Sudan Monthly Report

Current issue
April 15, 1998


  1. Chronology
  2. IGAD talks arouse anxiety
  3. Slovaks show interest in Sudanese plight


March 16: Sudan will co-operate with a UN human rights delegation that has been visiting the country since Tuesday, a senior official was reported as saying yesterday in the first official mention of the visit. Khartoum regards the current mission as "an appreciated step in the right direction," Mr Ahmed al-Mufti, a rapporteur of Sudan's advisory council on human rights, said, as quoted by the official Suna news agency.

16: Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir has ordered several ministries to "reconsider immediately" confiscated Egyptian property in the latest sign of improved ties between the two countries. The order on Saturday was widely seen as paving the way for the return to Egypt of residences, schools and the Khartoum branch of Cairo University which have been confiscated by the Sudanese government since 1992.

17: The 114 Sudanese prisoners of war captured by Ugandan troops in April last year rioted over the weekend, demanding to be returned home. The prisoners of war currently being held at the Makindye military barracks near Kampala, have been causing trouble to the Ugandan military since last November, the army's director of Information, Captain Shaban Bantariza, has said.

17: Sudan has claimed that it captured two Ugandan military intelligence officers and paraded them on state-run television in Khartoum. Uganda has admitted that the officers were on a surveillance mission along the common border. The two are currently being held in Khartoum by the Sudanese authorities.

18: An unidentified flying object crashed in a flurry of sparks and smoke near villages south of Khartoum, according to witnesses cited by the Al-Rai al-Akher daily. One witness from Masoudiyah said villagers saw "a blindingly bright object falling from space onto the earth, leaving sparks and smoke behind".

19: A Sudanese diplomat was stabbed and slightly injured by a compatriot at a Moscow airport while working with a Russian official on the deportation of three Sudanese, an official said today. Mr Khalil Serbal, the consul at Sudan's Embassy, had taken documents to Moscow's Sheremetyevo-2 airport at the request of Russian authorities who were deporting three illegal immigrants from Sudan, said Mr Yasir Abdalla, a spokesman for the embassy.

19: Former Sudanese Prime Minister Sadiq el-Mahdi will return to Sudan soon, ending his self-imposed exile in Eritrea, the official daily al-Jumhuriyah has reported. The paper quoted what it called a high-level source in the government as saying "el-Mahdi's return will not take long".

21: Ethiopian foreign minister ruled out improvement in relations with Sudan until it hands over the three gunmen implicated in the 1995 assassination attempt on Egyptian president. "Sudan's refusal to comply with the demands of the United Nations and the Organisation Of African Unity for the extradition of the terrorists has strained the relations between the two countries," Mr Seyoum Mesfin said.

21: Sudan's foreign minister has been quoted as saying he would visit Egypt next week amid progress in efforts by both countries to repair strained ties. Mr Mustafa Osman Ismail told the London-based Arabic newspaper al-Hayat that he would come to Cairo on Monday for talks with his counterpart Amr Moussa on outstanding issues.

24: A group charged with implementing a peace accord between Sudan's Islamic government and seven southern rebel factions met yesterday for the first time, in a step that could lead to a referendum on the fate of southern Sudan. The Southern Sudanese Co-ordination Council, formed last month, has 25 members, including President el-Bashir, vice president Ali Osman Mohammed Taha and 10 governors of southern states. It's president is Riak Machar.

25: Foreign Minister Osman Ismail today said Egypt and Sudan had overcome political, security and economic differences and were moving closer to normalisation. Mr Ismail was speaking to reporters in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak before the start of a two-day Arab League foreign ministers' conference which Sudan is attending.

27: Bloody clashes erupted in Sudan's West Darfur state when Arabs attacked three villages of non-Arab Mesaleit tribe in the vicinity of al Ginaina, the state capital, a private newspaper has reported. The Akhbar al Youm daily paper said the casualties from clashes had not been assessed.

30: Sudan's parliament has approved a draft constitution that maintains a ban on political parties and keeps in place rule by Islamic law. All 298 members of the National Assembly who were present voted to endorse the draft constitution, which states that Islamic law will remain the source of all legislation in Sudan. The remaining 102 members of the assembly were absent.

31: Armed men, in Khartoum, abducted the publisher of a private Sudanese newspaper and warned him they would burn its offices and press if it printed more articles on "mafia" usury, the daily reported today. The men offered Al-Rai al Aam's board chairman and publisher, Mr Ali Ismail Atabani, a lift as he was walking to the mosque on Friday, but when he got into the car, one of the "mafia" gang put a pistol to his neck and he was threatened by the gangsters, who also insulted him, the paper said.

