Some Notes on The Sudan

By Bill Turnbull W.F.
A map of The Sudan based on information from ReliefWeb (UN)
The present war in the Sudan began in 1983 but became worse in the late 1980s when the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) gained strength and intensified their campaign. Over two million people have died in the civil war since then - 90% of them were civilians. The Government exploited ethnic rivalries by creating tribal militias. As the war intensified more civilians were displaced - internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees - especially Southerners who fled the fighting and sought refuge in various towns such as Juba, Malakal and Wau. 1989 brought the National Islamic Front (NIF) coup and further escalation of the war.
In the early 1990s there were splits within the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/SPLA), inter-ethnic fighting between Southerners and military offensives by Government resulted in more people being displaced. The South Sudan Independence Movement/Army broke away from the SPLA in 1991. In 1992 the Government's Popular Defence Force (PDF) army, which is made up of various ethnic militias, resumed attacks on the civilian population in Bahr al-Ghazal when they reopened the railway between the north and south of Sudan. The Government offensive which followed in 1993 removed the SPLA from several areas.
Internally Displaced People (IDP)
Last year, 1999, there were about 4.5m. IDPs in the Sudan - the largest number for any country in the world. (1) The population of the country, especially in the South, has been targeted by all the factions/forces which are involved in the civil war. (2) As happens in many wars the civilian population is caught between the Government troops and the various opposition groups. These all rely on the people for support, including that of food, and if it is believed that they support the opposition then retaliation is taken on them - 'scorched earth policy'.
In the South the inter-factional fighting has intensified these actions and where, according to some estimates, up to 1.5m. people are displaced. This has all disrupted the production of basic food crops in the war zones and when there are natural disasters, such as drought and flooding, then the situation is worsened. When humanitarian relief and medical facilities are denied to the people then there is little hope left. The result is that people attempt to move away from the war zones to find safety. There has also been the forced relocation of the population by both sides and even the deliberate demolition of displaced settlements. Food has become a weapon of war in the Sudan - in 1998 2.6m were on the edge of starvation. (3)
In March, 1999, there were about 1.8m displaced people, from Southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains, in the official camps and the squatter settlements around Khartoum - about 40% of Khartoum's population, according to a UN estimate. The official camps were created by the Government in 1991. The people have to rely on labour for wages to buy their food as they do not have any land to cultivate. 30% of the IDPs do not have access to medical services and many have no safe drinking water or sanitation. Between 50 and 70% of school age IDP children do not attend and they also make up a large percentage of Khartoum's 10,000 to 15,000 street children.
Those who live in the squatter camps have an even more precarious life than those in the official camps. They are liable to have their shelters demolished by the Government, under the relocation policy which began in the late 1980s. This entails destroying the 'informal settlements' and relocating the people in temporary camps on the city's outskirts. Between 1992 and 1998 three quarters of a million people have been forcibly removed from the Khartoum area. The policy has been intensely enforced since the 'National Displaced Conference', held in February, 1990, when the Government said it would clear the city of all unauthorised settlements.
The Government defined the legal situation of IDPs in Khartoum in 1987. Then a distinction was made between 'squatters' and 'displaced' people with 1984 as a watershed. Those who arrived in Khartoum before 1984 were defined as 'squatters' and they had the right to settle. Three resettlement camps - known as 'Dar es Salaam' or 'Peace Villages/Cities' - were created for them in Khartoum, Khartoum North, and Omdurman. Those who arrived after 1984 were known as 'displaced' people and they had no right of residence, to build permanent shelters or to own land in Khartoum. Later 'peace camps' were also created for the 'displaced'. The term 'displaced' was later redefined in May, 1990, and became to mean those who had arrived in Khartoum after 1990.
'Peace Villages'
The concept of 'Peace Villages' has been employed by the Government in various parts of the Sudan since 1991. They are part of the 'Comprehensive National Strategy' to promote 'peace from within' and to achieve self-sufficiency in food production. For example, there are an estimated 72 'Peace Villages', with a total population of 173,000 (1999), in South Kordofan State which is mainly under Government control. 60% of the people in these 'villages' are thought to be Nubians. Food production, health services, water and sanitation are inadequate in the villages and 41 of them, with a population of 105,000, are considered 'vulnerable' by the UN.
Since 1992 the Government have been clearing the population of the Nuba Mountains. This has been done by blockading the mountains, which stops the Nuba people getting out and relief agencies getting in. Government forces then capture the people and forces them to live in the 'Peace Villages'. These are often situated close to Government garrisons and intensive agricultural schemes - the people are controlled by the former and used as cheap labour in the latter to produce export crops. The people who remain end up leading a nomadic life in danger of starvation.
Operation Lifeline Sudan
Many of the internally displaced people are helped by Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS). OLS is an organisation made up of the UN (4) and various international NGOs. It is the main means by which humanitarian aid reaches people in the Sudan. The OLS is officially one unit, managed by the UN from Khartoum, but in practice it is divided into two sectors the Northern (Government controlled area, UN managed from Khartoum) and Southern (area controlled by opposition forces, managed from Nairobi). It negotiates with the various sides to allow the humanitarian agencies to distribute aid in the war zones.
The OLS began in March, 1989, after a UN-sponsored conference on relief operations held in Khartoum. It was formed in response to the need to assist the IDPs and after the 1987-88 famine which claimed the lives of about 0.75m people. It grew out of basic work which was done by the Government and especially the UN after the latter arrived in September, 1988. Gradually OLS has built up a framework for its activities and both the Government and the SPLA have agreed to establish 'corridors of tranquillity' for safe passage of OLS relief. In its second phase the OLS expanded more into the South at the end of 1992.
Peace Moves
The South Sudan Independence Movement and several smaller factions from the south concluded 'the Khartoum Agreement' with the Government in April, 1997. 1999 saw more peace initiatives. There was a new round of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) (5) talks in Nairobi, 19-24 July, 1999, but they ended without any breakthrough. It was then announced, on the 5th. August, that they would observe a seventy-day cease fire. The Government and SPLA then extended this by declaring a cease fire of three months on 15th. October 1999. This was generally respected in Bahr al-Ghazal and Lakes, but there were reports of violations in other parts of the country.
There have also been other peace initiative on Sudan such as a joint Egypt-Libya attempt and talks involving South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki. In early December, 1999, Sudan and Uganda agreed not to support rebel groups which have bases each other's countries, and to respect their territorial integrity. The two Presidents, Omar Al-Bashir (Sudan) and Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) signed an agreement to this effect during talks in Nairobi, Kenya, which were mediated by Jimmy Carter, the former American President.
Parts of the accord include returning prisoners of war, the locating and repatriation of refugees and people who have been abducted, an amnesty for combatants who renounce the use of force, the disbanding and disarming of the rebel groups, and opening of diplomatic missions in each capital.
Uganda broke off diplomatic relations with Sudan in 1994. The situation between the two countries was caused when Uganda accused Sudan of aiding the 'Lord's Resistance Army' and the 'Allied Democratic Forces' who are trying to overthrow the Government of President Museveni. In turn Sudan accuses Uganda of supporting the 'Sudan People's Liberation Army' (SPLA) which is fighting for the autonomy of the southern part of the country.

