SUDAN NEWS & VIEWS - 22
SUDAN NEWS & VIEWS
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
|Issue No 22
|| December 1996
|'Sudan News & Views' is an independent electronic Newsle
working to advocate peace, human rights and humanitarian aid
for the Sudan.
Editor: Dr. Yasin Miheisi
- Distribution is free of charge.
- Reposting and reproduction are allowed (with acknowledgement).
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In this issue:
TENSIONS MOUNT IN KHARTOUM & EASTERN FRONT
Tension has been high on the Sudanese-Eritrean border after the Governor of Kass
ala state, Maj. Gen. Abuelgasim Ibrahim Mohamed, said that he has declared a 're
d alert' against possible attacks from Eritrea. He said some 2,000 mujahideen (N
ational Islamic Front militia known as Popular Defence Forces - PDF) have been m
obilized and are on standby. 'Women of the state are prepared to provide food fo
r the mujahideen' he was quoted as saying.
In October, Defence Minister, Hassan Abdel Rahman, told the National Assembly (p
arliament) that more than 300,000 mujahideen are in the border area near Eritrea
. Hassan Al-Turabi, NIF leader and parliament speaker, said military confrontati
on with Eritrea is eminent and the door for reconciliation with the opposition i
s now closed. In a show of government mistrust of the regular army, especially a
fter the defection of several officers who joined the opposition in Eritrea, Tur
abi told parliament that the PDF should be the major force in eastern Sudan, sin
ce the army alone would not be enough, and called upon all Sudanese from the eas
t, west and north to carry arms and join the battle.
As the build-up for battle mounted, international relief aid organisations and U
N agencies withdrew all their staff working in the area.
Events in the eastern front developed rapidly, as the National Democratic Allian
ce (NDA), an umbrella organisation of all opposition political parties based in
Asmara and Cairo, announced it is escalating its operations along the Eritrean-S
udanese border. Many sources reported fierce clashes, by the end of December, be
tween NDA forces and the government army and PDF militia, in which an army helic
opter was shot down. The Sudanese army command issued a statement saying that th
ree soldiers, on board a military helicopter, were killed when their plane, pat
rolling the border, was shot down by Eritrean anti-aircraft fire. The NDA, in Mi
litary Communiqué #1, said its forces (composed of the SPLA, New Sudan Brigade,
Sudanese Allied Forces and the Beja Congress), ambushed government troops in Ham
oshkoraib, near the Portsudan-Kassala highway, killing 50 soldiers and wounding
120 others. They have also seized loads of arms, vehicles and communication equi
pment. The names of 12 of those killed, and 4 taken prisoner, were listed in the
ir communiqué, which also said the NDA forces shot down the army helicopter with
Although many sources report that battles are still raging along the border, lit
tle detailed information is available at present.
Meanwhile, tension in the capital Khartoum is also mounting, after rumours of th
e disappearance of a large cache of arms, including heavy arms, from the army HQ
in Khartoum. Security in the capital has been stepped up dramatically, with arm
ed soldiers guarding strategic buildings and people and cars are now being routi
nely searched in the streets of Khartoum.
When people heard a sound of gunfire in Khartoum centre, they immediately took c
over and all shops closed, in a clear indication of the degree of tension and th
e level of trouble anticipation. The authorities later said that a policeman, in
volved in a dispute with army soldiers, fired the shots.
In another more dramatic incident, and what is believed to be an assassination a
ttempt, a soldier fired his gun inside the Friendship Palace during the Independ
ence Day celebrations, and in the presence of President al-Bashir and Hassan al-
Turabi. The authorities denied it was an assassination attempt and said the gun
was fired by mistake, but one person died, and another injured, as a result.
Mass demonstrations were also reported on January 5, in several parts of the cap
ital, where police used tear gas and gunfire to disperse the demonstrators. Many
arrests were made among the demonstrators and well-known opposition figures.
SADIG AL-MAHDI GOES
Former Prime Minister and leader of the Umma Party, Sadig al-Mahdi, had, this mo
nth, fled Sudan to neighbouring Eritrea. Al-Mahdi, who had been either in detent
ion or under house arrest since Omer al-Bashir overthrew him in 1989, said the m
ilitary government is using him as a hostage by linking its treatment to him to
the activities of the opposition abroad.
