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Khartoum’s Military Seizure of Abyei: Findings of the Satellite Sentinel Project

By Eric Reeves

May 26, 2011 (SSNA) -- A report today from the Satellite Sentinel Project (below) provides a detailed picture of the military tools of invasion deployed by Khartoum in its May 20/21 seizure of Abyei, including Abyei town. It has long been evident that Khartoum planned a military move on Abyei; the only real question has been when. In many respects, the military assault began in early March and included the destruction of a number of Dinka Ngok villages, and the killing of many civilians and Southern police. Altogether, more than 40,000 people have now been displaced southward into Northern Bahr el Ghazal under extremely threatening conditions.

The New York Times today warns of the threat of large-scale “ethnic cleansing”:

“After seizing a disputed town on the border of the breakaway region of southern Sudan on Saturday, the army of northern Sudan is now facilitating a relatively large influx of nomadic people into the area, according to new United Nations field reports. United Nations officials said the move could mean that the Sudanese government was trying to ‘ethnically cleanse’ the area in a bid to change its demographics permanently and annex the town, Abyei, just weeks before southern Sudan was supposed to split from the north and form its own country.” (“UN Warns of Ethnic Cleansing in Sudan Town [Abyei],” May 25, 2011 [dateline: Nairobi])

This brazen and barbarous ambition has been encouraged by international diplomatic policies of accommodation, most particularly on the part of the Obama administration. To this point in the crisis, no one in the administration has found a suitable register in which to speak about Khartoum’s extraordinary crimes, its violations of international law, and its complete reneging on key terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005).

None of this should come as a surprise. By early May the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime had clearly signaled that it meant to move on Abyei. The weapons, encampments, and troops had all been identified, the attacks by Khartoum-allied militia groups had been reported; and there could be no mistaking the implications of improvements to roads leading south and to the air facility at Muglad (South Kordofan, immediately north of Abyei). Heglig, immediately to the east of Abyei, has seen a particularly large recent military buildup.

The pretext for Khartoum’s military seizure of Abyei has been exposed as merely that; there is no legitimate casus belli. The events of May 19, reported initially by UN officials as “criminal acts” by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, have now been sufficiently clarified that Khartoum’s account of this violent confrontation has become completely untenable. Dismayingly, the initial UN account was based solely on the accounts of the regime’s military officers—officers who were part of a force that was clearly on the verge of invading Abyei. That the attack was premeditated is amply demonstrated by the findings of the Satellite Sentinel Project, reflecting developments going back to January. Among the highlights of this report (including the finding “that the invasion of Abyei was premeditated and well-planned”):

•“Reports by Southern Sudanese officials that an allegedly division-sized unit of 5,000SAF soldiers attacked Abyei over the weekend is consistent with the approximately 10 large, military encampments in SAF-controlled areas of South Kordofan that SSP has identified since January [2011].”

•“The approximately 13 T-55 main battle tanks SSP has seen forward deployed – and in some cases, concealed within driving range of Abyei in recent months – are consistent with the reported 15 T-55 battle tanks allegedly present now in Abyei town.”

• “Satellite Sentinel Project reported in March the construction of an on-site refueling facility at the Muglad airstrip, part of the SAF 15th Division headquarters, approximately180 kilometers from Abyei town. Subsequently, at least two Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters were observed at that location. The Project has reported Mi-8helicopters at this location as well. These developments are consistent with reports received in the past 36 hours of SAF helicopters circling Abyei town.”

•“The presence of Antonov transport planes and Nanchang Q-5 aircraft at El Obeid, 440kilometers from Abyei town, is consistent with reports that the SAF aerially bombarded targets in Abyei, reportedly beginning on 20 May. The Nanchang Q-5sare able to reach Abyei town in approximately 20 minutes. The Antonov transports can fly to Abyei town in under an hour.”

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“Abyei Invasion: Evidence of Sudan Armed Forces Incursion Inside Abyei,” by the Satellite Sentinel Project (May25, 2011)
http://www.satsentinel.org/report/abyei-invasion-evidence-saf-incursion-abyei-and-fact-sheet-sudan-armed-forces-invasion

Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) has confirmed through the analysis of Digital Globe imagery that the southern-aligned base at Todach has been recently razed; evidence consistent with an attack on that location by armored vehicles is visible. The southern-aligned base at Tajalei, which was allegedly attacked on 21 May, does not appear to be visibly damaged. The base may have been abandoned by Southern units, however.

Additionally, imagery shows fires burning in the town of Dungop and another point near Abyei town, consistent with reports that buildings are being burned by northern-aligned forces in the Abyei region.

Nanchang Q-5 ground attack aircraft and Antonov transports, which the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) use as bombers, and a Yak-40 transport plane are visible at the SAF El Obeidair base. Each plane is easily within striking distance of Abyei town and can all reach targets in Abyei region in approximately an hour or less. The presence of these attack capable planes in close proximity to Abyei is consistent with reports of SAF bombing attacks in Abyei within the past five days.

