Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why Nation Forgets the Armistice Day

The end of the World War I on 11th November 1918 is marked by the annual commemoration of the Armistice. Our politicians pay no attention to it. They think, "We have nothing to do with it. It was the white man's war." It was their war. But 44,500 black Kenyans died in it. That is not for ignoring.

These dead and others who survived, were in the Carrier Corps, a critical component of the logistics of the war. The British Army in Kenya and Tanganyika was completely dependent on the Carrier Corps. Motor lorries were in their infancy, and the reliable and efficient carriage of ammunition, food and materials depended wholly on the porters of the Carrier Corps. Over 162,000 Kenyans served in it. Kariokor in Nairobi (and Mombasa) is named after the Corps. Their Memorial is on Kenyatta Avenue, Nairobi. It calls them "the feet and hands of the army." All this is not for ignoring.

Every November, paper poppies, a symbol of the World War I battlefields in Western Europe, are sold in aid of Kenyan ex-Servicemen. My grandfather won medals in this war. Each November, I wear a poppy. Not because he was in Flanders, but for his service in Taru Desert "fields where no poppies blow." He drove railway trains between Mombasa, Voi and Makindu, as a Second Lieutenant on the Uganda Railway. He carried key reinforcements, necessary supplies and prisoners-of-war through German attacks and sabotage. He was mentioned in Dispatches.

The memorials for World War I later merged with those for World War II, 1939-1945. These ceremonies are now often held in the Commonwealth War Cemeteries. A Kenya Government representative does not turn up in Egypt, Palestine, India and Burma to pay respects to Kenyans who fell there. While in Nairobi, Government representatives who turn up at the ceremonies effectively disregard, albeit with the greatest of courtesy, the few veterans present. All this is not for ignoring.

For these wars have been major issues in our politics on the road to Independence. Treating these events as if they have no relevance for Kenya is not only an insult to our casualties and our gallant survivors, it also shows that our leaders (from 1963 to the present) have no knowledge of, or no regard for, Kenya's political past.

In the period between the two world wars, recruitment increased for the regiments of the King's African Rifles. Then, when World War II broke out in 1939, K.A.R. regiments were called up for active service in Ethiopia, Somalia, the Middle East, India and Burma. Kenyans saw service in these places. But they also saw more than service. They returned to make demands. See African Politics in Colonial Kenya :

Contribution of World War II Veterans 1945-1960 by O.J.E. Shiroya (Nairobi, Educational Research, 1992). They had fought for the freedom of Britain and were entitled to the freedom of their own country, from Britain itself. Ex-soldiers, such as Bildad Kaggia, increased opposition to colonial rule, by campaigning against the political mockery by which British soldiers were rewarded with land and money in Kenya, while he and others, Kenyan soldiers, who had fought alongside in the same war, were given neither land nor money. British soldiers returned in trains to Nairobi Station to be met by bands and official welcomes. Kenyan soldiers were disembarked one stop earlier at Embakasi Station to find their own way home. When The Colonial Times newspaper reported this, its editor, G.L.Vidyarthi was charged and sentenced to a prison term.

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The military experience of numerous Kenyans was a major factor in the Mau Mau war. Many ex-servicemen joined the Freedom struggle and served in the Mau Mau armies, mostly in leadership positions, being trained soldiers with battle experience. Their invaluable contribution took the war into five years, (1952-1956), before the British armies could bring the military challenge under control. By then, they had already caused the political pendulum to move away from colonial status to the inevitable independence of Kenya.

But in 1963 we did not honour the soldier fighters, nor other freedom fighters. The medals of their service in World War II, proudly kept for so long, slowly found their way into market kiosks and antique shops. Neglect, want and poverty brought these objects there, sold for small amounts to keep their recipients going. Our leaders did not, and do not, care. To them, 11th November is only a date so many months away from the elections in 2012.

FARC Leader Killed in Colombia | STRATFOR

Latin America analyst Karen Hooper discusses the killing of FARC leader Alfonso Cano and explains how the violence in Colombia will likely continue.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, leader Alfonso Cano was killed Nov. 4 in the conclusion to what Colombian military officials have termed “Operation Odysseus.” Cano’s death deals a blow to the political leadership of the FARC and a major political victory to Colombian President Manuel Santos, but the reality of the matter is that the violence in Colombia is far from being over.

