LONDON (AlertNet) – Sudan is closer to civil war now than at any time since a 2005 peace deal ended two decades of north-south conflict, a non-governmental coalition said just a week before South Sudan is due to become independent.
The under-developed region, roughly the size of France, has been plagued by violence since southerners voted in January to separate from the north and form their own nation on July 9.
Fighting in the vaguely-defined border between north and region has complicated the split and raised fears of a broader conflict.
The United Nations said on Friday that more than 1,800 people have been killed in clashes across southern Sudan this year. More than 260,000 people are now displaced in the south, which includes about 100,000 who fled the disputed Abyei border region, which along with Southern Kordofan is where northern and southern-backed armies are still facing off.
Friday’s report by a group of 22 civil society groups warns that Sudan could slide into all-out conflict unless the international community acts quicker to stem tensions by enforcing a demilitarised zone and deploying peacekeepers along the border.
“Unless the international community acts fast to stop conflict along the border, we could be plunged into all-out war again,” David De Dau, director of agency for Independent Media, a Sudanese member of the coalition, said.
“We have come so far since the bloodiest days of the civil war but could lose it all. International support helped us find peace, now we need urgent help to keep it.”
Sudan's government is allowing limited U.N. access to the South Kordofan’s capital, Kadugli, a U.N. spokesman said on Thursday of the state that is rife with looting and fighting.
The NGOs from the United States, Sudan and other countries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe, urged Washington to withhold its normalisation of diplomatic ties with Sudan which included an international deal on debt relief and removing Sudan from the U.S. terrorism blacklist.
The report also urged for increased targeted sanctions by the European Union and others, such as travel bans and asset freezes on those most responsible for the violence, as well as recommending the U.N. Security Council mandate and deploy the successor peacekeeping operation to the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).
Last week the United States said it had submitted a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council to authorise the deployment of 4,200 Ethiopian troops to Abyei.
“Democratic reform must not be allowed to slip from the agenda in Sudan,” said Osman Hummaida, Sudanese human rights activist and director of the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies.
“As the Arab world fights for its freedom, oppression and human rights abuses in North Sudan continue unchecked,” he said, adding that in the south poor governance and authoritarian rule were increasing.
Fighting is far from exclusive to Sudan’s north-south border states. In western Darfur state, about 70,000 people were displaced between December 2010 and March 2011 and there were some 80 government air strikes against civilian populations from January to April, the report added.
“The international community must recalibrate their relationship with North and South Sudan,” said Tom Andrews, president of Genocide Intervention Network and Save Darfur Coalition.
“For the North, this means sustaining pressure on the government to enact genuine political reform and bring an end to the conflict in Darfur. For the South, this means increasing international criticism of corruption and harassment of human rights activists.”