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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Sudan: News & Views, 23

Sudan: News & Views, 23
Date Distributed (ymd): 970224
Document reposted by APIC


Issue No 23, January 1997 (Excerpts)

'Sudan News & Views' is an independent electronic Newsletter working to advocate peace, human rights and humanitarian aid for the Sudan. Editor: Dr. Yasin Miheisi. Distribution is free of charge. Reposting and reproduction are allowed (with acknowledgement). Comments and Subscription Requests To:

All issues of SNV, and a variety of additional information on the Sudan, can be obtained from the following web site:

Excerpted here: Sudan Government Faces a Major Opposition Challenge, Sudan and Ethiopia, Tensions with Neighbours

Not included here, but available in full issue: Arab and International Reaction, Sudan's Armed Forces, Economic Pointers, Short News Items


The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), along with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), launched its first combined major offensive on Jan. 12.

In a surprise attack, which started 5.30 a.m. Sunday 12 Jan., the SPLA forces , deploying heavy weaponry, captured Kurmuk and Gaissan, two key garrisons on the border with Ethiopia.

Simultaneously, a joint force of the NDA under a joint military command composed of the Umma Party, the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party), the SAF (Sudan Alliance Forces), the Beja Congress, and the Tana Brigade of the SPLA, managed to capture the army garrisons at Yakuru, Babsheer and Menza in the northern Blue Nile area.

In less than a week, the opposition joint forces had advanced to within 30 km of the key eastern town of Damazin, site of the main hydroelectric dam which supplies Khartoum with most of its power. En route, the NDA forces managed to seize several towns and garrisons in the Blue Nile area which also include Al-Kali, Daim Mansour, Shali al-Fil, Ora, Abu Shanena, Maban, Kotneb, Togan, Yarda and Darfa.

On a separate front, NDA forces attacked along the Eritrean border near the town of Kassala. and captured the army garrison of Godamayeb.

According to NDA statements, their forces managed to destroy four Sudan army brigades, and they now control around 1,500 square miles, or 15 per cent of Blue Nile state. The government only admitted to losing the towns of Kurmuk and Gaissan

Garang, speaking by satellite telephone from near Kurmuk on the Ethiopian border, told reporters that, in addition to killing 1,260 government soldiers, rebels seized a large quantity of weapons, including tanks, artillery pieces and ammunition. He, however, had lost 92 fighters.

A communique circulated on 23 Jan., and signed by Dr. John Garang, chairman of the NDA Joint Military Command, said they captured 12 T-55 tanks, eight 122mm howitzer guns, nine 120mm mortar bombs, three 12-Matra 107mm rockets, six 106mm anti-tank guns, fifteen 82-mm mortar bombs, forty nine rocket-propelled grenades, four American-made bazookas, thirty three DSHK machine guns, thirty four PGM guns, 677 AK-47 rifles, 212 G3 rifles, 20 lorries, 12 field communication radio sets and a huge quantity of assorted ammunition and a quantity of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines.

The advance of the opposition forces was met with little resistance from the government army, which seems to retreat infront of the NDA advance. The only instance of resistance occurred at the town of Keili, 100 km south of Damazin where the government sent an army detachment to try and block the opposition advance towards the dam. In a fierce battle that took place, 150 government troops were killed. In Maban garrison the government troops fled from the area beforehand.

More than a thousand members of the government army militia, the Popular Defence Forces (PDF) had surrendered and are now fighting along opposition forces.

Initially, it was reported that the objective of the offensive is to pressure the Khartoum government and pave the way for a popular uprising. It was also indicated that an objective on the northeastern front was to cut communications between Khartoum and Port Sudan, the country's only big port.

Following these initial successes, the NDA forces seem to have lost their momentum and the situation on the eastern border remained calm for the past few weeks. The opposition's stand, however, is to continue the war until the regime of Omar al-Bashir is overthrown.

The offensive was a big blow to the regime, which had always dismissed the opposition as ineffective and could not pose a military challenge. Although, proved wrong by the recent developments, the Khartoum government insisted on maintaining the same line and accused Ethiopia of invading the Sudanese territory.

The government announced a general mobilization and called for a jihad to fight the 'invaders.' For two weeks, hundreds of trucks of army recruits and volunteers, including students and women, have been heading to the front.

Several demonstrations were held in the capital in support of President Omar el-Bashir's call, but the turnout was small with only several hundred people attending each rally.