April 1: President el-Bashir will send troops to western Sudan to maintain order following tribal clashes in which more than 20 people were killed, press reports said. "The government will discharge its duty and send troops to west Sudan to maintain order and impose the state's authority," Gen. Bashir was quoted as telling a gathering of non-Arab Aringa tribesmen.

1: The Sudanese government has decided to "temporarily" lift its ban on aid flights to Bahr al-Ghazal region and has appealed to the international community to pressure southern rebels to accept a cease-fire. Foreign minister Osman Ismael told a press conference in Khartoum that the move was meant to "create a suitable atmosphere for the peace negotiations" later this month in Nairobi.

1: The UN children's agency has praised the Sudanese government for helping to fly home to Uganda 17 people who escaped from Lord's Resistance Army rebels in southern Sudan.

2: Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) has welcomed a decision by the government to allow relief flights to resume into all areas of Bahr el-Ghazal province where 350,000 people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. The government suspended all flights into the region on February 4 following the outbreak of hostilities around the town of Wau.

6: Thirty-one Sudanese army recruits drowned when a boat carrying them capsized on the river Nile near Khartoum, the official Sudanese News Agency (SUNA) said today. Suna quoted sources at the national service co-ordination agency as saying the boat sank in the Blue Nile on Thursday.

6: Different groups of people in Sudan are reacting differently to the introduction of the internet to the country. For the conservative forces, the service has come to spread moral pollution and they want the company that provides access to the information superhighway from Khartoum to be closed down. But people connected to the internet say they are amazed at the amount of information available on the World Wide Web.

6: Col. Garang has announced his support for a cease-fire "on humanitarian grounds" but "lamented that the other side used the opportunity to re-arm and organise its forces," the official Kenya News Agency has reported. The Nairobi office of the SPLA said that Garang's comments were neither an acceptance nor a rejection of a cease-fire call by Khartoum.

6: Sudan's government plans to allow the formation of political parties if they are committed to the "fundamentals" of a planned new constitution, press reports said. Khartoum is planning to hold a referendum later this month and early May on the controversial draft constitution, already passed by the national assembly.

7: The death toll in a boat accident in the Blue Nile has risen to 55 and some 260 army recruits remain unaccounted for, a newspaper reported today. On Sunday a military statement said the boat had capsized without mentioning how many were aboard it.

8: Latest WFP Emergency Report says that people in Sudan's Eastern Equatorial province are leaving their homes for refugee camps in Uganda and Kenya due to increased fighting. Fighting has also increased in Western Upper Nile, displacing large numbers of people, and resulting in parts of the province remaining inaccessible to WFP and OLS.

9: Hundreds of thousands of south Sudanese face one of the worst famines in their history unless they receive vital crop seed and farm tools in the next few weeks, UN aid agency officials say. The South Sudanese, already heavily reliant on aid agencies for food because of a long-running civil war, need to prepare their land and plant this year's crops ahead of the rainy season due to begin at the end of April.

10: President el-Bashir has said that the students who do well in university entrance exams can suspend their compulsory military service or finish it later in order to attend university. Sudan had previously required students to sit for entrance exams and then go straight into compulsory military service for two years, after which they enrolled in university.

14: Sudan's military regime has set up a committee to investigate an accident in which scores of young military recruits drowned, Khartoum newspapers reported today. Rescue workers have retrieved 55 bodies from the April 2 drowning in the Blue Nile near the Ailefoun military camp, some 30 kilometres Southeast of Khartoum.

14: The justice ministry said in a statement published in the press that autopsies performed on the retrieved bodies showed drowning as the cause of the death - after reports that fleeing conscripts were shot dead by military instructors and guards.

14: A press statement issued after yesterday's weekly cabinet meeting, chaired by president el-Bashir said that compulsory national military service "remains the vehicle through which all sons of the Sudan will discharge the duty of defending the nation, alongside the armed forces and popular defence".

14: A renowned Islamic scholar has bitterly criticised the "harsh relentless" implementation of the compulsory national service, which he blamed for "the catastrophe in which 60 young men have died". Mr Tayeb Zain al Abdin, a political science lecturer at the University of Khartoum, in an interview published by Al Rai al Aam daily, lamented that; "not a single official bothered himself with going to the scene to see how the catastrophic accident occurred".

14: Massive food aid is reaching southern Sudan overland and more is on its way through airdrops, a senior relief official was quoted as saying. Some 34 truckloads of food arrived recently at Raja, in Bahr el-Ghazal, for distribution in the troubled region, Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Hussein al Obeid told the official Al Gamhouria newspaper.

