Almost Two Years Since Sudan Divided Into Two Countries, Problems Refuse to Go Away

Many bystanders believed that the successful 2011 partition of Sudan into two countries would end the African nation's long civil war and attendant atrocities. By demarcating the country along borders that roughly reflected its Islamic, Arab north from its black African, Christian, and animist south--and creating a country now officially known as South Sudan--the thinking was that the two countries could perhaps live at peace, their racial and religious divides now traced and protected by an internationally recognized border and two separate governments. Yasir Arman was never a believer.

Arman--a long-standing leader of the South's rebel army, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), and a close confidant of its legendary leader, John Garang--has argued for years that the "northern question" was the one that had to be resolved, not the "southern question."

For too long everyone has tried to figure out what to do about the South, he told me recently, how to separate and protect its people from Islamic aggression: "The international community hasn't been willing to talk about what to do about the North, what to do about the problem of political Islam."

Arman is himself a Muslim. But he's no friend of the Islamic regime based in Khartoum, and serves as secretary-general of SPLM-North, the rebel movement operating within Sudan to carry on the quest embodied by Garang, who died in a 2005 helicopter crash. Arman is one of a number of Muslims who fought and served under Garang, a Christian, sharing his vision for preserving Sudan's diversity within a democratic state that respects human rights and the rule of law.

"Political Islam is going to divide Africa," said Arman. "What we have been fighting for over 20 years you now see dividing Egypt, Mali, Nigeria, and Somalia."

Leaving the "northern question" unresolved has left in power for two decades President Omar al-Bashir, who has sheltered terrorists like Osama bin Laden and is an indicted war criminal before the International Criminal Court at The Hague. Not surprisingly, the conflict and atrocities once visited on the South are escalating in the North--particularly in the ethnically and religiously diverse border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

For the last 18 months those states, home to over 2.5 million Sudanese, have endured aerial bombardments by their own government and military incursions that have driven more than 200,000 people, according to Arman, from their homes. On the ground, armed conflict between government forces and Arman's SPLM-North prompted Bashir to block outside humanitarian aid--and led to charges that the government there has engaged in ethnic cleansing, and perhaps genocide.

"Ethnic cleansing is largely complete," concluded former top UN official Mukesh Kapila after a January fact-finding trip to the two states. "Rebel areas are depopulated and largely empty."

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Mindy Belz
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