Operation Odysseus has been ongoing for months and came close to killing Cano in July when the Colombian military attacked his camp in southern Tolima department. FARC militants have been known to hide in Tolima for the past several years, using the mountainous territory and deep fog to disguise their movements from military observation. In reaction to the July attack, the FARC’s 6th and 13th fronts conducted a series of attacks on villages in neighboring Cauca department, significantly spiking violence in the area. During that period of time, Cano is thought to have been moved frequently, traveling with no more than 10 bodyguards. Some reports suggest that the intelligence that led to his demise may have come from one of those bodyguards.

There is no question that achieving the goal of taking out Cano is a tactical success for the Colombian military. It does not, however, mean the end of the FARC. FARC is organized into a number of fronts with responsibility for regional militant activities and drug cultivation and each report to the secretariat. The FARC commander therefore serves as an important decision maker within the secretariat, but he is not the sole source of leadership.

Cano himself is only the second leader FARC has ever had. He assumed his position in March 2008 after the heart attack-induced death of former FARC commander Manuel Marulanda. Cano could be succeeded by a FARC commander who goes by the nickname of “Timochenko” and who was Marulanda’s protege. However, it appears the most likely successor at this point will be Ivan Marquez. Marquez, a former politician, may be a more suitable choice to take over what is essentially a political position. The FARC maintains relationships with governments in the region — particularly Venezuela — as well as other drug trafficking organizations like the National Liberation Army, or ELN.

Though the FARC is no longer the existential threat to Colombia that it was in the 1990s, the group continues to be a tactical challenge to the government. But even if the FARC were to demobilize tomorrow, the violence plaguing Colombia would not disappear alongside it. There are a multitude of actors at play in Colombia, none of whom shy away from the use of violence. The FARC remains a key government target because of the organization’s self-professed political opposition to the government. But there is a more persistent threat presented by Colombia’s many drug trafficking organizations who have access to an ample pool of military-trained recruits and an almost bottomless supply of weaponry.

Indeed, demobilization itself means very little in Colombia when you consider that individuals of groups like the former paramilitary United Self Defense Forces of Colombia turned around after demobilizing in 2006 and joined alternative drug trafficking organizations. Paramilitary trained groups like the gang “Los Rastrojos” in Colombia do not hesitate to use intimidation and murder to influence political outcomes. With Colombia’s history of political violence, plethora of available weaponry and significant cocaine exports, with or without the FARC, the country will continue to suffer the effects of organized violence for a long time to come.

Read more: Dispatch: FARC Leader Killed in Colombia | STRATFOR

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

SOUTH SUDAN: Oil Conflict Threatens to Break Out - IPS

JUBA, Oct 3, 2011 (IPS) - The communities living on the South Sudan-Sudan border may face genocide if the conflict between the two countries disputing control of oil reserves is not resolved.

There have been recent clashes between the Sudanese army, Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N) in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, as well as fighting between communities along the border. Southern Kordofan lies south of Sudan’s capital, Khartoum and borders the war-ravaged region of Darfur to the west. Blue Nile state lies south east of Khartoum and borders Ethiopia to the east.

This comes as the communities in these oil states become progressively militarised with arms increasingly available to civilians, according to a report by a local non-governmental organisation.

"One day the communities on the border may end up either facing genocide or there may be a very heavy war as the governments in both countries do not value the lives of the people but the resources they are sitting on. These resources will undermine the value of the lives of human beings," Edmund Yakani, the coordinator for the local NGO Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), told IPS.

"The governments in the two countries look at the border from the perspective of economic gains rather than from the perspective of the communities living here," he added.

Yakani said the borders are important as the economic strength of the two countries is defined here. "If you talk about petroleum it is found here, at the border. That is why the (National Congress Party) NCP-led government in Khartoum is now saying that areas like Heglig, near Unity state, and Kaka, in Upper Nile state (where there is a high production of petroleum) are disputed areas," he said.

