The reported ultimatum from the northern government to forces in Blue Nile and South Kordofan is really frightening, and potentially changes the implied reasoning behind the invasion of Abyei last weekend. If Abyei was going to be a convenient point for the “two sides” to kick each other, as Eddie Thomas said, then the situation in Abyei – although awful – might not escalate into a border war, but the continuing SAF deployment along the border (and the border as GoS interprets it) and this demand to commanders to me kind of implies a wider military agenda.
Most concerningly, though, is the SAF’s language in making this demand that the Southern-allied forces in Blue Nile and South Kordofan “withdraw south.” As Malik Agar said, these forces are predominantly not “Southerners”, but come from and operate in the transition zone from North to South.
This attempt to disarm and expel “Southern-allied” forces from their national territory is pretty indicative of a continued political rather than territorial understanding of South as SPLA and North as NCP-held. The SPLA did and continue to have a strong military and political presence across the border provinces, in south Darfur, the Nuba mountains and Blue Nile. Substantial amounts of the fighting in the civil wars involved armed groups and soldiers drawn from these transition areas, as the SPLA under Garang attempted to set itself up as the party and army of oppressed and exploited people across Sudan.
However, the SAF’s zero-sum idea of attempting to expel military groups associated with the Southern government, or at very least tied to SPLM-North, is confusing the political with the territorial. Just because an army is associated with the SPLM/A does not mean it is Southern, or can go to the Southern territory. The terminology used by SAF kind of implies that purging the North of groups associated with the South is in order to create a neat North-South opposition – something that’s never been true and won’t be. The Northern – and for that matter Southern – governments need to accept the inevitability of armed and political opposition within their territorial borders: authority won’t be achieved by trying to expel the opposition. But more fundamentally, the language and idea behind this ultimatum underlines the continuing association of “South” and “North” with two opposite politicaland ideological “sides” rather than two territorial nations.
Admittedly, I’m not feeling very coherent today and I’m sure there’s a better way of phrasing this – but I needed to break my silence on here…