Insecurity in predominantly Christian Southern Sudan has intensified since the 9 January 2011 referendum on Southern self-determination. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) has been fighting various southern armed opposition groups, in particular the forces of General George Athor and those of Gabriel Tanginya (aka ‘Tang’). These conflicts arise from political and tribal grievances. A fellow Dinka and close aide to the late SPLM/A leader John Garang, Athor has been a strong supporter of Garang’s ‘New Sudan’ vision for a united, secular, democratic Sudan. He opposes the current SPLM leadership but denies he has links to Khartoum. ‘Tang’ on the other hand has been allied to the National Islamic Front (NIF) in Khartoum (Northern Sudan) since 1984. Khartoum backs Tang’s Nuer forces in their fight against ‘Dinka domination’. When fellow Nuer, pro-secessionist Reich Machar, split from the SPLA in 1991 over ideological and tribal differences, he aligned with Tang. (After their coup failed in 1991 Machar’s Nuer forces massacred some 500 Dinka-Bor civilians, razing their villages and lands so that some 25,000 subsequently died in a NIF-engineered famine. Reich Machar is currently the Vice President of South Sudan.)
On 9 February fighting erupted in Fangak, Jonglei State, between the SPLA and the forces of General George Athor. Two days of fighting left at least 200 dead. On 22 February fighting broke out in Malakal, Upper Nile State, between the SPLA and Tang’s forces, leaving some 50 dead. Children taken hostage from a local orphanage were subsequently released. So even within South Sudan, political and tribal divisions are deep and toxic, not least because Khartoum has been fostering the widening of these divisions for decades as part of its divide and rule strategy. However, if there is to be any hope for a brighter future, the Southerners must reject corruption and megalomania and strive for reconciliation in the South. Ultimately it is the masses that suffer. As goes the African proverb: ‘When elephants fight, it is the grass that gets hurt.’
The most serious outbreak of all occurred at flashpoint Abyei. Fertile and oil-rich, the Abyei region straddles the North-South border. The people of Abyei were to get their own referendum to decide whether Abyei would be part of the North or the South. Traditionally, Abyei is ‘Southern’ and predominantly Dinka. But the Islamic regime in Khartoum wants the Misseriya Arab nomads — allies of Khartoum who traditionally pass through the region each year — to be given voting rights. Ultimately disagreement forced the referendum’s cancellation. Khartoum wants Abyei divided and the US urging the South to ‘compromise’ for the sake of peace has only emboldened Khartoum in its land-grab.
On 27 February the police station in Todach, Abyei region, was attacked at 6.30am by a 100-strong force comprised of Misseriya Arab militiamen and militants of the Khartoum-backed Popular Defence Force (PDF). Seven police were killed and six wounded. The attacks continued the following day, but included uniformed members of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) using advanced heavy weaponry. On 28 February an estimated 100 police and civilians (mostly youths) were killed. On 2 March Maker Abior, Abyei region, was attacked by a force of some 1000 Misseriya, PDF and SAF elements, resulting in 33 casualties. Two helicopters deployed from Khartoum evacuated wounded Arab-Muslim soldiers. The Khartoum-led Joint Integrated Units (JIU) did not intervene nor did they warn the Dinka of the looming threat. This violence has triggered a mass exodus of Dinka from Abyei with as many as 45,000 — mostly women and children — fleeing south.
According to Sudan analyst Eric Reeves (13 March), there has subsequently been a dramatic military build-up in the area, with the SAF building roads and forward military posts inside Abyei region. They have brought in tanks and advanced weaponry and have occupied and fortified several recently torched villages. The SPLA is also reinforcing its positions. In some places the two forces are only 20km apart. There is concern that Khartoum is preparing to divide Abyei by force. Meanwhile the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) has been holding talks aimed at securing alternative routes for its oil — routes that would deprive Khartoum of revenue. Surely Khartoum would regard this as a massive provocation. Tensions are soaring.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT —
* God will have mercy on the impoverished, long-suffering, war-ravaged masses of South Sudan, especially those who faithfully love, worship, walk with and trust in the Lord. Please LORD, interpose yourself, protecting and delivering your loved ones in answer to prayer.
‘The Lord goes out like a mighty man, like a man of war he stirs up his zeal; he cries out, he shouts aloud, he shows himself mighty against his foes.’ (Isaiah 42:13 ESV)
* the Holy Spirit will encourage and embolden Christian leaders, pastors and evangelists to preach and demonstrate radical faith despite the circumstances. ‘When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.’ (Psalm 56:3 ESV) May this radical faith witness effectively to multitudes.
* God will grasp Sudan’s leaders by their right hands and, for the sake of the Church, call them by name to do God’s bidding, that all the peoples might know that God is the LORD (Isaiah 45:1-7).