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Report Warns of Renewed Threat of Conflict in Central Sudan

A new International Crisis Group report is warning of a growing risk of conflict in the Sudanese state of Southern Kordofan, along the border between northern and southern Sudan. The report says such a development could unravel the 2005 peace agreement that ended the north-south civil war. Derek Kilner has more from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi.

The state of Southern Kordofan is literally at the center of the country's north-south dispute. Following a 2005 peace agreement that ended a two-decade civil war, it was created as a new state, within the boundaries of northern Sudan.

But the population is heavily polarized. The Misseriya Arabs were mobilized by the northern government during the civil war, while the Nuba, a black African community, aligned itself with the Sudan People's Liberation Army rebels to the south.

The former rebels who now govern the semi-autonomous southern government effectively control much of the state, and the question of who will retain control is a growing concern before national elections scheduled for 2009 and a referendum on southern secession in 2011.

A new report by the International Crisis Group, entitled "Sudan's Southern Kordofan Problem: The Next Darfur?", says tensions between the communities have grown as the National Congress Party and the southern SPLM, who are sharing power in a transitional national government, stir ethnic tensions before the elections.

The report says creation of an integrated state government has been too slow, and key aspects of the 2005 peace agreement that called for reconciliation and peace building in the region have not been pursued. It says frustrations are growing, and with the plentiful supply of firearms in the region, armed conflict may not be far off.

The Horn of Africa director at the International Crisis Group in Nairobi, Fouad Hikmat, says that a failure to avert conflict in Kordofan could undermine the legitimacy of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

"It is a region that used to be on the front lines," he said. "And now it is a frontline for peace rather than a frontline for war. And if the Comprehensive Peace Agreement fails to find a resolution to the conflict there then that puts a very big question of how can it be a framework for resolution in Darfur, given that the same factors that were there in Darfur, we can see them today in southern Kordofan."

The report calls for international donors to push the two parties to act immediately to ease tensions in the region, noting that it will be difficult to hold successful elections, scheduled for 2009, under the current circumstances.

Hikmat warns the Misseriya will soon move south to graze their cattle, bringing them into territory occupied by supporters of the SPLM.

"Last year and the year before there were a lot of clashes," he said. "And this year we expect that these clashes are going to be more, given the accumulation of grievances and that there is already people now calling for resistance and a sort of a new insurgency in the making. So with all these factors, we think that the situation now is more dangerous than last year. So if they do not act now very, very quickly, I think we might see more disputes over land, more clashes between the tribes."

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said in a report released Tuesday that a rise in violence in the western Darfur region of Sudan has displaced nearly a quarter of a million people this year. The report also described a rise in attacks on aid workers in 2008.

The United Nations is struggling to deploy a peacekeeping force to Darfur. Fewer than 11,000 troops of the 26,000 authorized for the mission have arrived.