About 85 percent of the oil produced in Sudan and South Sudan combined comes from South Sudan. Much of the oil produced in South Sudan comes from the border states of Bentiu and Upper Nile. However, there is also oil in Jonglei state, which is in the interior.

A CEPO report released on Sep. 17 found that the communities on the South Sudan-Sudan border are highly militarised and experience a lot of insecurity and violence. The report found that there was a "rapid flow of arms into the hands of the civil population" on the Sudanese side in order to instigate violence with those living across the border.

"On the South Sudanese side civilians have acquired guns, supposedly for self-defence against - what they see as - Khartoum aggression and invasion," the report said.

This situation could eventually lead to a war.

"The South has displayed extraordinary restraint in the face of extreme aggression from Khartoum," Eric Reeves, a Sudan analyst and researcher at Smith College in the United States, told IPS.

"It hasn’t responded with force despite continued bombing of its own territory that began almost a year ago last November, systematic assaults by military aircraft on Southern territory as well as the military seizure of Abyei; it has thus far avoided joining forces with the fighters in the Nuba Mountains of (South Kordofan) or in the Blue Nile. But this can only last for so long," Reeves said.

If Khartoum’s assault on the Sudanese-Ethiopian border town of Kurmuk - the dominant stronghold of the SPLA-N – continues, the likelihood of a united front between disparate forces fighting Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir’s troops increases.

"Khartoum is moving with a full armoured brigade towards Karmuk, the capital of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N)," Reeves told IPS. "If that falls it’s going to signal a continuing guerilla warfare of the sort we are seeing in South Kordofan."

"This is no ordinary guerilla warfare," he added. "The men fighting (Khartoum) may not have as much equipment as the SAF, but they are highly motivated and too well trained to be easily defeated."

"A senior official of the SPLM-N, told me that many Northern soldiers have no stomach for this fight. This has caused Khartoum's generals to rely more on the use of artillery, tankfire and military aircraft – which is a great way to kill civilians but not a strategic way to dislodge a military (guerilla) force. So we are definitely looking at a protracted conflict," Reeves told IPS.

"If South Sudan and the Nuba fighters link up with the SPLA-N military forces in Blue Nile and the rebels in Darfur, we will see a war stretching from the Chadian border to the Ethiopian border and potentially up the Eritrean border as well," Reeves told IPS.

The CEPO report recommended an immediate demarcation of the border to "minimise settlement along the border line, save the lives of the communities, minimise displacement and violence along the border line."

The conflict has also affected oil production as oil contractors move away from areas of violence. Currently 98 percent of South Sudan’s revenue comes from oil.

Undersecretary at South Sudan’s South Petroleum and Mining Ministry David Loro Gutbek told IPS that oil production in both Sudan and South Sudan has decreased in the border areas. "As of now our production in South Sudan has gone down from 85,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 60,000 bpd."

The reduced production is in three oil well blocks in Unity state where most of the country’s oil is found. Production in Melut in Upper Nile, which is not affected by violence, continues as normal. "On the Sudanese side of this area of the border, oil production has reduced from 60,000 bpd to only 48,000 barrels," Gutbek added.

Gutbek said that if production was normal, South Sudan would produce 300,000 bpd. He said amidst the violence it was not possible to provide security around the oil production areas and as a result "unknown people" were sabotaging the oil industry.

"They cut cables in the fields and these then need to be fixed, which slows down the work and lowers the quantities of oil produced per day," he said.

Gutbek told IPS that if the violence continued the oil production would continue to decrease. However, he was hopeful that a solution would be found and the border area would be secured.

"Some measures will be taken by the two governments in Juba and Khartoum to ensure that nothing interferes with the quantities of oil produced along the border. A security committee comprising officials from both Sudan and South Sudan has agreed to monitor the situation and improve security along the border area," he said.

Environmental economist and World Bank consultant on Private Sector Development in South Sudan, Spencer Kenyi told IPS that he believed the violence along the oil rich border would - as he put it - push South Sudan to develop its own oil infrastructure to avoid relying on Sudan. It had been a long-term plan of South Sudan, but the country may have to do this sooner than expected.

"Although violence is not a welcome thing, it is going to create some positive move in South Sudan where the government will think about setting up its own oil, facilities like pipelines and refineries," he said.

