often referred to as the councils chairman. 25 The first Eritrean war refugees arrived in Sudan in 1967. Disputes between the governments of the newly independent Eritrea and Sudan and disagreements between the government of Eritrea and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) over the shape and funding of resettlement programs have delayed repatriation of nearly 250,000 Eritreans (mostly Muslims from Eritreas western lowlands) since Eritreas war for independence from Ethiopia ended in 1991. 26 See Eritrea Profile (Washington, D.C.), December 1994-January 1995. Eritrea Profile is a publication of the Eritrean Ministry of Information and Culture. 27 See, U.N. Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1044 (1996), S/1996/179, March 11, 1996; U.N. Security Council Resolution 1054 (1996), S/RES/1054, April 26, 1996; and U.N. Security Council Resolution 1070 (1996), S/RES/1070, August 16, 1996. 28 Human Rights Watch interviews with Eritrean and Ethiopian officials and SAF leaders, Asmara and Addis Ababa, September-October 1996 and March 1997. 29 Sudanese Rebels Say They Kill 15 Government Troops, Reuters, April 22, 1996, and Radio Reports Rebel Attack on Sudanese Government Post, Voice of the Broad Masses of Eritrea, reported by BBC Monitoring Service, September 9, 1996. 30 Sudanese government officials, while not confirming these claims, responded to this attack by calling for a major civilian mobilization in Gedaref state. See Sudan seeks mobilisation after rebel attack on army, Reuters dispatch from Khartoum, February 8, 1998. 31 The Nuba wing of the SPLA has since 1986 contributed thousands of combatants to the war in the south and since 1989 operated separate fronts in the Nuba mountains. 32 Human Rights Watch interviews with NDA leaders and members, Tessenei and Asmara, September 1996. 33 Human Rights Watch interview with Thomas Cirillo, a former Sudanese military officer who has commanded the SPLAs 4th Division since defecting in 1992, Yei (Sudan), July 11, 1997. The SPLA took several thousand Sudanese soldiers prisoner near Yei. 34 Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Mutrif Siddiq Ali, deputy director-general of the External Intelligence Agency, Khartoum, November 19, 1997.
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