As soon as the National Congress Party (NCP) is declared winner of this month’s Sudanese elections, attention is expected to revert to conventional friction points like Darfur, Abyei, and Southern Sudan, where elements of a fragile 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) remain at risk.
Sudanese-born Mohamed Suleiman is president of the San Francisco, California Bay Area Darfur Coalition, which holds rallies to raise American public awareness about Sudan atrocities and prompts U.S. policymakers to tighten sanctions against incumbent President Omar Hasan al-Bashir.
Suleiman says that the Bashir government is likely to try and use its newly won legitimacy to deter secession by the south in next year’s planned referendum, to thwart southern claims to lucrative oil revenues near the disputed border town of Abyei, and to discourage pressures to bring President Bashir before the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face war crimes charges.
“If the south elects to secede, this means that the oil wells will go to the south, and the north will not make that easy. So many, many observers think that war might be inevitable if there is any problem with the referendum,” he said.
Suleiman says he thinks that the almost certain victory this year by the ruling Nation Congress Party will embolden Sudanese government leaders to act aggressively on all fronts as long as they believe the international community views the outcome of the vote as legitimate and is reluctant to tighten resistance to the policies being pursued by the newly elected government.
“They will feel empowered because what Bashir’s government and the NCP are shooting for in these elections is to have some kind of international legitimacy because the west thinks that to avert war is to be nice to the NCP, and they’re hoping that the NCP will be nice to the southerners in 2011 for the referendum, and that will make the secession easy,” he observed.
Instead, says Suleiman, Khartoum will be prepared to go to war if necessary to prevent the south from seceding and it will justify its actions by touting its commitment to preserving the unity of the nation.
The major leverage the international community has on the Sudanese leader is the case of international war crimes charges and possibly additional charges of genocide being considered by the I.C.C. Suleiman says President Bashir’s legal problems are the main tool that governments trying to safeguard southern Sudan’s bid for a referendum can hold over President Bashir to make him carry out terms of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
“Bashir hoped to attain elections that by gaining legitimacy that he can drive some kind of deal to abolish or put the I.C.C. arrest warrant on the back burner. But al-Bashir is willing to sacrifice the country to save the regime. So if he sees that the I.C.C is seriously pursuing him, he may resort to some desperate actions, like reigniting Darfur and definitely on the border of the south and north, also there will be insecurity or violence there between those areas,” he warned.
Suleiman says fighting over the weekend between the south Sudan army and various Arab tribes from Darfur near the border of the southern state of western Bahr al-Ghazal in which at least 55 deaths were reported could be the first sign of Khartoum’s determination to push the international community to make a deal with him.
Listen to Mohamed Suleiman's interview with VOA's Howard Lesser