South Sudan plans to build three refineries and has discussed as a 3,600 km pipeline from South Sudan to then Kenyan port of Lamu.

South Sudan currently pays what it calls exorbitant fees for the use of Sudan’s pipelines and support services. The bulk of the infrastructure that supports the oil industry is in Sudan. Sudan has three refineries located in Khartoum, Port Sudan, and El-Obeid. The Khartoum refinery was expanded in 2006 from a capacity of 50,000 barrels per day to 100,000 bpd. The Port Sudan facility is located near the Red Sea and has a refining capacity of 21,700 bpd.

"It will lead the government of South Sudan to refocus its strategy in the oil industry. They will speed up the idea of setting up transport systems for oil export from South Sudan in order to circumvent the violence that’s going on in the border areas," Kenyi said.

He added that if the violence continued South Sudan may have to completely shut down the oil sector, though temporarily. "The government may close the oil sector completely for a certain period and focus on areas like livestock farming and agriculture as the biggest income earner for the economy," he said.

He explained that this would in turn "break the back of the violent conflict arising out of the oil wealth along the border" and any subsequent efforts to demarcate the border will be much more amicable and peaceful.

*Kanya D’Almeida in Washington contributed to this report. (END)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fighting erupts along Somalia-Kenya border | | The Bulletin

By Jeffrey Gettleman / New York Times News Service
Published: October 01. 2011 4:00AM PST

NAIROBI, Kenya — Intense fighting erupted along the Kenya-Somalia border Friday as the militant group al-Shabab tried to take back a slice of strategic territory from militias allied with the Somali government. At the same time, al-Shabab fighters are breaking up camps for victims of Somalia’s famine, sending tens of thousands of starving people straight back into drought-stricken areas.

Al-Shabab militants say they will provide enough food to tide people over until the next harvest, expected around January, and some of the people who recently left seemed content with the initial rations of rice, sugar, powdered milk and oil that they had been given. But many aid officials worry that the famine victims are going to soon find themselves in a bleak and barren environment once back in their home villages and that dispersing them will complicate an already strained aid effort.

“This is a nightmare,” said a U.N. official who asked not to be identified because he was criticizing al-Shabab and feared reprisals. “It has been hard enough to access famine victims in Shabab areas, and now that the people have been scattered, that means more checkpoints, more local authorities to deal with, more negotiations.”

It seems that al-Shabab, which has lost several chunks of territory in the past few months, is regrouping to some degree. In August, al-Shabab leaders pulled hundreds of fighters out of Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, calling it a strategic withdrawal, though it seemed more of an acknowledgement that their mostly young and inexperienced troops could no longer go toe-to-toe with a better armed and trained African Union peacekeeping force. The African Union has 9,000 soldiers in Mogadishu to support Somalia’s transitional federal government, whose own army is weak and fragmented.

But in recent days, witnesses have reported hundreds of al-Shabab fighters heading south toward Somalia’s border with Kenya. The border area is controlled by a fractious group of warlords and militias who get covert support from Kenya and Ethiopia and are nominally loyal toward Somalia’s transitional government. On Friday morning before dawn, al-Shabab forces struck Dhobley, a market town jointly controlled by an Islamist warlord and a French-educated intellectual who is trying to form his own mini-state called Azania, an ancient Greek name for the Horn of Africa.

According to Adan Adar, Somalia program director for the American Refugee Committee, a private aid group that assists feeding centers in Dhobley, al-Shabab attacked from several directions, and all sides suffered casualties.

“It was a big fight,” he said. “And it’s likely to impact humanitarian operations because there are many feeding centers in Dhobley.”

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Saudi warns US over Palestine - YouTube

The west will not prevent a Palestinian state's eventual birth

Next week the Palestinian Authority, stepping away from years of a fruitless "peace process" with Israel, will ask the UN to recognise Palestine as an independent state. It is very likely to be obstructed in the security council by the US, Israel's long-suffering but faithful friend. There is no question, however, that an overwhelming majority in the general assembly will back the Palestinians.

