Issue No 22 December 1996
'Sudan News & Views' is an independent electronic Newsle tter working to advocate peace, human rights and humanitarian aid for the Sudan.
Editor: Dr. Yasin Miheisi
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In this issue:


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 SAM-7 missiles.
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.


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 an.
Meanwhile, Sudan called the Egyptian charge de affairs in Khartoum to convey the ir protest to al-Mahdi's visit to Egypt.


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 Sudan.
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 Sudanese staff.
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 th, in recent months, while University of Sudan (former Khartoum Polytechnic) lost 159 staff, 59 per cent, and University of Juba 121 staff, 72 p er cent.
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 system.


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.< BR> 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.


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 assination attempt.
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.


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 ists.
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 d.
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 etary.


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.


Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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