Can Muslims and Christians live together? Peter Moszynski believes that the Sudanese government's war against the Christian South is an old fashioned war for resources; but Bishop Mandagi of Ambon, reports Felix Corley, believes that in his diocese in Indone sia he is witnessing a full-scale Jihad funded by Libya and Iran
AID FOR millions of civilian war victims in South Sudan may be in jeopardy following Khartoum's threats to deny access to relief supplies flown in from outside the country by Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) and other aid operations.
The 10-year-old aid lifeline is one of the largest relief operations in history — a ground breaking arrangement that brings assistance to people on both sides of the conflict. In the current year it is aiming to deliver over 100,000 tonnes of food to 2.4 million recipients.
The OLS consortium is organised by the United Nations (Unicef and the World Food Programme) but also involves other humanitarian NGOs working in Sudan.Other agencies, such as Catholic Relief Services and Caritas operate outside the OLS umbrella, and are now placed in an even more difficult position by Khartoum's bellicose stance, which has included air raids on relief flightson the ground in Souch Sudan.
Cafod spokesman Rob Rees commented: "We are seriously concerned about any interruption to the flow of aid which is literally a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of pesphsl.s completely dependent on outside assistance."
In scale and in number of air operations OLS is bigger than the Berlin airlift — with thousands of flights responsible for feeding almost half the population of Southern Sudan,
Following the massive publicity over the 1 9 9 8 famine, media attention has almost completely dwindled, but this unprecedented effort has finally begun to show dividends, resulting in a reduction in malnutrition rates in the worst affected areas from 30 to 15 per cent over the past year. Whilst malnutrition rates have been reducing amongst the droughtaffected population, the figure for refugees has been steadily climbing.
South Sudan has been completely devastated by this seemingly endless conflict. This is the second civil war since the country became independent in 1956. The first was ended after a previous 17 years of conflict by a compromise peace agreement in 1972. but fighting soon resumed after then President Numeiri tore up the Addis Ababa agreement and imposed Islamic law across the country in 1983.
Although the war is usually seen as "the Arab Islamic north verses the African, Christian and animist south" the reality is much more complex and centres on the continuous abuse of political Islam by northern politicians who fail to recognise that they live in a multicultural, multiethnic, multireligious country.
In reality the conflict is an old-fashioned resource war, centred on oil, land and water. A further dimension is added by the history of slavery: the northerners first came in contact with the south during 19th-century slave raids, and most northerners still refer to their African brethren as ahid (meaning slaves).
According to Unicef, Sudan currently: "hosts some 4 million internally displaced persons, the largest IDP population in the world. Widespread abuse of human rights, including denial of access to humanitarian assistance, attacks on civilians and abductions of women and children. 500,000 to 2 million landmines dispersed; child soldiers recruited by both sides of conflict"
Now unprecedented attacks from the Khartoum government — both verbal and physical — and a series of intemperate articles in the Sudanese press are threatening the operation, with Khartoum alleging that the aid agencies have been helping to arm and feed the rebel Sudan People's
Liberation Army.Khartoum is insisting that in future no more aid flights come from outside the country.
As virtually the entire food supply to South Sudan originates in the OLS Southern Sector base of Lokichokkio in northern Kenya, any disruption to the supply chain is likely to have catastrophic consequences for a population who have become increasingly dependent on outside supplies. If the threats are carried out and there are no more flight clearances for next month —just at the time of the greatest food deficit the hungry season in the period between planting after the rains and the harvest at the end of October — aid workers fear there could be a widespread famine.
ALREADY several aid agencies have pulled out following attacks on their aircraft and facilities on the ground in the past few weeks. On August 2 the medical charity MSF announced: "Following the bombing of the village of Alcuem in southern Sudan by
governmental forces, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has been forced to suspend its activities in this area (north of Bahrel-Ghazal). The centre of Akuem consists of approximately 100 resi
dences and a dispensary around an airstrip. On July 28, 2000, an aircraft dropped three bombs that landed about 200 yards from the runway where an MSF plane was situated. Thirty minutes later the same aircraft returned to the vicinity and released another three bombs, which landed 500 yards from the health centre. The centre was clearly identifiable by a large MSF flag."
There are credible reports that Khartoum has moved medium-range radar units into Juba, less than 200 miles from Lokichokio, where the humanitarian flights originate. There are also reports of "spotters" stationed north of Loldcholcio, transmitting by radio descriptions and coordinates of planes flying into Southern Sudan. With Antonov bombers in the skies in various sectors of the South, the Sudanese military is now able to track — and attack — any aircraft it chooses. Previously, there had been no radar in Southern Sudan and Khartoum had been entirely dependent on registered flight plans, which give it a great deal of information, but not enough to attack humanitarian aircraft while they on the ground.
The government's recent bullishness partially stems from the breakdown of a humanitarian ceasefire in the worst famine-affected area of Bahr el Ghazal, where a series of SPLA attacks have led to a string of government defeats. Some commentators also blame the current policy of constructive engage meat by Britain and others who are keen to give Khartoum the benefit of the doubt after the removal of hard-line National Islamic Front ideologue Hassan el Turabi from the government, which seized power in a 1989 military coup.
Although Khartoum has been trying to distance itself from the hardliners, the government is still keen to present itself as the victim of an victim of antiIslamic crusade. This month is the second anniversary of the El Shifa bombing, when US cruise missiles destroyed a Khartoum pharmaceutical plant, allegedly in retaliation for terrorist attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Although the CIA intelligence that led to the plant being suspected of being a chemical weapons factory has now been fairly comprehensively discredited — and malaria rates have soared with the current unavailability of domestically-produced prophylactics (el Shifa was the largest medical factory in Africa, and few Sudanese can afford the cost of imported anti-malarials) — Washington has refused to admit its mistake. The plant's owner is currently suing the US government for damages.
Khartoum broke off rein tions with Britain after Tony Blair applauded Clinton's actions (without previously checking with the Foreign Office) and Britain has only recently been able to reopen its embassy in Khartoum. Westminster is keen to push the Sudanese government towards a dialogue to end this horrendous conflict through a regional peace initiative, but an end to the fighting now seems further away than e4er. Most commentators believe that the only way to end the war is either by dividing the country or by installing a secular non-Islamic constitution, neither of which is acceptable to Khartoum.
UN Assistant Emergency Relief Coordinator Ross Mountain held a series of emergency meetings with government officials at the end of July, where he discussed the breakdown of the humanitarian ceasefire in Bahr el Ghazal, Southern Sudan, and relief operations under OLS. He announced that he was, "very pleased to be assured by all government officials of the importance placed on the continuation of OLS". Despite reports run in the Sudan media criticising the operation and claiming the UN official had "admitted" violations by relief agencies, Mountain said the government demonstrated, "full recognition of the impartiality and transparency of the operation ofthe UN and the NGOs under the consortium".
"I reject any allegations that OLS is not doing its job. The quotations attributed to me are fabricated," Mountain also commented. He said the UN was "disturbed" by the "highly distorted view" reported in Sudan of his meeting with senior government officials.
Although OLS has been told that fights for August had all received clearance, no such assurances have been received for September, and the future of aid deliveries still hangs in the balance.
Even if the humanitarian operation is allowed to resume, Cafod's Rob Rees believes: "This recent turn of events does not bode well for the success of peace negotiations. The Khartoum government is upping the ante and hampering any progress towards peace."