Israel has never looked more isolated as its embassy in Egypt is attacked, and Turkey, another close ally in the region until recently, leads a resurgent pan-Arab anti-Zionism. Its western supporters, too, have been dwindling fast. Besieged at home by furious masses demanding social justice after years of private wealth creation, Israeli leaders find their most devoted friends abroad among centre-right or extreme rightwing politicians in Canada, Italy, Holland and the Czech Republic, all of which are expected to stifle the Palestinian state at birth.

It was not at all like this in the lead-up to Israel's creation. In 1945 George Orwell told his American readers that "the left, generally, is very strongly committed to support of the Jews against the Arabs". The latter had no influential allies when, in November 1947, European and white commonwealth countries helped the UN plan for the partition of Palestine – fiercely resisted by Arabs – pass with a two-thirds majority. During the UN debate Zionists packed the galleries, applauding pro-Israel speakers and hissing at Arab ones. "They created," a British official wrote, "the atmosphere of a football match, with the Arabs as the away team."

Like many American gentiles of his generation, President Truman was prone to racist generalisations about the "Jews": "I fear very much," he wrote in his diary, "that the Jews are like all underdogs. When they get on top they are just as intolerant and cruel as the people were to them when they were underneath." Still, the US arm-twisted two former dependencies, the Philippines and Liberia, into supporting the creation of the Jewish state, and managed to get China and Ethiopia to abstain.

The infant nation states of India and Pakistan voted against partition, as did Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey. On the face of it, this seems unconscionable. In 1947, just two years after the full scale of the crimes against European Jews had been exposed, the moral case for the creation of a Jewish state was incontestable. And valiant Zionists outmanoeuvring the exhausted British masters of Palestine had provoked much admiration across Europe and America.

But, as Orwell warned, "few English people realize that the Palestine issue is partly a colour issue and that an Indian nationalist, for instance, would probably side with the Arabs". The Jewish claim on Palestine may have existed for more than two millennia; but in the eyes of Asian leaders and intellectuals embattled against Western imperialists, it began with the Balfour Declaration, which threatened to implant yet another European people on Asian soil.

As Jawaharlal Nehru acidly remarked about the British promise of a Jewish homeland: "One not unimportant fact seems to have been overlooked. Palestine was not a wilderness, or an empty, uninhabited place. It was already somebody else's home." The lack of antisemitic traditions in Asia meant that many Asian leaders could not recognise the need for a separate Jewish state. Cosmopolitan networks of solidarity across Asia ensured that Indian nationalists would take the Arab side, and see Zionism as a form of western imperialism – a perception not challenged by Zionist leaders, who, busy courting European and American politicians, kept a careful distance from anti-colonial nationalist movements in the 1920s and 1930s.

As Jewish immigration to Palestine picked up during the British Mandate, Mahatma Gandhi resisted all entreaties to lend his moral prestige to the Zionist cause. Speaking to the Jewish Chronicle in London in 1931, he said: "I can understand the longing of a Jew to return to Palestine, and he can do so if he can without the help of bayonets, whether his own or those of Britain." In 1938, during the brutal British suppression of the Arab revolt in Palestine, he reiterated that it was "wrong" of Jews to enter Palestine "under the shadow of the British gun".

Eventually the Zionists in Palestine turned against their British enablers; and Israel, born during the high noon of decolonisation, could plausibly claim an anti-imperialist pedigree. But its collusion with Britain and France against Egypt in 1956 – a year after the conference of new postcolonial nations in Bandung – did not endear it to Asian and African leaders reflexively hostile to such imperialist skullduggery as the Suez expedition. Nor was the "colour issue" allowed to fade by Israel's support of France against Algerian anti-colonialists, its occupation of the West Bank in 1967, and its close relations with the apartheid regime in South Africa.

There were many rightwing admirers of Israeli resourcefulness and bravery in India – growing up in a Hindu nationalist family, I came to revere the Israeli general Moshe Dayan – but almost all postcolonial nation states shunned Israel. The latter's frequent attempts to reach out to Asian countries were met with rebuffs. A placatory cable from Israel's foreign minister Abba Eban to the Chinese premier Zhou Enlai was sent back with a note: "Undelivered because of non-existent relations".