'What is going on in the eastern front is a Zionist, imperialist plot being implemented by Eritrea and Ethiopia aimed at setting up a secular African state in Sudan instead of the present state,' said Bashir addressing a rally of supporters waving axes and copies of the Koran in the air. Bashir promised to liberate every inch of the homeland and drive the invaders out. 'The army now has the initiative on all fronts and the next few days will witness the complete destruction of the Tigrean (Ethiopian) troops,' he added.

The government media began to publish vague reports of army victories, which had been denied by opposition sources who described them as 'blatant lies designed to boost the low morale of its forces'.

'The armed forces have made a big advance at the battle fronts,' said the government newspaper al-Sudan al-Hadith. 'They have confined the Tigrean (Ethiopian) forces to a narrow area to the west of the towns of Kurmuk and Gaissan, forcing the Tigrean forces to retreat to rear positions.'

The Sudanese government-owned al-Ingaz al-Watani newspaper said Sudanese forces killed 63 Eritrean soldiers and seized a large amount of arms in the eastern state of Kassala. It did not say when.

Although the president and his ministers vowed that celebrations of Eid al-Fitr (marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan) will be held in Kurmuk, the Eid passed (8-11 February) without the promised counterattack by the government taking place. The media had even been instructed not to refer to this promise. The only action from the government was dropping several off-target bombs from high-altitude Antonov warplanes on areas lost by the army.

The focus of preparations for the army's counterattack has been Blue Nile capital Damazin, where thousands of recruits were amassed in the small town. In addition, more than 30,000 thousand displaced by the fighting, sought refuge in Damazin, causing severe strain on the town's limited resources. Thousands others were also reportedly crossing over into Ethiopia to escape the fighting.

Continuing his call for everyone in the country to support the government in its military efforts, the Sudanese leader requested all federal and state ministers, governors and the directors general of national corporations to go and lead the Mujahedins in the war. 'I want all ministers, governors, and directors to be in the front lines. They are the first to die,' he said.

So far, about 10 out of the country's 26 governors, and several ministers, have reported to Damazin.

Unsure of the army officers' allegiance, the government is heavily relying on the PDF. This was highlighted by the appointment of a civilian, Omar Abdel Marouf al-Majzoub, as minister of state for defence. Majzoub was a popular defence and national service coordinator and also a member of the National Islamic Front.

The opposition's hope for a popular uprising had not materialized either. A few incidents of protests however were reported.

Students at the University of Sudan demonstrated on campus on Jan. 15 and 16 in support of the NDA but were dispersed by the riot police. During the demonstrations, the students carried placards calling on the government to step down. 'Welcome (SPLA leader) Col. John Garang, down with the Islamic government,' read one placard.

All universities were closed on Jan. 15 to allow students to participate in the holy war. Only 250 students from the University of Khartoum answered the call.

Leaflets also appeared in the streets of Khartoum criticizing the government's record since it seized power in 1989 and calling for mobilization against it. The leaflets were in the name of the old trade unions

The state security forces arrested hundreds of politicians, trade unionists and students in major towns all over the country.

Although under extreme pressure to liberate the occupied areas, the government seems to be hesitant to risk launching a counterattack. The wait is probably for arms shipments from Iran and China to arrive. A confrontation in a decisive battle between the government and the opposition forces is now inevitable.


The Sudanese government has accused Eritrea and Ethiopia of involvement in 'a Zionist and imperialist plot' to overthrow the regime.

The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs however, denied the allegation adding that, 'No one knows better than the Sudanese authorities themselves that the accusation has no basis and that Ethiopia has no hand in what is obviously a military setback suffered by the authorities in Khartoum. Sudan is trying to externalize its internal military debacle' The statement issued by the ministry 14 January said.

Relations between Sudan and Ethiopia deteriorated following the assassination attempt against Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa in June 1995, in which Sudan is implicated.

The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs notified 8 January all Sudanese diplomats in Addis Ababa that they were no longer allowed to go outside the city.

The move came in response to a 'provocative and malicious' statement made by Mr. Ali Hassan Ali, the Sudan Charge d'Affaires to Somalia. In its letter to the Sudanese government, the ministry accused Mr. Ali of having, 'Urged Somalis to take up arms and fight Ethiopia in a Jihad (holy war) to counter the recent operation by Ethiopian armed forces against the fundamentalist Al-Ithad Al- Islami group'.