Sources - The Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), Washington DC., USA; United Nations Agencies; US Committee for Refugees ( USCR); Human Rights Watch; Amnesty International; Vigilance Soudan; Voice of America; The Independent; information on IDPs at

Foot Notes: (1) The figures in plain text are from USCR, those in italics from UNHCR, and those within brackets are the people helped by UNHCR. At the end of 1998 the estimated number of Sudanese refugees, a total of 350,000, in neighbouring countries was as follows: 34-35,000 [34,000] in Central African Republic, 8,700-10,000 [8,600] in Chad, 30-31,200 [22,000] in D. R. Congo, 1,900-2,000 [1,900] in Egypt, 48,200-60,000 in Ethiopia, 45-48,200 [48,000] in Kenya, and 170-189,800 [169,800] in Uganda. Many more Sudanese exiles live in the various countries but do not have official refugee status. In its turn the Sudan is host to about 360,000 refugees from surrounding countries, the estimates are as follows: 4,400-5,000 from Chad, 330-3,000 [330] from D. R. Congo, 320-342,300 [147,300] from Eritrea, 30-35,600 [11,900] from Ethiopia, and 2,000 from Uganda. Return

(2) The Sudanese Army (Popular Defence Force [PDF]), the SPLM/A, SPLA (SPLA, SPLA United, SSIA). Return
(3) Concern was expressed by many when the US government passed a law to supply separate aid to the Rebels in Southern Sudan. Return
(4) OLS coordinates work between various UN agencies such as WFP, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Return

(5) IGAD includes Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda. Return

This article appeared in "White Fathers - White Sisters" (UK), issue 351, of April-May, 2000.

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