At one base near Goli, which SSP had previously identified as an alleged armed Misseriya encampment, the tents that had previously been visible there are no longer present. This image is consistent with reports that armed Misseriya have voluntarily moved from their recent positions to points south, including Abyei town. Satellite Sentinel Project has seen over 40 new structures erected at SAF base Heglig as of 13 May and new vehicles, including three consistent with armored units, are clearly visible. Four main battle tanks consistent with T-55s are visible at Kharassana as of 20 May.

Background

With less than two months remaining before South Sudan becomes an independent state, North and South Sudan are on the brink of renewed civil war following the Sudan Armed Forces’ (SAF) occupation of Abyei town and surrounding areas in the contested Abyei region of Sudan. On 19 May, soldiers from the Southern Sudanese police or military forces are accused by the North of having ambushed a convoy of SAF elements of Joint Integrated Units (JIUs) and their UNMIS escorts within the Abyei Administrative Area.

In response, the SAF allegedly bombed several villages in the Abyei region that were reportedly controlled by southern-aligned forces, as well as the main bridge providing access to areas south of Abyei. On 21 May, the SAF seized control of Abyei town. As of 24 May, the burned and looted town of Abyei is still under SAF control, despite pressure from the international community for northern troops to withdraw from the area. The escalation of violence over the past five days has displaced at least 25,000 to 30,000 civilians from Abyei town and the surrounding areas, according to the UN.

Conclusions

Six fixed-wing aircraft are visible at the SAF airbase at El Obeid, approximately 440 kilometers from Abyei town. The planes include two consistent with Nanchang Q-5 ground attack aircraft, two consistent with Antonov An-24/26 Coke/Curls (one of which appears decommissioned), and an Antonov An-12 Cub.

Except for one structure in the center of the suspected Misseriya militia encampment at Goli, all structures previously observed at the location are gone as of 24 May. Light vehicles seen at that site are gone as well. There is no damage visible. As of24 May, the Southern-aligned Tajalei encampment shows no visible signs of damage, burned structures, or evidence consistent with recent combat having taken place there. Vehicles are not visible at the base, nor is there apparent evidence of either new or missing structures.

Imagery shows that an additional 40 structures were erected at the Heglig encampment between 24 April and 13 May. Additionally, three vehicles consistent with armored vehicles are present, as well as an additional six light and heavy vehicles.

The image of the SAF base at Kharassana shows the presence of four armored vehicles consistent with T-55main battle tanks. Four objects along the perimeter wall of the facility were removed sometime between 14 March and 20 May.

The image of Todach confirms reports that the Southern-aligned base was attacked by SAF forces on 20/21 May. The presence of possible tank tracks on the ground and armored vehicles in the vicinity suggests that an attack by tanks or other armored units occurred. Possible craters — potentially a result of tank, aerial, and/or artillery bombardment — appear visible.

The presence of Antonov transport planes and Nanchang Q-5 aircraft at El Obeid, 440 kilometers from Abyei town, is consistent with reports that the SAF aerially bombarded targets in Abyei, reportedly beginning on 20 May. The Nanchang Q-5s are able to reach Abyei town in approximately 20 minutes. The Antonov transports can fly to Abyei town in under an hour.

The absence of all vehicles and all structures except one from the suspected Misseriya militia camp at Goli is consistent with reports that armed Misseriya have voluntarily moved from their recent positions into Abyei town and the vicinity.

The Southern-aligned base at Tajalei, which SAF allegedly attacked on 21 May, appears to have likely been abandoned due to the fact that there is no damage visible at that location, but Southern-aligned forces reportedly no longer control that area.

The rapid build-up of SAF forces at the suspected SAF base at Heglig on May 13, including armored vehicles and both light and heavy trucks, suggests apparent preparations for imminent operations approximately a week before the SAF invasion of Abyei. SSP monitoring of the Kharassana site suggests that the four objects previously visible along the base’s perimeter were armored vehicles concealed at that location. The four tanks consistent with T-55 armored vehicles may or may not be the tanks allegedly concealed at that position. The Kharassana image is evidence of potential SAF concealment of vehicles in South Kordofan prior to the 21 May incursion into Abyei.

Overview | 24 May 2011

Since January 2011, Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) has monitored the rapid, robust and concerted offensive build-up of Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and Popular Defense Force (PDF) militias in and around the Abyei region. The SAF invasion of Abyei on 21 May2011, with the exception of fixed-wing fighter aircraft, appears to have been comprised primarily of the forces SSP has been tracking since it was launched on 29 December 2010.

The ongoing attack is wholly consistent with the strengthening of SAF capabilities reported by SSP over the past four months in the area. Sudan Armed Forces troop strength, infrastructure improvements, and positioning of forces along main roads under200 kilometers from Abyei are indications that the invasion of Abyei was premeditated and well-planned.

Observations from previous SSP reporting relevant to the current SAF combat action in Abyei include the following:

Troops and Transport Vehicles

Reports by Southern Sudanese officials that an allegedly division-sized unit of 5,000 SAF soldiers attacked Abyei over the weekend is consistent with the approximately 10 large, military encampments in SAF-controlled areas of South Kordofan that SSP has identified since January. These bases range in size, but could hold at least100 to 200 troops each. In some cases, they could be capable of holding approximately 500 troops or more. In total, SSP has seen a deployment around Abyei in recent months consistent with the alleged force strength purportedly inside Abyei town and the surrounding area at present.