Al-Mahdi's flight was organised and supervised by his son, Abdel Rahman, an army
officer dismissed by the current government. They left Khartoum in the early ho
urs of Monday December 9, and traveled overland in a journey that took them 12 h
ours to reach the Eritrean border. They traveled in 5 cars, with 25 heavily-arme
d guards, who joined them at predetermined locations along the route.
Al-Mahdi said he left letters to President al-Bashir and Hassan al-Turabi callin
g on them to concede to the people's demands of freedom and democracy. 'If they
continue their partisan fanatism, then the Sudanese people will continue their e
fforts to regain their rights by all possible means, and the regime alone takes
responsibility for what will happen' he said.
The fleeing of Sadig al-Mahdi was a major coup for the NDA, and a big blow to th
e government, which persevered on the belief in the strength of its security app
aratus. The ability of al-Mahdi, who was under around-the-clock surveillance, to
slip away that easily, shows the incompetence and inefficiency of its much-fear
ed security system. The incident caused a lot of turmoil within the government c
ircles and more than 50 security staff were reported arrested and are being inte
rrogated following al-Mahdi's escape.
President al-Bashir said al-Mahdi's 'joining the so-called opposition would not
frighten the revolution and would not affect its adherence to its civilized proj
ect'. On the other hand, Hassan al-Turabi, in his usual way of blessing tragedie
s, was quoted as saying that al-Mahdi's escape proves that the three wanted susp
ects, who are believed to have entered Sudan from Ethiopia, following the attemp
t on the life of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, must have slipped out the sam
e way as al-Mahdi did.
Al-Mahdi is now visiting Cairo, and said he intends to visit Saudi Arabia, the U
K and the USA.
Although al-Mahdi said he received a telephone call from the Egyptian Deputy Pri
me Minister and Minister of Agriculture, Yousif Wali, who invited him to visit C
airo, Wali said the visit was arranged upon al-Mahdi's request.
While al-Mahdi met with Wali and Egyptian Foreign Minister, Amr Mousa, President
Mubarak met, for the first time in four years, with Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani,
leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and head of the NDA. Four days lat
er, Mubarak met with Sadig al-Mahdi. The dominant topic under discussion in thes
e meetings was the issue of self-determination for southern Sudan, an issue the
Egyptians vehemently object to. Reliable sources reported that al-Mahdi failed t
o convince Egyptian officials to accept the idea of a referendum in southern Sud
Meanwhile, Sudan called the Egyptian charge de affairs in Khartoum to convey the
ir protest to al-Mahdi's visit to Egypt.
HIGHER EDUCATION MINSTER DISMISSED
The Minister for Higher Education and Scientific Research, Dr. Abdel Wahab Abdel
Rahim Al-Mubarak, has been relieved from his duty by President Omer al-Bashir a
nd was replaced by former minister Ibrahim Ahmed Omer.
His dismissal was a direct consequence of his statement to the National Assembly
in which he strongly criticized the policies of the 'higher education revolutio
n' especially the proliferation of universities.
In his statement, the minister said that the expansion in the universities
was not accompanied by an increase in the qualified members of staff.
This led the universities to relax the required academic qualifications for staf
f and increased the use of part-timers from other universities and government d
epartments, which resulted in the lowering of academic standards.
He also said that the infrastructure of the universities did not develop
with the increased number of students, and the opening of the new
universities did not take account of academic and administrative
requirements. He proposed the merger of some of the universities and colleges
and the stopping of the creation of any new university or college.
When appointed, the minister told some University professors that the
policies of Ibrahim Ahmed Omer were destroying higher education in
During the previous months, the minister formed a committee chaired by the forme
r Vice-Chancellor of the University of Khartoum, Prof. Mudathir al-Tingari, to e
xamine the situation at the new universities. The committee, which included sen
ior academics from University of Khartoum and the Islamic University, visited al
l the new universities and recommended
the merger of the these universities and the closure of many of the
colleges, but NIF members in the government rejected the
recommendations as they were seen as the reversal of one of the most
important policies of the salvation revolution.
The Sudanese universities, 24 public and 14 private colleges and universities, s
uffer from an acute shortage in teaching staff which reaches 80 per cent. Teachi
ng is conducted by staff with no higher degrees.
