Sudan regime survives partition, troubles loom

KHARTOUM, Aug 9, 2011 (AFP) - One month after allowing the south to secede, Sudan's government has not reaped the hoped-for rewards but it has so far resisted strong international pressures and mounting domestic challenges.

Khartoum was expecting to be swiftly removed from the US terror blacklist, as Washington promised, in return for its cooperation over January's referendum and the resulting independence of South Sudan on July 9.

AFP - The President of Southern Sudan Salva Kiir addresses the opening of newly independent South Sudan's parliament in the capital Juba, on August 8, 2011

An easing of sanctions and help with its crippling debts were also hoped for.

But none of this has happened yet, while the ongoing conflict in the ethnically-divided border state of South Kordofan has focused unwanted foreign attention on Sudan's internal problems.

An angry exchange of accusations on Friday between Khartoum and Washington, where loud voices are calling for the deployment of peacekeepers to avert government-sponsored "genocide" in South Kordofan, laid bare the deep mistrust between the two countries.

"There is a general view in Sudan that the Americans are not up to their commitments, and they're just buying time, in order to put pressure on the government," a senior member of the ruling National Congress Party, Ibrahim Ghandour, told AFP.

"Many politicians here feel that the idea of regime change is still at the forefront of the American political plan," he said.

In stark contrast, China, Sudan's biggest trade partner, sent its Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi to Khartoum this week for a two-day visit that reaffirmed Beijing's unwavering support for the cash-strapped government and its protection in the UN Security Council.

Prior to southern independence, some commentators were predicting a bleak future for President Omar al-Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity in the war-torn Darfur region.

Bashir demonstrated once again, on Sunday, that the ICC charges fail to prevent his international movements when he flew to Chad for the inauguration of President Idriss Deby Itno, after having travelled to Riyadh, Doha, Beijing and Tehran in the past two months.

But with the involuntary loss of the oil-producing south, other serious domestic threats to Bashir's regime are looming, analysts say. These include divisions within the NCP, spiralling inflation, and two major conflicts within Sudan's new borders.

"Internal challenges are the priority for Bashir, more than international isolation," said International Crisis Group's Sudan expert Fouad Hikmat.

"At the moment, stability in the north is maintained by coercion, by the use of force, by brutality, by continuation of the war in Darfur, by trying to defeat militarily the SPLM in the north, which he cannot," he added.

The president himself admitted, in a speech to parliament after the secession of the south, that the north was entering a new phase, and called for "perseverance and patience" until things improve.

Ordinary Sudanese are certainly feeling the pinch, with the government introducing an austerity package to reduce Sudan's unaffordable subsidies, after the gaping loss of southern oil revenues, estimated at some 36 percent of its previous income.

The tussle with South Sudan over oil transit fees, with which the north hopes to offset its losses, prompted the Port Sudan authorities to block a southern oil shipment last week, aggravating already fraught relations between Juba and Khartoum.

But arguably the most telling indication of troubles at the top are the cracks within the ruling party itself.

At the end of June, Nafie Ali Nafie, Bashir's top adviser and number two in the NCP, signed an accord with Malik Agar, the leader of the SPLM north, that raised hopes of a permanent settlement to the South Kordofan conflict.

Three days later, it was rejected by the NCP leadership, allegedly for recognising the former rebel group as a legitimate political party and because the NCP is not supposed to sign security agreements.

Shortly afterwards, Bashir ordered the army to continue fighting until it had cleared the state of rebels.

Ghandour says there are no divisions within the party, and that the framework agreement was rejected for legitimate reasons.

"This party is governed by institutions... The Addis Ababa framework agreement was signed before it was blessed and supported by the leading bureau of the party. When it was discussed, the leadership unanimously" rejected it, he said.

But others dismiss this explanation.

"They have to show unity, because they know that the situation at the moment is extremely fragile," said Hikmat. "Very clearly, people saw there was a division... and it is very dangerous to have that at a very senior level."

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