Additionally, light and heavy vehicles consistent with escort and troop transport vehicles have been seen over the past four months at these locations. In some locations, SSP has identified vehicles consistent with armored personnel carriers (APCs).

Presence of PDF Militias in Abyei

Beginning in March 2011,SSP identified two encampments inside the Abyei region consistent with reports that northern-aligned, armed Misseriya militia groups had set up bases inside Abyei at Goli and Bongo (also known as Alal), among other locations. Local officials have accused personnel at those camps of participating in the razing earlier prepared by this year of villages inside Abyei, including Maker Abior, Todach, and Tajalei. News reports from Abyei on 23 May allege that Misseriya militias are looting and razing buildings in Abyei town and the vicinity.

Tanks

The approximately 13 T-55main battle tanks SSP has seen forward deployed – and in some cases, concealed within driving range of Abyei in recent months – are consistent with the reported 15 T-55 battle tanks allegedly present now in Abyei town.

The presence of mobile artillery with corresponding vehicles capable of transporting artillery in at least three locations within 100 kilometers of Abyei over the past four months is consistent with reports of SAF shelling inside the Abyei region.

Road Improvements

Rapid construction of heavy, all-weather roads to the north and northeast of Abyei, which SSP reported in recent weeks, likely facilitated the SAF’s incursion into Abyei. These roads more easily connect major SAF bases, including those where tanks have been seen, to the routes leading to Abyei.

Helicopter Basing and Refueling

Satellite Sentinel Project reported in March the construction of an on-site refueling facility at the Muglad airstrip, part of the SAF 15th Division headquarters, approximately 180 kilometers from Abyei town. Subsequently, at least two Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters were observed at that location. The Project has reported Mi-8helicopters at this location as well. These developments are consistent with reports received in the past 36 hours of SAF helicopters circling Abyei town.

Eric Reeves has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade. He is author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.

Renewed War Looms in Sudan, as the International Community Prevaricates

By Eric Reeves

May 25, 2011 (SSNA) -- War reignited in South Sudan on May 19, 2011. The Khartoum regime, which has been building a massive offensive military capability in and around the hotly contested Abyei region for months, used a confusingly reported confrontation on this day to launch a full-scale invasion of Abyei; the regime's forces now control the entire region, including Abyei town in the far south. Hundreds of civilians have been killed in this and previous military incursions by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and its militia proxies; according to Doctors Without Borders and other humanitarian observers, tens of thousands of the indigenous Dinka Ngok have fled south to Northern Bahr el Ghazal State. Many are in great peril, especially from dehydration. Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the UN, characterized the aftermath of the brutal assault today from Juba (South Sudan): "There have been horrific reports of looting and burning [in Abyei], there are large numbers of displaced moving south in what [are] by definition dangerous circumstances."

The UN and United States have, appropriately, condemned the military seizure of land that will belong to the South if a free and fair self-determination referendum for Abyei is ever held, as stipulated in the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement. But Khartoum is now declaring that Abyei is "northern" and has always been so—and President Omaral-Bashir today belligerently declared that it always will be. This creates an untenable military confrontation between the heavily armed and equipped SAF, along with their militia allies, and the more modestly armed but highly motivated Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). Without more robust diplomatic intervention, larger-scale war seems highly likely.

Despite the Abyei Protocol (2004) that was a key part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005), despite the findings of the Abyei Boundaries Commission created by the Abyei Protocol, and despite a "final and binding" ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (2009)—all making clear that the Ngok people of Abyei had the right to join the South—Khartoum is intent on denying this right of self-determination, despite its commitment to all these agreements and findings. It had previously used a variety of means to forestall the self-determination referendum that was scheduled for January 9,2011; it has now used military force.

There is a key question in understanding recent developments: what intelligence served as the basis for the UN's swift condemnation of the SPLA for "criminal acts" at a military confrontation in the village of Dokora (or Dokra) on May 19? Since this attack was immediately made the casus belli for Khartoum's invasion of Abyei, we need to make sure we understand the precipitating event.

Although we still do not have all the details of the May 19 clash between an SPLA unit and a contingent of some 200 SAF troops under escort by the UN peacekeeping force in South Sudan (UNMIS), the following account—from a very well-placed and highly reliable source—has a great deal more plausibility than the account the UN has chosen to act upon. In fact, the authority of the UN narrative is highly suspect.

UN political officials in New York were first informed of the events at Dokora by Secretary Ban Ki-moon's Special Envoy for Sudan (SGSR), Haile Menkerios of Eritrea. Menkerios has not been particularly effective in this role since he was appointed in February 2010, and has been only fitfully engaged on critical issues. During his relatively brief tenure he has developed a reputation for instinctively siding with Khartoum over Juba.