In order to bridge the gap, 81 foreign staff were appointed with salaries
starting from $1000 a month in comparison with $25 for the
According to the latest statistics, 735 seconded university staff refused
to return to Sudan at the end of their secondment.
Khartoum University lost more than 304 staff members, 42 per cent of its streng
in recent months, while University of Sudan (former Khartoum
Polytechnic) lost 159 staff, 59 per cent, and University of Juba 121 staff, 72 p
During last September alone, 53 staff members from University of Sudan left
the country. The corresponding numbers from University of Gezira,
University of Khartoum, and Neilein (formerly Cairo branch) are 12, 26 and 8.
University budgets do not cover more than 24 per cent of their needs, which led
the University of Khartoum to propose to accept students, who are prepared to pa
y hard currency, outside the normal admission procedure.
The controversial proposal by Khartoum University Vice-Chancellor was rejected b
y the, now former, minister of higher education and the National Council of High
er Education. To go around the admission regulations, new (paying) students will
be admitted to the Institute of Extramural Studies, then transferred, after one
year, to the faculty of their choice. Fees are $3,000 a year for art and social
studies and $5,000 for sciences and technical studies. The University of Kharto
um has already started applying this system with the new intake in December 1996
. In protest, the University of Khartoum students staged a 48-hour strike.
The new minister of higher education is said to be a supporter of the fee-paying
FINANCE MINISTER IN TROUBLE
Presenting his budget for fiscal year 1997, the Finance Minister, Dr. Osman Abde
l Wahab, said Sudan's inflation rate dropped from 166 per cent in July to 133 pe
r cent in November. He attributed the improvement to the measures taken by his m
inistry, which included control of money supply, the reduction of government spe
nding and the crack down on illegal dealing in foreign currency.
The exchange rate had remained steady for the last few months. Since August, the
official rate for 1 US$ was 1,454 Sudanese Pounds (SP), and on the black market
1,700 SP down from 2,000 in July.
Despite the minister's assertion of economic improvement, the economic difficult
ies, felt by the majority of the population, continue to be a major problem for
the government. A parliamentary committee reported that an average family earns
the equivalent of $20 per month, while it needs at least 11 times that, or $220,
to cover expenses. The committee recommended an immediate change in salaries so
as to cover the cost of living.
The Finance Minister provoked a stormy row in parliament when he called for the
cancellation of tax and custom duty exemptions for all commercial activities of
charity and humanitarian organisations. He said that charities had turned into t
rading firms denying the treasury of millions of pounds in tax exemptions. He al
so accused those organisations of engaging in black marketeering, therefore weak
ening the national currency. 'They can buy the dollar at any price because they
know, at the end of the day, they will be profiting in view of the high exemptio
ns they receive' he said.
Most members of parliament, including parliament speaker Hassan al-Turabi, stron
gly objected to the removal of tax exemptions.
It is common knowledge in Sudan, that these organisations, which had turned into
a jungle of powerful financial institutions, are fully controlled by the NIF.
The Finance Minister threatened to resign if parliament refused to endorse the t
ax cancellations with immediate effect. President Bashir gave his backing to his
finance minister and asked parliament to approve the changes.
To find a way out, parliament voted to postpone taking a decision indefinitely.<
Ignoring the parliament decision, President Bashir issued a provisional order ca
nceling tax and customs exemptions for all relief and charity organisations.
Having touched on such a sensitive issue, the future of the finance minister, a
devout member of the NIF himself, now hangs on the balance, and there are strong
indications that he will soon lose his job.
AIR SANCTIONS DEFERRED AGAIN
The UN Security Council has, yet again, postponed the implementation of the UN r
esolution 1070, which imposes an air embargo on Sudan, for another six weeks.
Although the resolution was adopted by the SC on August 16, implementation was d
eferred for 90 days to give Sudan a chance to hand over to Ethiopia the three su
spects in connection with the assassination attempt against the Egyptian Preside
nt in June 95.
On November 23, the SC voted for a 30-day postponement due to a French-Russian r
equest that the SC should further study the negative impact of flight sanctions
on Sudan and the consequences of the implementation of the resolution.
