December 31, 2005

Conflict clouds 50 years of Sudan independence

By Opheera McDoom

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan commemorates 50 years of
independence on Sunday, but some question if the African nation
racked by conflicts and dependent on foreign aid and
peacekeepers should really be celebrating.

In 2005, Sudan ended Africa's longest civil war in its
south with a peace deal on January 9, ushering in hopes of an
era of stability and development in one of the poorest areas on

The south has been devastated by conflict for all but 11
years since Sudan's independence as southern Sudanese, feeling
marginalized after Anglo-Egyptian rule ended in 1956, struggled
for more autonomy from the northern Islamist government.

"The 50 years did not deliver anything to us, so we are
starting now on January 9 ... I think that is the start of the
independence of Sudan," said Rebecca Garang, a southern
minister and the widow of late southern rebel leader John

But with other conflicts in the western Darfur region and
the east in full flow, southerners are not the only ones to
feel left out of celebrations to mark the anniversary, which
will include a special parliament session and a parade in

Rebels from Darfur, currently negotiating a separate peace
deal, say Arab tribes living along the Nile have dominated
power since colonial times and demand a share in central

"Every president since independence has come from three
central tribes -- we have been constantly marginalized," said
Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur, a leader of the main rebel

The conflicts in Sudan's south and west have prompted a
huge influx of foreign aid and troops in an attempt to
stabilize Africa's largest country.

The south's post-war reconstruction has drawn pledges of up
to $4.5 billion and a UN peacekeeping force more than 10,000
strong is being deployed to the region, an operation which will
cost $1 billion in its first year alone.


In Darfur, mostly non-Arab rebels launched a revolt three
years ago accusing the central government of discrimination and
of giving Arab tribes preferential treatment.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands, forced more than
2 million from their homes and sparked the United States to
level accusations of genocide against Khartoum. It has cost
billions in foreign aid, with more than 11,000 aid workers in a
region the size of France.

The African Union has more than 6,000 troops in Darfur to
monitor the conflict and the International Criminal Court is
investigating alleged war crimes there.

"We have a record of how many armies you have in one
country," said Hassan al-Turabi, an opposition Islamist and
former ally of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. "Would you call
that independence?"

"(Sudan) is just sitting there under foreign armies, under
foreign welfare, the threat of foreign sanctions and foreign
justice as well," Turabi said. "So is Sudan that independent
after so many years of so-called independence?"

Some in Sudan blame the colonial legacy for its 50-year
history tarnished by conflict because of the artificial drawing
of borders. Britain educated only the central tribes to take
over government and united people within the Sudanese borders
with little in common.

But others say half a century was more than long enough to
rectify the wrongs of colonialism.

"It's our fault -- it would not be fair to throw the blame
on history," Turabi said.

Garang said she hoped the next five decades would transform
Sudan into a democratic country, free of poverty and war.

"You will judge me after the next 50 years," she said.