Could Sudan Election Violence Unravel Tenuous Peace?

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At least 30 people have been killed in clashes along the North-South border that may soon separate Sudan into two countries. Southern Sudan's week-long referendum on secession, which voters are expected to approve, has otherwise proceeded as planned. Is this violence a sign that the challenges of the secession process will be too much for Sudan to overcome peacefully? Or are these merely isolated incidents amid a largely calm and productive vote? Here's what reporters and analysts are saying.

  • Is the North Arming Militias?  Foreign Policy's Joshua Keating connects the "clashes between tribespeople and Arab nomads on the north-south border" to some disturbing hints of possible preparations for violence. "A Ugandan and a northern Army soldier were also arrested in the Southern Sudanese capital of Juba in possession of 700 rounds of AK-47 ammunition. The south has accused the north of arming Arab militias in the contested border region of Abyei in the run-up to the vote."
  • Abyei Could Become Flashpoint  "Tensions remained high in the border region of Abyei," the area of the clashes, Al Jazeera reports. "Observers fear the latest unrest could spark more fighting amid an otherwise peaceful and jubilant independence referendum in the south." A United Nations spokesman "said that the organisation is 'extremely concerned' about the reports of clashes and casualties in Abyei."
  • Risk of War Over 'Sudan's Jerusalem'  "If the referendum passes and the south breaks off from the north," The New York Times' Jeffrey Gettleman cautions, " the disputed border will become the next issue to resolve, and some fear that the specter of an all-out border war is rising. Abyei, where skirmishes broke out Friday and Saturday, is considered the most combustible and intractable of all the disputed areas. Both the north and the south claim historical ties to it and are refusing to budge. Some Western analysts have called Abyei 'Sudan’s Jerusalem.'"
  • Why Abyei Is So Tense  The small region sits across the South-North border and is rich with oil. The Christian Science Monitor's Maggie Flick further explains.
The people of Abyei were meant to cast their own votes of self-determination starting Sunday, a referendum they were promised when the north and south ended more than two decades of war in 2005. Instead, negotiations between the Khartoum-based National Congress Party (NCP) and the south’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) are stalled. But one thing is looking almost certain: Abyei won’t determine its future status – either as part of northern or southern Sudan – through the ballot box. Although officials on the ground in Abyei reported that the situation today was calm, clashes over the past three days could herald a backslide into local conflict in the flashpoint region that Sudan watchers fear could destroy the hard work over the past six years to preserve a fragile peace.
  • Some Parallels With Darfur  UN Dispatch's Mark Leon Goldberg warns, "The man the International Criminal Court acuses of having facilitated the Darfur genocide by plying arms to militias allied with the Sudanese government may be doing the same thing in the Abyei region." Goldberg cites the "involvement" Ahmed Haroum, whom Goldberg calls "the organizational brains behind the genocide in Darfur." He concludes, "Given the cast of characters on the ground you can’t eliminate the prospect of genocidal violence from being visited upon the people of Abyei."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.