On December 20, the SC decided to give another six weeks for further investigati
on into the case. Italy joined France, Russia and Egypt in drawing attention to
the possible suffering of the poor Sudanese civilian population as a consequence
of an air ban.
Despite adopting the decision in August after careful examination of the evidenc
e against Sudan, the SC now requested Ethiopia to provide all necessary document
s on the investigation and trial of the other three suspects involved in the ass
Sudan, on its part, expressed relief at the SC decision, and said it had sent a
message to the SC explaining that implementing Resolution 1070 would have negati
ve effects on the unity and security of Sudan.
Ali Osman Taha said, on TV, the SC is looking for a way out, after it had realiz
ed that the suspects are not in Sudan.
The US, disillusioned by the failure of the UN to deal effectively with Sudan, i
s going its own way. Following the announcement, last month, of its decision to
send nearly $20 million of military equipment to Sudan's neighbours, the US took
further steps to put more pressure on the Sudanese government. The visit by the
US ambassador to Sudan, Timothy Carney, to the opposition NDA Headquarters in A
smara (the previous Sudan Embassy), and his long meeting with NDA leaders, was s
een as a strong message to the Khartoum government and a formal recognition of t
he NDA in exile.
Another significant event is the meeting of President Clinton, together with Vic
e-President Gore and the US National Security Advisor, Anthony Lake, with the Er
itrean President, Isaias Afwerki, while on a visit to the US in mid-December. Th
e press release from the White House said the meeting discussed the stability in
East Africa and the situation in Sudan.
RED CROSS HOSTAGES FREED
The breakaway rebel group (SPLA-Bahr al-Ghazal), led by Kerbino Kwanyn Bol, who
allied with the Khartoum government, had released, on December 8, the three Red
Cross workers held hostage in southern Sudan since their plane mistakenly landed
in Wunrok, in Gogerial Province, in November 1st, to take home injured SPLA sol
diers after receiving treatment in a hospital in Kenya.
An American pilot, a Kenyan co-pilot and an Australian nurse, were released, aft
er 38 days of captivity, by the intervention of US congressman Bill Richardson.
Richardson traveled to the area accompanied by the American ambassador to Sudan,
Timothy Carney and the Sudanese ambassador to the US, Mahdi Ibrahim.
Kerbino, who initially demanded a ransom of $100m and then came down to $2.5m, f
inally settled for a promise of 5 tons of rice, four jeeps, nine radios and a he
alth survey for his camp.
The freed hostages were flown to Geneva on board a US military plane.
The US State Department said it supported the initiative, but since this was a p
rivate deal, and the rice and equipment are paid for by the Red Cross and not th
e US, it does not affect its policy against negotiating with or rewarding terror
The main SPLA faction, however, said the humanitarian assistance offered as rans
om for the hostages' release is 'against all the international conventions gover
ning the operations and mandate of the ICRC'. The SPLA also called for the uncon
ditional release of the five patients who are still being held.
An ICRC spokesman said the hostage deal could be a worrying precedent. 'It could
set a precedent. People could start trading ICRC staff for landcruisers' he sai
Bill Richardson, a personal friend of Bill Clinton, had been appointed ambassado
r to the United Nations, in place of Madeleine Albright, who became Foreign Secr
ARAKIS DEAL ANNOUNCED
After a long wait and much speculation, Arakis Energy had finally announced it h
ad formed a consortium to develop its Sudan oil concessions and build a 950-mile
export pipeline to the Red Sea.
Partners in the $1 billion joint venture include Arakis with 25 per cent, China
National Petroleum Corporation with 40 per cent, Malaysia state-owned oil compan
y Petronas Caligali with 30 per cent and the Sudan government with 5 per cent.
The notable absence of American and European partners reflected Sudan's internat
ional isolation and the political and security risks involved. Arakis said polit
ical tension between Sudan and the US was the main reason behind the absence of
a US partner.
The security risk was demonstrated by a shooting incident, at an Arakis drilling
location, which took place on December 5. Although no injuries or damage were r
eported, the attackers, still unknown, caused a temporary shut-down of an oil dr
illing rig in al-Saqr, 30 km south of the Heglig oilfield.