The letter noted that the statement made by Mr. Ali was seen as 'a hostile act directed against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ethiopia and as such would like to request the Government of the Sudan to disassociate itself from the provocative statement by its diplomat in Mogadishu.'

The war of words between the two countries continued unabated, and Sudan threatened to activate the tens of thousands of Ethiopians and Eritreans who live in Sudan and are opposed to their respective governments.

'Inshallah (God willing), we are not going to keep silent. We will respond badly to those regimes which are plotting in Asmara, Kampala and Addis Ababa,' the Sudanese President, Omar Hassan al Bashir, said. 'We will give arms to their opposition leaders,' said the Sudanese leader on national television.

When Hassan al-Turabi was asked by al-Quds newspaper reporter whether they will supply the Ethiopian and Eritrean opposition with weapons to change the regime in their countries, he answered 'Yes. The opposition is already armed'.

Justice Minister, Abdel Basit Sabdrat, repeated Sudanese government charges that Ethiopia and Eritrean forces were behind the fighting. 'There is an Eritrean plan to set up a state including parts of Sudan, Djibouti and the three islands (disputed with Yemen),' he said. 'And Ethiopia is a thorn in the Arab community of the Red Sea.'

Sudan's ambassador to Britain, Omer Bareedo, added the United States and Israel to the list and accused them of encouraging neighbouring countries to attack it.

Bareedo said some 20 tanks and 6,000 soldiers took part in the offensive, using 'the tactics of a regular army not a guerrilla war.' 'The magnitude of the operation is not available to the guerrilla movement,' he said. 'The attacks are quite systematic'.

The Foreign Minister, Ali Osman Taha, on a radio interview said, when asked whether he has evidence to prove charges of Israel's involvement, 'The plane that went down some weeks ago off the Comoro Islands coast - an Ethiopian plane with a number of Israeli experts on board - was direct evidence of this presence'.

Despite the heated Sudanese rhetoric, and Bashir's statement that all political and diplomatic channels to Ethiopia had been closed and the only thing left now was the power of the gun, reliable sources revealed that Sudan had send a high-level delegation, led by Qutbi al-Mahdi, Minister of state for Security Affairs and a former ambassador to Iran, in a secret visit to Addis Ababa on the end of January.


Under pressure, as a result of the opposition's attack on the eastern border, Sudan had turned to its enemy, Egypt, for support. The Sudanese regime tried to play on Egyptian concerns over the Nile waters, by claiming that 'the foreign invasion endangers Arab security and Sudan's neighbours, especially Egypt'.

On Jan. 18, two days after receiving Vice President Zubair Mohamed Saleh, the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, publicly rejected Khartoum's claims of foreign invasion. He said there was no Ethiopian or Eritrean attack on Sudan, but all Sudan's troubles are internal. Mubarak also ridiculed contradictory behaviour by Sudanese leaders. 'The Vice-president is here asking for financial and military help, while Hassan al-Turabi is insulting us in the newspapers at the same time.'

The opposition NDA welcomed, with relief, Egyptian neutrality.

The situation with the southern neighbour, Uganda, is however more explosive and is set to deteriorate even further. The Sudanese officials and media accused Uganda of preparing for war with Sudan. Government newspapers reported, on a daily basis, a military build-up by Uganda along Sudan's southern borders. It claims that at least 3,000 troops, backed by 20 heavy armoured vehicles, are massed in the Agoro area inside Uganda, waiting to attack the towns of Torit, Kaya and Kajokaji in southern Sudan.

Sudan, extremely nervous of the Ugandan moves, asked both Iran and Kenya to mediate with Uganda, in an attempt to prevent opening another front in the south. The tensions, however, escalated when Uganda accused Sudan of bombing areas in northern Uganda on Feb. 14., in which one woman was killed and six wounded.

President Museveni told reporters that the solution for the problems with Sudan will be in the 'battlefield'.

Meanwhile, a war of accusations has also erupted between Sudan and its western neighbor Libya.

Libya has officially requested for Sudan to hand over 12 Libyan Islamic extremists hiding in the country. The Libyans are believed to be hiding in Sudan to escape prosecution for killing Libyan security officers last year.

Libya has threatened to cut diplomatic ties with Sudan over the issue, according to reliable sources, who added that Sudan has promised to hand over the 12, but failed to do so.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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