Fragile peace hopes for sparring Sudanese

2012-09-29 17:55

In South Sudan – in the waterlogged camps of Upper Nile state, “Antonov”, referring to Russian-made aeroplanes, is a word on many lips.

Shopkeeper Majuma Ortha’s eyes widen as she imitates the engine sounds of the old Soviet fighters overhead.

Her quiet Arabic is peppered with references to the cargo planes-turned-bombers in her home state of Blue Nile.

“They were bombing everywhere,” she tells City Press. “We would move, but then they would bomb where there were people.

We would run away and they would come again, come after you.”

Hearing of those dying in the fighting, Majuma and most of her neighbours fled their village, spending weeks on foot with no food and little water.

They arrived in March at a cluster of grimy UN tents dotted together on a vast flood plain.

Her brother stayed behind, part of the rebel movement fighting the Sudanese Armed Forces – pitting the anger of the dispossessed against planes, bombs and uniforms.

“We just want to have our land, a place of our own.

We all need peace, and we hope Allah will stand with us.”

This week, at the end of an extended summit, beyond a delayed UN Security Council deadline, and after months of peace talks and negotiations, the two countries signed a raft of agreements that ostensibly move the recent divorcees
closer to a constructive living arrangement.

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir and his South Sudanese counterpart Salva Kiir smiled for the cameras in Addis Ababa’s Sheraton Hotel and waved dotted-line deals in the air.

There are 10 agreements, among them the establishment of a demilitarised buffer zone on either side of a contentious border, the resumption of trade between the two countries, and a complex oil deal structured around a $10 (R83) tariff per barrel for South Sudan to use northern Sudan’s pipeline infrastructure and an additional $3 billion as compensation for Sudan’s loss of some two-thirds of its oilfields.

It’s been hailed as a “giant leap” by diplomats involved in the peace process.

There’s international optimism that the joint reliance on the revenue from the crude oil will lead to longer-lasting peace.

But some analysts have called it a “minimalist deal”, signed to relieve international pressure.

Despite the best efforts of African Union mediators, including former South African president Thabo Mbeki, no permanent border has been agreed upon.

The contested borderland of Abyei remains in question, despite a promised referendum in the signed 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement for its residents to decide which country it belongs to. And the ongoing conflicts in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan have not even been addressed.

In the same hour that Presidents Bashir and Kiir inked documents in the Ethiopian capital, local media reports emerged of an attack on a weekly market in Southern Kordofan’s Nuba Mountains, where six bombs killed a mother of seven and wounded six others.

South Sudan’s Upper Nile and Unity states have become the temporary home of more than 165 000 people fleeing the fighting.

The UN is trying to relocate many of those in Yida’s camps, which lie on Unity state’s border with Sudan.

It is concerned about the security of the displaced so close to a front line.

In Upper Nile, tens of thousands are being moved between camps because of water scarcity and flooding. Security is also a concern here.

Aid workers and UN officials who declined to be named spoke to City Press about ongoing forced recruitment in Upper Nile’s settlements, with rebel deserters and able-bodied men being “actively persuaded” to return to fighting across
the border.

With the onset of fighting season and the slowing rivers, refugee flows will begin again in earnest in coming months.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says it expects tens of thousands more.

British aid agency Oxfam says the camps in Upper Nile’s Maban County are a “ticking time bomb”, on the brink of a major health crisis.

But the crisis may already have started.

At least 16 refugees have perished from waterborne Hepatitis E in recent weeks. Doctors Without Borders says the disease is particularly deadly for pregnant mothers.

There are several hundred more suspected cases across three camps housing more than 63 000 people.

Aid agencies are calling for sites to be found for new camps to ease the overcrowding in remote Maban County, but there is little money available for what could turn out to be one of the world’s most expensive emergency responses.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has resorted to air drops of sorghum grain, as roads become impassable and the numbers far exceed the 70 000 they anticipated. Many have had to go hungry.

While the refugees who make it to South Sudan receive the little assistance available, crucially there is no humanitarian aid arriving in the conflict zones themselves.

The UN estimates nearly 150 000 people are displaced or severely affected by the conflict in Blue Nile alone – in conditions much worse than those across the border.

Nothing will change for any of the tens of thousands on either side of the unmarked line, unless peace returns.

The WFP’s regional director, Stanlake Samkange, says: “(The people there are) hostages to the political dynamics of the region.
“It’s a crisis beyond our control because it’s created by refugees responding to a situation that’s beyond their control.”

»Tay was a guest of Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam during her time in South Sudan

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