Menkerios' account of the events of May 19 apparently came exclusively from two SAF officers—in short, representatives of one of the combatant parties. If their account of the events was taken at face value, then the SGSR will have laid the groundwork for an extraordinarily misguided UN condemnation of the SPLA for "criminal acts," which in turn provided Khartoum with a plausiblecasus belli. This is a major diplomatic disaster, although we may expect the UN to close ranks around one of its own, however disastrously consequential his errors.

So what really happened? Several days before the May 19 clash (again, according to a source that is both highly reliable and especially well placed), soldiers from an SPLA "Joint Integrated Unit" (JIU) were ambushed in Abyei by a Misseriya militia, an attack that left four SPLA soldiers dead. (The "Joint Integrated Units" of SAF and SPLA forces were created by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement but have never functioned as designed—indeed, they have never really been either "joint" or "integrated," and recently they have become a major irritant between the two armed forces.) There had been a number of attacks on SPLA troops and police prior to this event, and tensions were extremely high.

Following this incident of May 15, the SPLA and SAF agreed that the SAF JIU forces would be stationed further north in Abyei at Goli and another nearby town. The SPLA JIU would be stationed in Dokora in the south of Abyei, several miles north of Abyei town. The parties further agreed that the SAF would escort the SPLA units to their location, and the SPLA would later escort the SAF units to their location.

Immediately prior to the fighting of May 19, the SPLA units began to argue among themselves about the wisdom of escorting the SAF, given the recent attack they had suffered at the hands of SAF-allied Misseriya militia, and the well-known presence of the Popular Defense Forces (PDF) militia in Abyei and South Kordofan, and in the town of Goli in particular. At one point a single bullet was fired in the air. Immediately the SAF began to fire on the SPLA with enormously destructive anti-tank weapons (RPG-7s). A number of Dinka Ngok civilians were killed, as were a number of SAF soldiers, when one of their troop-carrying trucks was accidentally hit by one of the RPGs—in short, a case of so-called "friendly fire."

This is not the narrative of a "criminal act" on the part of the SPLA. That SGSR Menkerios would represent the clash to the UN in New York in such terms was deeply irresponsible and extraordinarily consequential. He should be immediately relieved of his position, and a serious evaluation of reporting mechanisms needs to be undertaken as soon as possible.

It also is intensely dismaying that the U.S. special envoy for Sudan, Princeton Lyman, should still be making statements on the basis of the Menkerios account: "There was an incident on May 19th in which Southern forces attacked a UN convoy [emphasis added] that was carrying Northern soldiers to the town called Goli."

To be sure, Lyman is firm in his condemnation of Khartoum's use of the incident to seize all of Abyei militarily, and makes clear that the status quo will not satisfy U.S. demands that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement be fully respected. But Lyman also continues with a narrative that at this point has been very seriously challenged by the SPLM/A political and military leadership. The nature of the "attack" seems very much in question, and we should not forget that Khartoum, vastly superior in positioned offensive military forces, has clearly been looking for a pretext to launch its invasion of Abyei. Lyman even has gone so far as to claim the SPLM/A has "apologized" for their actions. They have not, as was confirmed to me on May 24 by senior officials in Juba. Such statements are ultimately a form of deference to Khartoum in the face of extreme, large-scale, and unjustified military actions. Indeed, the regime has begun to embellish upon the consequences of the initial confrontation: the regime's ambassador to Kenya has declared that 197 SAF troops were killed or missing as a result of the May 19 events—apreposterous exaggeration. According to well-informed senior SPLA commanders, they lost eighteen men and the SAF seven.

A policy of accommodation is not the road to peace, or the basis for compelling a military withdrawal by the regime from Abyei. Indeed, such accommodation convinces the SPLM leadership that they are alone in confronting this military occupation of Abyei—which now includes wholesale looting and burning, as well as violence against civilians, all reminiscent of the brutal May 2008 attack on Abyei town by the infamous SAF 31st Brigade. At the time, the world stood by and simply watched—UNMIS from very close range. History must not repeat itself, or full-scale war will come. This is an extremely dangerous situation that grows more dangerous by the hour.

[For a scalable, highly detailed map of Abyei, click here.]

Eric Reeves has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade. He is author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.

Carter Center Fails to Consider Key Issues in the South Kordofan Gubernatorial Election

Political incompetence and misprision—and a failure to ask key questions—produce unwarranted ratification of NIF/NCP victory by indicted war criminal Ahmed Haroun

By Eric Reeves

May 20, 2011 (SSNA) -- The Carter Center has stumbled badly in assessing the enormously consequential South Kordofan gubernatorial election, which produced a “victory” for Khartoum’s candidate, Ahmed Haroun. Haroun—handpicked by the regime—was a central figure in the worst years of the Darfur genocide, as well as an energetic participant in the genocidal jihad conducted by the National Islamic Front regime in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan during the early 1990s. This validation of Haroun’s election by the Carter Center appears to reflect, to an inordinate degree, the views of former President Jimmy Carter, whose pronouncements over the years reveal a disturbing myopia when it comes to the nature and behavior of the NIF/NCP regime. Since Carter is notorious for micro-management, there can be little doubt that he influenced the tone and tenor of the report in significant ways.