Israel's diplomatic ties with India were established only in 1993, and then deepened by military and political links between Hindu nationalists and radical Zionists. In the 1990s Israel rapidly expanded its diplomatic presence in Asia beyond Burma, the only Asian country where it had an embassy in the 1950s. The end of the cold war, and Israel's decision to open negotiations with the PLO after the first intifada, brought the country out of its long international isolation.

The peace process had many critics, who saw it as a ploy to buy time for Israeli settlements. With Israel's security and expansion guaranteed by the US, it held back from the necessary and inevitable reckoning with its Palestinian subjects and Arab neighbours. But now the collapse of staunchly pro-American Arab regimes – amounting to a second round of decolonisation – and the related decline of American authority in the Middle East find Israel exposed to the chill winds of history.

The feelings and desires of Arabs entering mass politics can no longer be ignored; and this democratic opinion turns out to be not much less opposed to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza than were the Arab dictators who made radical anti-Zionism a pillar of their despotism.

In Cairo this week Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, proclaimed that "the world is changing to a system where the will of the people will rule". This is self-serving rhetoric from a politician with clear authoritarian tendencies. Nevertheless, Erdogan's assertion that "Israel is the west's spoiled child" is unlikely to be challenged in the Arab world or, for that matter, a swath of Asian countries, where Palestinians are seen as victims of a western-style and western-aided expansionism.

Palestinian politicians remain hopelessly divided. And an independent Palestine might prove tragically unviable, quickly stumbling into the crowded ranks of "failed" or "failing" nation states. Yet Palestine has long been the unfinished business of decolonisation and national self-determination: the central events of the 20th century. And opposition from a weakened west next week will not prevent the eventual birth of a Palestinian state – just as objections from the fledgling and powerless nations of the east in 1947 did not thwart the creation of a Jewish state.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ethiopia rebels attack in Ogaden | World news |


Associated Press= ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Ethiopian rebels said Thursday they killed 25 soldiers protecting a Chinese oil exploration company called PetroTrans.

It was not possible to verify the claims made by the rebels.

Shimeles Kemal, Ethiopia's government spokesman, denied the claims, saying they are "absolutely unfounded." He also said no PetroTrans operations had been affected by any attacks. Ethiopian authorities usually deny claims made by the Ogaden National Liberation Front, or ONLF, which is listed as a terrorist organization in Ethiopia.

The rebels said that 25 soldiers were killed and 'a few' members of the rebel ONLF during Tuesday's skirmish. Abdirahman Mahdi, a London-based spokesman for the group, had earlier said at least three soldiers were killed in the incident.

The soldiers they killed, "were dislodging farmers from their lands ... claiming that seismic lines pass through their farms. Three villagers from the area are missing," said Thursday's press release. Two other villagers had been beaten and left for dead, it said.

Human rights groups have long accused the Ethiopian government of committing atrocities in the Ogaden, which is largely closed off to outside observers.

The ethnic Somali Ogaden region is home to the ONLF, who have been fighting for self-determination for more than 25 years.

In April, 2007, the group attacked a Chinese-owned oil exploration field, killing nine Chinese workers and 65 Ethiopian workers. Thursday's press release contained a warning that there might be another such attack.

"The Chinese are wearing army camouflages and as such, it is very had to differentiate than from the Ethiopian army personnel," the email read. "It is the responsibility of civilians to be clearly distinct when traveling with combat military units in order to safeguard their rights."

Blue Nile: Sudan's new war zone BBC News

Blue Nile: Sudan's new war zone

soldier with gun at marketSoldiers patrol Damazin market and traders say there are "no problems"

The capital of Sudan's Blue Nile state, Damazin, is firmly under the control of the government - this is made clear by the soldiers ululating a victory song from next to their truck-mounted machine guns.

In Damazin, at least, the government soldiers seemed to have defeated rebels loyal to the opposition SPLM-North party in last week's fighting.

The rebels are now largely grouped in the south around their traditional stronghold, Kurmuk, with battles continuing along a shifting front line.

But burned by previous criticism for denying access to the similar conflict in the neighbouring state of South Kordofan, the Sudanese government brought journalists to Damazin for a controlled tour.

'Back to normal'

The state governor, and other authorities, were keen to stress life in Damazin was getting back to normal.

