Will Nuba Mountains region seek secession from Khartoum?

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Article Summary
As the conflict between Khartoum and the Nuba Mountains region in southern Sudan persists, some are calling for a referendum to grant the region autonomy.

The crisis in the Nuba Mountains region — in the tumultuous Southern Kordofan State in Sudan, which is adjacent to South Sudan — is becoming increasingly complex. This comes as winter approaches and the military confrontations between government forces and rebels from the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) escalate.

In the absence of a political settlement to the crisis, the issue is expected to be internationalized, and international decisions — including the possibility of imposing a no-fly zone over the region — are also expected in this regard.

South Kordofan’s elites, who are affiliated with the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), warned of the possibility that residents of the region — which they called the “new south Sudan” — will demand the right to self–determination, as happened in South Sudan. The latter seceded from Sudan following a referendum in 2011, and became an independent state.

War erupted in the South Kordofan State in June 2011, following a period of peace that did not exceed six years, beginning with the peace agreement concluded between Sudan and South [Sudan] in 2005.

Two rounds of negotiations between the rebels and the [Sudanese] government, under the auspices of the African Union (AU), have failed to halt the war. Moreover, UN Security Council Resolution 2046, which was issued in May 2012, has also failed to result in an agreement between both parties (the government and the SPLM-N), given the lack of trust between the two and their opposing stances.

The Nuba Mountains issue is threatening to disrupt and bring the cooperation agreements between Sudan and South Sudan back to the period of tension and estrangement. Meanwhile, Khartoum believes that the armed rebels are still linked to South Sudan’s army, of which they were part during the civil war, and that the rebels could not continue to operate if they were not supported and harbored by South Sudan.

The insurgency in South Kordofan started in the mid-1980s, as Yousif Kuwa Mekki formed a secret group that served as a nucleus of the SPLM in the Nuba Mountains.

The rebellion quickly turned into a military conflict, as part of the struggle relating to the division of power and wealth between Khartoum and the outskirts regions. The latter were supported by the rebellion’s leader in South Sudan at the time, John Garang. Since then, the Nuba Mountains issue has been associated with the issue of the south.

On the other hand, the reasons behind the armed conflict in the Nuba Mountains have become numerous and ramified. While some of the mountains' residents linked it to the allocation of agricultural land to investors from outside the region, and the racial discrimination among the population, the rebellion leader in the region at the time, Mekki, considered it a racial conflict designed to bring about a demographic change. This has led to the alliance between South Sudan and the Nuba Mountains, to protect the African component from the large Arab expansion that was sponsored by the successive governments in Khartoum.

The recent rebellion in the Nuba Mountains has been ongoing since 2011, because of the intense competition between the ruling NCP and the SPLM-N. The peace agreement has also fallen, after it was announced that the ruling party’s candidate, Ahmed Haroun, won the seat for state governor over the [SPLM] candidate Abdul Aziz al-Helo. The latter considered the elections results to be manipulated and refused to recognize them. The issue degenerated into an armed conflict and the security situation in the region has worsened.

Given the lack of trust between the Sudanese parties, the non-implementation of the peace protocol relating to the region, and the ruling party’s rejection of an agreement signed between Nafie Ali Nafie, deputy chairman of the NCP, and the rebels in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, peace efforts have failed.

The establishment of the Sudanese Revolutionary Front alliance, which consists of the SPLM-N and the main Darfur rebel groups, resulted in linking the Nuba Mountains issue to the armed conflict in Darfur, and to the political struggle for power in Khartoum.

The latest round of talks between the government and SPLM-N rebels failed, because the rebels raised the problems of the Nuba Mountains, the Blue Nile, the outskirts’ issues and Darfur, while the government remained committed to resolve the issue in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2046, which specifies how to address the local conflict.

It is worth mentioning that the worsening security and humanitarian situation may require an international intervention that will pave the way for autonomy, and probably for a referendum to decide the fate of the inflamed Nuba Mountains region.

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