Carter’s pronouncements at the time of Sudan’s April 2010 national elections were revealingly preposterous, though even the Carter Center was ultimately obliged to admit that the elections were not credible. For example, shortly before the 2010 elections Carter claimed that, “‘If no one gets an absolute majority, then there will be a run-off election in May and I think that's a high likelihood,’ Carter told reporters during a trip to south Sudan” (Reuters [dateline: Juba], February 9, 2010). It is difficult to imagine a more foolish prediction: President al-Bashir of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party (NIF/NCP) regime won easily and predictably with more than two thirds of the vote. The very notion that the regime would allow itself to be put in the position of having to participate in a run-off election betrays profound ignorance of Khartoum’s attitudes and ambitions—nothing new for Carter.

Unfortunately, Carter found some significant company in his absurd prediction: U.S. Special Envoy Scott Gration declared that Sudan’s national elections would be “as free and fair as possible.” Some international observers had also suggested that even if not entirely successful, the elections would be a move toward “democratization” in Sudan. But in fact, the election was massively fraudulent, hopelessly compromised by the manipulation of census results, registration, and voting; by the physical appropriation of ballot boxes; by widespread and paralyzing insecurity in Darfur; and by deeply intimidating actions on the part of the regime’s security services, which also guaranteed the NIF/NCP monopoly on broadcast media. In short, all the powers of the state were put in service of al-Bashir’s election. The most comprehensive Sudanese human rights assessments of the election and electoral irregularities were produced by the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (February 2010 and May 2010). The Darfur Peace and Development Organization produced a devastating critique of the census that undergirded the elections (January 2010). International observing teams, including the Carter Center, all found that the elections “did not meet international standards,” the euphemism most often deployed to characterize this travesty. Human Rights Watch was blunt in its account of the atmosphere for voting in the North: “Human Rights Watch found that the National Congress Party-dominated government continued to foster a restrictive environment during the voting period through harassment, intimidation, and arrests of activists, opposition members, and election observers.”

There was no move toward “democratization,” and the suggestion of a “run-off”—implying that al-Bashir would not use the state apparatus to secure at least a 51 percent majority—was the most foolish prediction made by any observer. Instead of “democratization,” what has followed is a more tyrannical political monopoly. The Khartoum regime emerged from the elections retaining full control of national wealth and power—and full control of the security services. The crackdown on human rights that has followed the elections has been severe and suggests just how manipulative Khartoum can be (some very small political space was carefully opened shortly before the elections, but not nearly enough to permit real political opposition to gather forces, as Human Rights Watch has made clear).

All this previous electoral history has bearing on the recent election in South Kordofan (May 2 – 4), and to suggest otherwise—as the Carter Center does in its report—reflects either a fatuous or tendentious view of Sudanese politics in this extremely volatile and militarily critical state on the North/South border. Indeed, the Carter Center report (hereafter CCR) does a particularly poor job in conveying the military realities defining South Kordofan, the Nuba Mountains in particular, and the implications for Abyei. The CCR authors would do well to read Julie Flint’s compelling and ominous report for Pax Christi (“The Nuba Mountains: Central to Sudan Stability,” January 2011) and the numerous authoritative reports from the Small Arms Survey. Although the CCR talks about insecurity and alludes to military issues, it does so in ways that convey none of the dangers that presently exist and have been so thoroughly chronicled in these and other reports.

To be sure, as a “technocratic” account of the elections, the CCR is of considerable value—but only as such. It rehearses a good deal of familiar but relevant regional history, legislative and otherwise. It reveals a clear and detailed understanding of the electoral procedures that were to have been followed, the role of the CPA and other agreements, as well as international humanitarian and human rights law. It offers a full narrative of the electoral milestones, though it seems to understate on a consistent basis the significance of electoral problems and controversies; and it nowhere acknowledges how fully the “National Election Commission” is controlled by Khartoum—a fact made abundantly clear during the April 2010 elections.

But the CCR fails fundamentally in appreciating the political context of the South Kordofan election, its importance for Khartoum, and the implications of key actions by senior regime officials (in a PDF document of 18 pages, less than one page is given over to “Political Background to South Kordofan Elections”). And yet this is where any meaningful assessment of the election must begin.

Fortunately, Africa Confidential (AC) has provided a highly informed account (May 13, 2011—complete text below) of just what is politically at stake in the election and which political calculations and electoral machinations determined its outcome. In this, the AC researchers are able to do what an entire team of Carter Center officials were unable to do, and their astute observations make clear that Khartoum was never prepared to allow its war criminal candidate to lose—South Kordofan is simply too important strategically.

“It was clear that Ahmed Mohamed Haroun had lost his bid to be elected Governor of Southern Kordofan when the National Congress Party sent Presidential Assistant Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e to Kadugli on 8 May, the day the results were supposed to be announced. Nafi’e, a former chief of security for whom Ahmed Haroun once worked, told the State Election Commission to declare him winner, say opposition sources. The Commission’s head, Adam Abdin, sought refuge with the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS). The results were rescheduled for 10 May and again delayed, as NCP operatives scrambled to produce new figures. Their methods included the invention of new polling stations: when challenged, the officials replied that voters had found it difficult to reach the other stations, a tactic used last year in Darfur.”