Various rebel forces have threatened to strike Arakis if it continued to drill a
nd exploit oil in southern Sudan. John Garang, leader of the SPLA, repeated his
warning to Arakis that his forces would strike if needed to halt any attempts to
develop its concession in southern Sudan.
Although Arakis said both the Sudanese army and its own security staff provide p
rotection, there are reports that Arakis is planning to employ white mercenaries
from South Africa to protect the oilfields.
Under the deal, Arakis subsidiary, State Petroleum, will continue as operator fo
r the project until the formal signing of the agreement, after which a joint ope
rating company will take over the operations. Arakis said the consortium plans t
o initially transport 150,00 barrels per day, to export markets, by 1999.
Costs for Sudan's 5 per cent stake in the project would be carried by the other
partners and repaid from its share of the oil.
 Khartoum state is experiencing acute shortage of petrol and sugar. The Minist
ry of Energy had reduced the petrol quota for Khartoum state by 50 per cent. The
Ministry of Trade had also announced that, from January 97, the sugar quota for
Khartoum state will be reduced from 58,000 ton to 38,000 tons. No reasons were
given in either case.
SHORT NEWS ITEMS
There is wide speculation in Khartoum of an eminent cabinet reshuffle. Expectati
ons are that a new face will be brought in for foreign affairs, and the current
minister, Ali Osman Taha, will be moved to the Ministry of Justice, replacing Ab
del Basit Sabdarat, who will lose his ministerial position. Salah el-Din Karrar,
Minster of Cabinet Affairs, is also tipped to lose out in the reshuffle, since
his ministry will be merged with the ministry of Presidential Affairs. Mahdi Ibr
ahim, ambassador to the US is likely to be replaced by Dr. Al-Mufti.
According to the sources, the Finance Minster, Abdel Wahab Osman, will not conti
nue in his position for reasons related to his recent encounter with the Nationa
- A Peace Conference held in Khartoum in the beginning of December, and addres
sed by President Omer al-Bashir, was marked by the absence of the two rebel fact
ions who had signed a Peace Charter with the Khartoum government in April last y
Representatives of the Southern Sudan Independence Movement (SSIM), led by Riak
Machar, and the SPLA-Bahr el-Ghazal faction, led by Kerbino Kwanyn Bol, failed t
o turn up for the conference, even though the government sent planes to their ar
eas to fetch them. No explanations have been given for their absence.
The Iranian-mediated talks between Uganda and Sudan were postponed to January 97
, because Iran's Foreign Minster cannot travel to Kampala in December.
Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, said he did not expect any progress at the t
alks since Sudan had not respected its obligations under a previous agreement to
end hostilities between the two countries. 'I have agreed that talks should tak
e place here' he said, 'but of course we have not broken any ground with Mr. al-
'We must get a solution to al-Turabi's blackmail, a military solution. I am not
going to invade al-Turabi. He has enough enemies who will take care of him', he
further added in a news conference in Kampala.
A new book by a French journalist, Bernard Violet, had revealed new secrets of t
he deal in which 'Carlos the Jackal', the most wanted terrorist in the world, wa
s handed over by Sudan to France.
The book revealed that a meeting between the French Intelligence Service and Dr.
Hassan al-Turabi, in 1993, discussed the establishment of a 'strategic alliance
', with greater military and security cooperation between Paris and Khartoum, wi
th the objective of giving France more influence in the region, with the help of
the Islamic movements, in place of the American influence. In exchange, France
will recognize al-Turabi as the international leader of the Islamic movements, a
nd thus allow him to mediate with the Algerian Islamic movements.
A former Intelligence Officer, with experience in the region, was delegated to l
iaise with Turabi. In one of the meeting between them, the French officer sugges
ted that Sudan hands over Carlos, to show of good will and to mark the beginning
of the strategic alliance. Turabi agreed immediately, without consulting the Su
danese authorities. The book maintained that Turabi's own militia, with the aid
of French Intelligence, arranged and carried out the kidnapping of Carlos.
When Turabi, a few months later, applied for a visit visa to France, he was told
to travel to Paris where he will be met by Intelligence officers, who will arra
nge everything. When Turabi arrived at Paris Airport, nobody met him and he was
unable to get hold of his French acquaintances. After a wait of several hours at
the airport, Turabi returned to Khartoum. The strategic alliance ended there and then.