London, Khartoum ,Asharq Al-Awsat – Informed Sudanese military sources have disclosed to Asharq Al-Awsat that a silent arms race is currently taking place between the two ruling partners in Sudan, the National Congress Party [NCP] led by President Omar al-Bashir and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement [SPLM] headed by First Vice-President Salva Kiir.
There are three possible scenarios which analysts say can all precipitate revival of the war which lasted for decades and ended in 2005 with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement [CPA]. But military experts in Khartoum played down the danger of a new war and said there were no signs of an imminent conflagration.
The belief in the existence of secret arms procurement programs was revived lately when Somali pirates commandeered an Ukrainian cargo vessel carrying a shipment of 33 tanks and heavy weapons. Many believe the cargo was destined to South Sudan, despite assurances by Ukrainian and Kenyan authorities that these vessels belong to the Kenyan Army. Diplomatic and military Sudanese sources close to both sides say that the government’s army in Khartoum and the SPLM forces in the South are trying to stockpile weapons for fear that incidents of violence and certain scenarios in the coming years could lead to renewal of the conflict–despite denial by both sides of this.
An informed Sudanese source told Asharq Al-Awsat that the weapons shipment on the Ukrainian ship was indeed destined to South Sudan, according to his information. “This is not the first time in which such shipments are discovered, for there were three earlier shipments,” he said. He said the SPLM relied in its armaments on the Ukraine and other parties, and that the government’s army was also continuing its arms procurements through China and North Korea. Retired General Dr Muhammad al-Abbas al-Amin, a military expert who heads the Department of Strategic Studies at Khartoum’s Al-Zaim al-Azhari University, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the weapons on the commandeered ship has removed the veil of secrecy from the issue of armaments.
The clauses of the CPA forbid either side to refurbish its weapons or ammunition without the consent of the Joint Defense Council. But experts say no one abides by this clause. Both North and South Sudan consistently deny they are building their armies or violating the CPA. Relations between North and South have remained tense since the 2005 agreement. There have been several clashes between the forces of both sides the last of which was in May over the disputed oil-rich Abyei region which each side claims. Sudanese sources close to the SPLM tell Asharq Al-Awsat that there are three scenarios for which the SPLM is preparing. The first is that influential Northern Sudanese quarters might back SPLM chief Salva Kiir who will run in the presidential elections against President Omar al-Bashir. If this happens, Salva Kiir’s victory would be probable. This could prompt the NCP to intervene to protect al-Bashir and change the result in a scenario that could be identical to what happened in Kenya and Zimbabwe during the last presidential elections. This could lead to clashes and conflicts and perhaps revival of the war.
The second scenario could develop after the referendum on the South in 2011 under the 2005 CPA. If the Southerners vote for separation, the Northerners might get infuriated and clashes and revival of the war would be possible. Even if the Northerners agreed to the separation, a third scenario could come through claims for areas adjacent to the South if either side moves to annex them. This could spark a new war. The future of Abyei could be a flashpoint. Despite all this Sudanese military experts affirm that there are no signs that a struggle between North and South has become imminent. On the contrary, the two sides have managed to ease tensions on Abyei and have showed some unity on an attack launched by Darfur rebels on Omdurman in May and in opposing efforts by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to try al-Bashir on charges of committing war crimes in Darfur. Experts in Khartoum say there is no arms race in the acknowledged sense because of the large difference in favor of the North in the resources required for this. They think it probable that the SPLM imports of weapons is tied to local struggles within the SPLM or tribal conflicts. General Muhammad Bashir Suleiman, a former Sudanese Army spokesman tells Asharq Al-Awsat that the idea of an arms race is not relevant. He says the North has factories for the production of tanks and aircraft “so how can the SPLM catch up with all this?” He believes that SPLM resort to armaments at this time is difficult to explain in terms of seeking to create a balance with the North. But former General Muhammad al-Abbas al-Amin said the issue of the weapons in the commandeered ship has unveiled what is going on behind the scenes. He told Asharq al-Awsat that the outstanding issues between the two partners, such as the North-South borders and the Abyei dispute, and the 2011 referendum is what justifies resort by the SPLM to arming itself. Al-Amin asserts that the seized weapons belong to the SPLM army, which depends for its armaments on the former Eastern Bloc, and is not related to the Kenyan Army which has a Western orientation.