This extraordinary report—“The [State Election] Commission’s head, Adam Abdin, sought refuge with the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS)”—is inexcusably omitted from the CCR. Has this no suggestiveness for the Carter Center people? Abdin complained to the Sudan Tribune (May 7, 2011) “that the process of matching votes to registered voters is proceeding slowly and said there are proposals of forming additional committees to speed up the process.” These proposals went nowhere, and Khartoum was determined to brook no delay in announcing results it had already determined; this may account for Abdin’s reported flight following Nafi’e’s inevitably intimidating visit. Nor is there any meaningful discussion in the CCR of the Africa Confidential account of Khartoum’s behavior:

“NCP operatives scrambled to produce new figures. Their methods included the invention of new polling stations: when challenged, the officials replied that voters had found it difficult to reach the other stations, a tactic used last year in Darfur.”

The belatedly announced new polling stations are in fact acknowledged in the CRR—more than 25 altogether, some established only on the day of voting—but in peculiarly unconcerned fashion: “Better planning would help to prevent such issues in the future” (page 12). But if such added polling stations did spontaneously appear, this and other maneuvers could more than account for Haroun’s evident surge from behind (the Carter Center was able to observe, even very briefly, fewer than 25 percent of the polling stations). For as Africa Confidential notes:

“Initial figures obtained by Africa Confidential showed Governor Ahmed’s Deputy, Abdel Aziz Adam el Hilu of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, ahead by about 11,000 votes. His final lead was around 4,000, said an SPLM source on 11 May, claiming that the difference was largely due to NCP rigging….” [Al-Jazeera reported on May 6 that according to figures it had received, el-Hilu had a “comfortable” lead of 14,000, with only six polling centers of 666 still to report; The Sudan Tribune, May 6, 2011.]

Despite accusations of fraud from many quarters (including northern Sudanese political and academic figures—see appendix to this analysis), the CCR report concludes that the elections were “generally peaceful and credible,” and the Center did “not observe systemic irregularities that would invalidate the results.” But this conclusion ignores one of the CCR’s most troubling findings, one that may explain just how the manipulation of vote totals was achieved (we should recall that even the manipulated final results were very close):

“The Carter Center is concerned, however, that election officials appear to have chosen not to use the official database developed to handle the preliminary results. The database is programmed to reject results where the numbers do not reconcile and these results would then be quarantined and investigated before they could be entered. This process was bypassed by the [Kordofan] State High Election Commission, thus removing an important safeguard that can highlight anomalous results. Moreover, this software is used to post results, disaggregated by polling station, on to the NEC website. At the time of this report the results [sic], this has not happened.” (page 14; emphasis added)

Why was this available and task-specific database technology not deployed? The CCR offers no answer, and this highlights the importance of what Africa Confidential reports of these “preliminary results”:

“The National Election Commission said that the preliminary results could not be changed and the NCP slammed the SPLM ‘adolescent mentality’ for protesting. Northern opposition parties accused the NCP of fraud…. [T]he elections, delayed from last year after the SPLM challenged the census figures, benefited from few external monitors, the only widespread and systematic presence being that of the Carter Center.”

Khartoum was no more going to allow Haroun to lose than it was al-Bashir in the presidential election (al-Bashir is also under indictment by the ICC, including for genocide). To ignore this reality, to talk around it as the CCR does, to present so blandly and superficially the current political and military realities in South Kordofan, Abyei, and the North/South border regions, is deeply irresponsible and vitiates whatever usefulness the CCR may have had going forward. Africa Confidential again makes the essential point about South Kordofan and the election of its next governor:

“South Kordofan is the military backyard for Abyei (which has a special status within the state) and for Upper Nile, Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Unity states in the South, all of which it adjoins. ‘We are especially concerned about the alarming situation in Abyei’, said a 10 May statement by the Troika – Britain, Norway, United States. It called on the parties to ‘work together’ to tackle the ‘rising tensions’ in South Kordofan. As ever, it treated both parties even-handedly. The problem with that is obvious in Abyei, where the NCP has persistently reneged on agreements it has signed, exploiting international ‘neutrality’ to shift the situation to its advantage.”

This commitment to making all comments and observations as “even-handedly” as possible is indeed at the heart of Western diplomatic strategy. But Africa Confidential is right to argue that international “neutrality” is simply being exploited by Khartoum; for this is yet another case of an intolerable “moral equivalence,” in which the culpability for any and all problems lies equally with Khartoum and its adversaries in the marginalized regions. A recent and grimly illustrative example of this tendency comes from Darfur, where Ibrahim Gambari, head of the UN/African Union peacekeeping mission (UNAMID), responded to Khartoum’s most recent aerial attacks on civilians: “‘I call upon all parties to exercise the utmost restraint in the use of lethal force,’ Gambari said” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: UN/New York], May 18, 2011). But the Darfur rebels have no aerial military assets; and so to bring them within the ambit of his “call,” Gambari deliberately blurs the issue by referring not to deliberate aerial attacks on civilian targets (several villages have been targeted since May 15), but the broadest military designation possible: “lethal force.” Here it is important to keep in mind that Gambari, UNAMID, and the UN (as well as its most important member states) have all been largely silent over the more than 80 attacks confirmed so far in 2011 (see my comprehensive account of aerial bombardment of civilian and humanitarian targets in Sudan for the years 1999-2011).

