Southern Sudan accuses north of planning genocide

Southern Sudan has broken off talks with the north after accusing Khartoum of arming and directing militia attacks that have killed hundreds of people in the south in recent weeks.

The leadership of what will become the world's newest country in July has accused Omar al-Bashir's government of deploying Darfur-style tactics and planning a genocide to reclaim power in southern Sudan.

A serious escalation of violence across the south has seen hundreds of people killed in large-scale attacks by rebel militias and skirmishes across the future north-south border.

The upsurge in fighting comes as complex negotiations were due to resume on the terms of the divorce which will split Africa's largest country in two.

Forces loyal to rebel general, George Athor, attacked the southern army in the town of Malakal in the oil-producing Upper Nile State on Saturday with casualties on both sides. Unconfirmed reports said the rebels had abducted more than 100 children from an orphanage.

Warnings of fresh clashes have been flooding out of the disputed province of Abyei where at least 70 people died and villages were razed earlier this month. Analysts warn that the two Sudans face a Kashmir-style conflict over the contested area which is claimed by the southern Dinka-Ngok tribe and northern Misseriya Arabs.

"The country is in a crisis because the (northern ruling party) has been planning and working to destabilize Southern Sudan," Pagan Amum, a senior official in the South's ruling party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), told reporters yesterday. "We have nobody to talk to (in the north)," he added, before claiming that Khartoum has "been arming Arab tribes... so that they carry out genocide and destroy Southern Sudan... like what they have done in Darfur."

A twenty year civil war laid waste to southern Sudan before a peace deal in 2005 gave southerners the chance to vote in a referendum on secession from the north. That poll was held in January and saw a nearly total vote in favour of separation.

While the preceding struggle largely pitted rebel forces from the south against the Arab-led government in the north, much of the fighting was carried out by militias used as proxies by Khartoum. The legacy of that internecine fighting and a tradition of tribal conflicts among the different groups in the south have created a constant low-level crisis in much of the would-be country. This crisis is consistently blamed on the machinations of the north.

Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for using similar proxies to carry out war crimes in the Western region of Darfur.

In the six years since the peace agreement thousands of people have died in armed clashes across the south and a myriad of militia groups continue to operate in the size of France.

The north has denied any role in arming or directing the violence and a senior official with Mr Bashir's National Congress Party dismissed the latest accusations as “ridiculous”.

Splitting Sudan presents a host of complications including the division of spoils from the oil industry which is the country's economic staple. The majority of the known oil deposits lie to the south of the future border but the infrastructure for extracting it all points north. UN officials overseeing north-south negotiations are pushing for a “peaceful divorce” in which the mutual reliance on oil creates a “shared destiny”. Those negotiations now have just four months to thrash out a working model for two separate countries.

The climate of mutual distrust and Sudan's complex internal politics are expected to make for an uncomfortable birth for the new state in the south. Meanwhile the government in Khartoum is increasingly vulnerable to internal dissent and faces popular protests similar to those that have swept much of the Arab world.

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