It is impossible at this point to separate the Darfur conflict with the situation over North-South Sudan civil war. That has become even clearer in the wake of Khartoum’s air strikes on territory inside the South Sudan border that hit near a southern army base, wounding four soldiers and two civilians. Despite this, the two sides seem willing to write the incident off – with Khartoum apologizing for the disaster and South Sudan, whose voters go to the polls on 9 January for a historical referendum on independence, refraining from an appropriate response in the name of ensuring that the vote goes ahead as planned.
This is, on the surface, good news. But below the surface it means that because the two conflicts have been neatly separated by the international community – and particularly the United States – South Sudan may actually achieve its longed-for independence (for now), but the trade-off will be Darfur, and Khartoum has likely perceived that it now has carte blanche to have its way with Darfur as long as it plays nice, for the time being, with the South.
Indeed, the Sudanese armed forces (SAF) apologized for the attack, saying it was an attempted strike on Darfuri rebels with the Justice and Equality Movement. And it is not unprecedented: On 13 November, the SAF bombed the south while fighting Darfuri rebels, again apologizing for the incident.
Though some observers have suggested that yesterday’s air strike was aimed at reminding the South of Khartoum’s strength as the referendum nears, and while that is surely a convenient benefit for Khartoum at this point, it is more likely that this is about Darfur. More to the point, it indicates that Khartoum is stepping up its decade-long fight with rebels there. And Khartoum has every reason to believe that it is going to get away with this if it appears to be giving in over South Sudan.
The signs are ominous. Attacks by government-backed Janjaweed militias on Darfur villages are said to have resumed in full force, now that the attention is conveniently on the Southern referendum, and thousands of displaced are said to be fleeing into already over-crowded camps. Meanwhile, Khartoum appears to be preparing to close another large refugee camp that houses some 80,000 people who have nowhere to go. And some reports indicate that the government has stepped up recruiting of Janjaweed forces for a final surge for a genocide that began in 2003.
-by Jen Alic for ISA Intel