15: International aid agencies have said a famine in Sudan was worsening and thousands of people were at risk unless more food was delivered. "We are dealing with a potential disaster and we expect it will get worse," WFP field supervisor Mr Claude Jibidar told Reuters.

15: A force of around 4,500 Ugandan rebels, former soldiers of the late president Mobutu Sese Seko and some SPLA deserters are encamped in Garamba National Park, around 60 miles from Uganda's border, a report in the Guardian newspaper says. The report says that the force is being supplied by airdrops from Khartoum and that the NIF is supporting the three groups.

IGAD talks arouse anxiety

Next round of peace talks on Sudan, under the aegis of the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), is supposed to be held in Nairobi this month. That the month is already half way, yet no specific dates have been announced, has left many wondering whether they will be held as scheduled.

Equally tasking to the minds of all the stake holders in the Sudanese crisis is the likely outcome of the talks. Since the last meeting took place in the Kenyan capital on October 28, 1997, a lot of water has passed under the bridge. However, not much that has unfolded has been in the spirit of national reconciliation and reconstruction of Africa's largest state.

For the last 15 years, the Khartoum government has waged a war against southern rebels under the John Garang-led Sudanese People's Liberation Army SPLA). The war and its attendant consequences have, to date, claimed not less than 1.4 million lives and displaced thousands of others. In the latest publicised military offensive, the Khartoum government early last month bombed a hospital at the rebel-held town of Yei. The offensive left at least seven people dead and several others injured.

The attack came hot on the heels of a failed attempt by the rebels to capture Wau, the second most important town in the south after Juba. It also followed the surprise re-defection of Kerubino Kwanyin Bol to the SPLA. Kerubino is reported to have been instrumental in the SPLA's failed bid for Wau. The attack on the hospital could only be seen as an act of revenge. Earlier, Khartoum had on February 4, 1998 imposed a ban on all relief flights to the war-ravaged Bahr el-Ghazal region, further aggravating the miseries of the war victims. The lifting of the ban three weeks later could not have come at a better time.

It is obvious that each of the warring parties would like to go to the negotiation table with an apparent upper hand on the battle ground. With a stronger position on the battleground, analysts believe, one is bound to hold sway in the talks.

Both the government and the SPLA have in the recent years tended to launch major military offensives in the early months of the year, when it is dry and movement is easy. The attack on Wau could therefore be only the beginning of things to come.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who is one of the key players in the regional initiative, recently expressed little hope of a breakthrough when the talks resume. He accused Khartoum of exporting the ideology of intolerance, claiming that "many in leadership believe that all answers to the world's problems, including those in Sudan, have to be found in the Koran".

His sentiments were more or less the same as those that saw the US impose economic sanctions on Sudan in November last year. The US accuses Sudan of international terrorism and human rights violation.

Former Sudanese premier Sadek al-Mahdi has hinted on the possibility of an Arab-Islamic role in efforts to resolve the conflict. Though al-Mahdi is now in alliance with Garang, his views are not popular within the SPLA ranks. To them, buying such an idea would tantamount to endorsing the government's claims about non-Islamic forces teaming up against an Islamic state.

Perhaps, the only pointer towards national reconciliation was the recent cabinet reshuffle that saw a number of southerners land ministerial positions. Among them was former prominent opposition figure Dr Lam Akol, now minister for transport and communication. But even this raises a number of questions. For instance, aren't these appointees bound to be viewed by the southerners as traitors keener on self aggrandisement than the interests of the majority? Sudan, being what it is, will it be possible for them to speak their minds and advocate for the rights of the southerners?

A good number of the new ministers are also not directly linked to the National Islamic Front Party led by the all-powerful national assembly speaker Hassan al-Turabi. A no-nonsense spiritual leader, al-Turabi is believed to be one of the major stumbling blocks to Sudanese peace.

That IGAD is the best forum for solving the Sudanese crisis, is a belief held by many including the revered South African president Nelson Mandela. However, mutual suspicion coupled with either the unwillingness or inability of the body to see it's wish prevail, make attainment of peace elusive.

It is about time the combatants trusted non-military approach to end the conflict. Whereas success in a battle or two may raise one's bargaining power, the price in terms of loss of lives and property is unacceptable. Ordinary Sudanese are simply tired of war now.

Charles Omondi

Slovaks show interest in Sudanese plight

Mr Marian Caucik is the chairman of Movement of Christian Children Communities (ERKO), a Slovak NGO which funds projects in Africa. He recently (March 20-25, 1998) conducted a five-day feasibility study in Sudan where his organisation intends to get involved. Charles Omondi interviewed him in Nairobi.