Gen Yahia Mohamed Kheir was appointed by President Omar al-Bashir after he called a state of emergency in Blue Nile, and sacked the elected governor, Malik Agar.

Mr Agar is the head of the SPLM-North party - and the man now leading the rebels in the state.

Many of them fought with the SPLM during Sudan's long north-south conflict, which resulted in July's SPLM-led independence for South Sudan, but they now find themselves north of the new international border.

"The security situation is very good, electricity, the hospitals and water are fine," the new governor Gen Kheir said.

He announced the number of deaths in Damazin in the fighting had not been in the hundreds - he put the total at 12 dead soldiers, six policemen and three civilians, as well as an unspecified number of rebels.

But he admitted clashes were continuing 30km (20 miles) south of Damazin.

I pressed him on claims made by SPLM-North and refugees who have fled to Ethiopia that civilians had been killed by aerial bombardments in Kurmuk and elsewhere in the last few days.

"We have never seen a single civilian killed in those bombardments, if there are any," he said.

Jumpy soldiers

It certainly wasn't easy to ascertain the effects of the fighting in Damazin either.

men drinking juice at Damazin marketSudanese authorities are keen to show that day-to-day activities have been resumed

We weren't taken to the former governor's house, which allegedly came under attack, or to any places bearing obvious battle scars.

But the soldiers were clearly jumpy.

We travelled in a convoy of 4x4s, many of them carrying armed men, with a couple of trucks armed with machine guns - technicals they are sometimes called.

When one journalist tried to take a picture of a soldier out of the window, we heard the rapid and ominous clicks of several guns being cocked at once and our bus was made to stop.

When we arrived in a market, crowds gathered round the state minister we were travelling with, chanting Allahu akbar - God is great! - and pointing their right index fingers to the sky.

The traders insisted everything was fine, and normal - "no problems" they all said.

But many of the market stalls were shut down - a fact not entirely explained by the recent Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of Ramadan.

Large numbers of people have clearly fled the town.

"On Friday there was lots of fighting, in many places," one young man said, as one of our minders hovered nearby.

"You know the people all moved out, because of the war.

"I see on the road people are coming back, life is normal now, there are no problems."

Army tour

The authorities were also keen to show us the objects they said they had captured during the fighting, so they took us for a rare visit inside an army barracks.


Inside a walled compound about 80 prisoners sat on the ground, mainly staring sullenly in front of them.

In the middle, on the sandy floor, was a collection of guns, membership forms for the SPLM, photo albums, military epaulettes, SPLM constitutions, South Sudanese currency and even packets of condoms, perhaps particularly shocking in a relatively conservative Muslim society.

The army says they seized all this material during the clashes.

They also presented us several officers wearing SPLA uniforms.

That means they fought with the rebels who recently won independence for South Sudan, but as northerners were stranded here when South Sudan seceded in July.

Their presence, in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, is at the heart of the conflicts in the two states.

Colonel Omer Abdel Beyin Omer Maki said he hadn't wanted to join this latest conflict, and was being well treated by the Sudanese army.

An army officer stood by while he talked, listening intently.

Sudan accuses South Sudan of supporting the rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The new nation denies the charges. But there is no doubt all this is further poisoning the relationship between the two states.

As we left the barracks a new prisoner was brought in.

He looked dishevelled. A soldier ran up and slapped him.

This drew an immediate, shouted, condemnation from a nearby officer, perhaps aware of the presence of journalists, or maybe concerned that the right thing be done.

What next?

One thing I hoped to learn from a day in Damazin was what is likely to happen next.

SAF soldiers with gunsSudan army officers gave the journalists a rare tour of their barracks

The governor refused to discuss whether his troops were preparing to push on down to Kurmuk, though this is perhaps unlikely in the difficult conditions of the rainy season.

A paramount chief from the area, Youssef al Mak Youssef Hassan Adan, said he believed reconciliation was still possible.

"Both sides may sit peacefully and settle their dispute. I hope that they will think it over, and put down their arms, and we can sit together," he said.

But when he made just that point in a town hall meeting he was shouted down by those present, mainly local notables.

In Damazin, days after a war broke out here and elsewhere in Blue Nile, any talk of peace seems premature.

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