China and North Korea Supplying Arms to Khartoum and the SPLM

Fred Oluch
It is no longer a secret: Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) -- which runs the semi-autonomous south -- have been building up their armies ahead of the 2009 elections or the 2011 referendum when the South will choose whether to secede from the north.

There have been reports that Khartoum has been purchasing arms from China and North Korea, including fighter jets and tankers, while the South, suspecting that Khartoum is bent on scuttling the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), has been preparing for any eventuality.

A veteran journalist based in Khartoum, Adil El-Baz, confirmed to The EastAfrican that both sides are preparing for war because of the shaky peace deal and the oil deposits in the South.

According to Mr El-Baz, there is still much controversy about the boundary of the North and the South, especially around the oil-rich Abyei. Thus, should the separation be confirmed in 2011, there could be war over the oilfields that are mainly in the South.

Khartoum and SPLM have been having an uneasy relationship over the implementation of the 2005 peace deal, especially over Abyei.

But the suspicions were kept under wraps until recently, when pirates hijacked a Ukranian ship with a cargo of arms destined for Mombasa, but which the US Navy officials claimed were headed for Southern Sudan. Both SPLM and the Kenya government have denied this claim.

Moreover, Sudanese ambassador to Kenya, Majok Guandong, told The EastAfrican there are no signs that the two sides could go back to war, arguing that the implementation of the CPA is gradual and that both President Omar al-Bashir and Vice President Salva Kiir are committed to making it work.

"Sixty per cent of the CPA has already been implemented while the rest is going on gradually, so there should be no need for a war. However, after 21 years of war, the issues cannot all be addressed within three years," he said.

The debate comes as various political parties in the country converged in Khartoum last week to discuss the restoration of peace in the troubled western section of Darfur, the east and the south.

SPLM insists that it is dedicating its resources to reconstruction and infrastructure development, while Khartoum has taken a rather lukewarm view of the reported shipment to Southern Sudan mainly because it is still preoccupied with the decision of the International Criminal Court to indict President al-Bashir for war crimes in Darfur.

At a recent rally in Juba, al-Bashir said that even though Khartoum is working hard to make unity attractive, the decision on whether to separate or remain within a united Sudan rests solely with the southerners.

Still, Khartoum recently summoned the ambassadors of Ethiopia and Kenya to Sudan regarding the alleged arms shipments to Southern Sudan. It expressed its astonishment that the two countries, which are also members of Igad, could be used as conduits.

The Sudan Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims that an Ethiopian military plane arrived at Juba Airport on October 10 loaded with weapons.

There are unconfirmed reports that assorted arms have passed through Kenya destined for Southern Sudan. What is more, they were given an armed escort by the Kenyan authorities.

Sources in Nairobi maintained that the semi-autonomous South has the capacity to purchase its own arms directly without using Kenya or any other country as a conduit.

However, the CPA states that the replenishment of ammunition, weapons and other military equipment is only allowed if it is approved by a north-south Joint Defence Board.

During the war, the SPLA mainly relied on supplies from Uganda and Eritrea.

But despite working together within the Government of National Unity, suspicion between North and South remains high, with either side second guessing the long term strategies of the other.

Still, the two sides were in solidarity in May when the Darfur rebel outfit, the Justice and Equality Movement, attacked Omdurman with the aim of marching to Khartoum and overthrowing the al-Bashir government.

Analysts say that should the North and South go to war again, it would energise the almost vanquished Uganda rebel group, the Lord's resistance Army, who during the war were used by Khartoum to destabilise the SPLA position in the south.

A source working in Juba intimated that the average southern Sudanese are looking forward to delinking from the north with the hope that it would cut off the Khartoum stranglehold and improve their lives, but those in leadership positions do not want to go back to the war now that they have tasted government goodies.

There is a growing unease, especially among the former SPLA who fighters are getting restless that they are not getting worth what they sacrificed for during the war. For instance, those who have money would prefer investing in Kenya and Uganda because the future is uncertain.

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