What is your background and that of your organisation

I was born 32 years ago in Slovakia, in central Europe. Slovakia was created following the division of the former Czechoslovakia. I am a founder member and current chairman of the Non-Governmental Organisation Movement of Christian Children Communities (ERKO). Erko was officially launched in 1990. We were working with children under the communist regime but such activities were not legalised then and we had to operate underground.

At Erko, we try to encourage the youth in our Christian parishes to meet other children during their leisure time and help raise funds for charitable projects. Erko is one of the greatest children's organisations in Slovakia today with about 5,000 members.

What has prompted your involvement in Sudan

Our organisation is co-operating with an Austrian NGO called Katholischen Jungschar which is involved in fund-raising activities for projects in developing countries. They have done this for more than 40 years and Sudan is one of the countries with their projects. Katholischen Jungschar supports the southern Sudanese Catholic Diocese of Rumbek.

Following the example of our Austrian friends, we started projects in the developing world three years ago and we are now actively involved in mobilising Slovak children to raise money for projects in Africa during the Christmas season. We have a street children's project in Nairobi, and this year, I and a project officer from Austria were sent to assess the situation in Uganda and Sudan, with a view to expanding our activities to these areas. In Sudan, we had an extensive tour of the Lake provinces in the company of the Apostolic Administrator of Rumbek, Monsignor Caesar Mazzolari. We have seen the suffering of the Sudanese and concluded that they surely deserve our assistance.

Your motherland has also had its share of political upheavals, how do you compare the level of misery there, if any, to what you witnessed in Sudan.

Ours was previously a communist regime that denied people certain rights and privileges. For instance, the church was not allowed to conduct its activities freely. However, the system did not affect the people to the levels of the Sudanese situation. The changes we have today were not brought by war but just political pressure. Even under communism we always had adequate food, access to healthcare and so on. In Sudan, I have witnessed a lot of suffering. The country is still at war and there is virtually no infrastructure in place, no healthcare, no shelter, you name it. Right now (March) people in the areas I visited are surviving on mangoes and it remains anybody's guess as to what will become of them as soon as the mangoes are over.

What is your next plan of action for Sudan.

We will hold a series of meetings back home in which I will brief the rest on my findings. We will then discuss and draw our plans on how we can help improve the situation. Last December, we raised about $110,000 part of which was allocated to the street children's programme in Kenya. The rest of the money is still in our account. Sudan definitely needs a lot of assistance and it is my strongest conviction that part of the money will be utilised for their cause.

Exactly how do you raise the money for your projects

During the Christmas season up to around the second week of January, our group leaders organise their members and visit people's homes where they sing Christmas carols and are in return given some little money as a token of appreciation. Such activities are referred to locally as Dobra Novina. There are more than 300 parishes, bringing together about 9,000 children. In the last season, they visited about 25,000 families, raising about $110,000.

Do you get any assistance from the Slovak government.

Not directly. The government gives us some support as a children's organisation but not for our projects. Slovakia is not a donor country and may only provide stipend to a few students.

Is Erko also involved in charitable activities back at home

Only under certain circumstances, not regularly. For instance, if our country is in need of relief, we may call upon our parishes to organise Dobra Novina.

When do you hope to go back to Sudan for a follow-up

I would not know at this stage because that is subject to a number of considerations including security and the cost of travel. My impression, however, was that I should go back as soon as possible. The people of Sudan are in need and they surely need somebody to be with them at this time of immense difficulties, even if it is only for a few days. It was apparent that our presence and presence of Msg. Mazzolari, just like the presence of Church, did a lot to lift the people's spirits. The churches are doing commendable work in southern Sudan but the NGO presence is still minimal.

What would you suggest as a solution to the Sudanese crisis

Sudanese problem is a difficult one. But first, the warring parties must agree to lay down their arms and resort to dialogue. They have to agree on what can best serve their diverse interests even if it means autonomy for the south. The international community too must accept that they have a role to help end the war in Sudan. For the time being, the Khartoum Government must allow free access to all areas in need of relief assistance as a way of demonstrating their commitment to reconciliation.

What was your general impression about of southern Sudan and the people you met

It is a land of great potential. The southern Sudanese are a very friendly people, their poverty not withstanding. I feel that if they can be assisted in their needs, they can get the confidence of being even friendlier. We visited four missions and were equally impressed by the missionaries and all the volunteers working there. Their work is commendable considering the difficult conditions under which they operate.

Bethany House, P. O. Box 21202, Nairobi, Kenya
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