But the key point for South Kordofan that is lost through moral “neutrality” or “equivalence” is highlighted with unrelenting acuity by Africa Confidential:

“The NCP cannot afford to lose control in South Kordofan. State governors have great power, which is why they are normally party men. They chair the state’s vital Security Committee. Several of the militias plaguing the South are based in South Kordofan (Meiram area) or in the northern part of Abyei, already ceded to the NCP by the 2009 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling. They include those of Abdel Bagi Ayii Akol Agany, a tribal chief-turned-warlord from North Bahr el Ghazal; General George Athor Deng, now warlord-in-chief; and Gen. Peter Gadet (Gatdet) Yaka, absorbed into the SPLA in 2006 but now again on the rampage.”

“The NCP is not about to stop sponsoring militias in the South. If it is to supply its proxies, including the Missiriya militias, it cannot afford to lose either Abyei or South Kordofan (AC Vol 52 No 9). It could live with the SPLM/SPLA controlling large swathes of the Nuba Mountains before the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, since the rugged hills are discrete and isolated. The Sudan savannah plains of the rest of Southern Kordofan are a different matter: they have long been the home of mechanised ‘strip farming’ by townsmen from further north. These plains are now politically and militarily critical to Khartoum’s attempts to retain Abyei and to its intervention in the South.” (“Indicted war criminal fights election,” Africa Confidential, May 13, 2011)

Not to understand this critical political context, and to see how that context has defined the South Kordofan election, is deeply irresponsible. For in the absence of other international observers, the Carter Center report is the only assessment being reported by wire services and other news outlets. Despite its acuity, the Africa Confidential assessment will be read by far too few to change the story line. The Carter Center has done a significant disservice to the people of Sudan, and South Kordofan in particular, by prematurely validating the results of the recent election without answering the questions raised by their own findings, in particular the failure to use the official spreadsheet designated for elections results, and designed to catch “anomalous results.” The SPLM did in fact complain about “non-reconciled results,” but got nowhere.

Even more importantly, the Carter Center needs to speak explicitly to the question raised by a critical finding of Africa Confidential: “The [State Election] Commission’s head, Adam Abdin, sought refuge with the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).” If such refuge was sought, we need to know why—and we need to know how it is related to the ominous presence in Kadugli of Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e, the most powerful of al-Bashir’s presidential advisors. That the Carter Center Report does not mention Adam Abdin or this incident is a sign of its fundamental shortsightedness.

APPENDIX 1:

Indicted war criminal fights election
Africa Confidential, May 13, 2011
http://www.africa-confidential.com/article-preview/id/3977/No-Title
Khartoum’s ruling party tries to hold on to its base in Kordofan, a springboard for operations in Abyei and the South

It was clear that Ahmed Mohamed Haroun had lost his bid to be elected Governor of Southern Kordofan when the National Congress Party sent Presidential Assistant Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e to Kadugli on 8 May, the day the results were supposed to be announced. Nafi’e, a former chief of security for whom Ahmed Haroun once worked, told the State Election Commission to declare him winner, say opposition sources. The Commission’s head, Adam Abdin, sought refuge with the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS). The results were rescheduled for 10 May and again delayed, as NCP operatives scrambled to produce new figures. Their methods included the invention of new polling stations: when challenged, the officials replied that voters had found it difficult to reach the other stations, a tactic used last year in Darfur.

Initial figures obtained by Africa Confidential showed Governor Ahmed’s Deputy, Abdel Aziz Adam el Hilu of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, ahead by about 11,000 votes. His final lead was around 4,000, said an SPLM source on 11 May, claiming that the difference was largely due to NCP rigging. In elections for the South Kordofan State Assembly, the NCP had won 22 seats, the SPLM, 10, he said. The 40% of seats reserved for women and political parties were still being counted and some predict a hung parliament. The SPLM says privately that it accepts a degree of NCP malpractice but will not back down on the gubernatorial election. Some in the SPLM believe it can become a major party in Northern Sudan.

The National Election Commission said that the preliminary results could not be changed and the NCP slammed the SPLM ‘adolescent mentality’ for protesting. Northern opposition parties accused the NCP of fraud. The SPLM had been able to reduce fraud by training thousands of party observers to cover the vast territory which includes the Nuba Mountains (SPLM heartland) and the Missiriya Arab lands to their west and east. Yet the elections, delayed from last year after the SPLM challenged the census figures, benefited from few external monitors, the only widespread and systematic presence being that of the Carter Center.

This looks like another mistake. The polls are crucial for several reasons. South Kordofan is the military backyard for Abyei (which has a special status within the state) and for Upper Nile, Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Unity states in the South, all of which it adjoins. ‘We are especially concerned about the alarming situation in Abyei’, said a 10 May statement by the Troika – Britain, Norway, United States. It called on the parties to ‘work together’ to tackle the ‘rising tensions’ in South Kordofan. As ever, it treated both parties even-handedly. The problem with that is obvious in Abyei, where the NCP has persistently reneged on agreements it has signed, exploiting international ‘neutrality’ to shift the situation to its advantage.

The NCP cannot afford to lose control in South Kordofan. State governors have great power, which is why they are normally party men. They chair the state’s vital Security Committee. Several of the militias plaguing the South are based in South Kordofan (Meiram area) or in the northern part of Abyei, already ceded to the NCP by the 2009 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling. They include those of Abdel Bagi Ayii Akol Agany, a tribal chief-turned-warlord from North Bahr el Ghazal; General George Athor Deng, now warlord-in-chief; and Gen. Peter Gadet (Gatdet) Yaka, absorbed into the SPLA in 2006 but now again on the rampage.

The NCP is not about to stop sponsoring militias in the South. If it is to supply its proxies, including the Missiriya militias, it cannot afford to lose either Abyei or South Kordofan (Africa Confidential, Vol. 52 No. 9). It could live with the SPLM/SPLA controlling large swathes of the Nuba Mountains before the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, since the rugged hills are discrete and isolated. The Sudan savannah plains of the rest of Southern Kordofan are a different matter: they have long been the home of mechanised ‘strip farming’ by townsmen from further north. These plains are now politically and militarily critical to Khartoum’s attempts to retain Abyei and to its intervention in the South.

By getting Ahmed Mohamed Haroun elected, the NCP also hoped to ‘cleanse its crimes in Darfur’, said an SPLM official: the former junior Interior Minister is wanted by the International Criminal Court on 51 counts of war crimes or crimes against humanity. The crimes have continued in Abyei.

APPENDIX 2:

A range of Sudanese political, academic and other voices have made their views of the South Kordofan election known. For its part, the SPLM has been quite specific in its claims about vote rigging, none of which is discussed in the CCR:

[1] “Vote-counting was supposed to proceed immediately after the polls closed, but the north Sudan sector of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which controls South Sudan, on Wednesday said it objects to the beginning of counting. The SPLM said in a press release that the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in north Sudan had a three-phase plan to rig the elections. It claimed that its members had found three rigged ballot boxes in the areas of Kadugli, Buram and Al-Quzair. On Tuesday, the SPLM claimed that three ballot boxes were seized in the area of Um-Battah in the state’s capital Kadugli. It also said that one polling station was relocated from the police club to Al-Merikh in Al-Bananusa in the geographical constituency number 7 without prior notice.” (The Sudan Tribune, May 4, 2011)

[2] “…the NCP [National Congress Party] rigged the gubernatorial elections in Southern Kurdufan [central Sudan] in favour of its candidate, Ahmad Harun. Dr Haydar Ibrahim Ali said on Monday [16 May] from Cairo that the NCP motive is to shield Harun from being arrested by the International Criminal Court [ICC].

[Ibrahim]: “The nomination of Harun specifically, was an attempt by the regime to do an action similar to what we can call money laundering. They wanted in one way or another to acquit Harun from the charges against him by the ICC. Therefore, the NCP has caught two birds without throwing a stone, rigging the elections for the second time, making the rigging exercise as part of Sudanese political life, and the third thing is jumping over the ICC charges.” (Text of report in English by independent, Nairobi-based, USAID-funded Sudan Radio Service, 16 May 2011 [Cairo])

[3] “A coalition of the national opposition parties in Sudan says they have doubts in the credibility of the Southern Kurdufan (central Sudan) elections. The coalition's spokesperson, Faruq Abu-Issa claims that the gubernatorial elections were rigged and warns of potential violence.”

[Abu-Issa]: “This area has suffered a lot; it is a very sensitive area which includes Abyei, terrible ethnical conflicts and the intermingling areas between south and north. Even the rigged election results itself, have shown that the SPLM [Sudan People's Liberation Movement] has strong presence in the region. Therefore, if we intend to let only one party to govern this region despite its known circumstances, and exclusion of the other party, that will continuously make the area encounter catastrophic consequences.”

[4] Notably, al-Jazeera reported on results two days after the voting was completed:

“Early results from the gubernatorial race in South Kordofan revealed a comfortable lead for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) candidate Abdel-Aziz Al-Hilu, news channel Al-Jazeera reported. Al-Hilu is running against the incumbent governor Ahmed Haroun who is the National Congress Party (NCP) nominee and also one of the suspects wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his alleged role in Darfur war crimes when he was Sudan’s minister for interior. Al-Jazeera said the figures it obtained showed that the SPLM’s candidate is ahead by 14,000 votes after counting all but results from six polling stations. It did not say whether the remaining centers would be a game changer. (Sudan Tribune, May 6, 2011)

Eric Reeves has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade. He is author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.

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