Rebels trying to overthrow Sudan's Islamic regime are posing one
of the biggest challenges in 13 years of civil war, thanks to new
ties with the northern opposition and some apparent help from
In the last three weeks, the rebels have swept through more than
10 towns. Wednesday, they reported they had captured two towns less
than 20 miles from the strategic Roseires Dam, although the report
couldn't be independently confirmed.
The gains appear to be fruits of an alliance formed last year
between Arab northern opposition groups and the black Sudan
People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which since 1983 has been fighting
to keep Khartoum from clamping the hand of Islam on the animist and
Analysts in the region believe that what has also helped the
rebel onslaught is the military aid from Sudan's hostile neighbors
Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Uganda.
"Reports indicate that foreign aid is vital," says Norman
Aphane, assistant editor of the Pretoria-based quarterly Africa
The 30 million people of Sudan - which is about the size of the
United States east of the Mississippi - have been at war with each
other on and off since independence from Britain in 1956. Sudan is
composed of about 550 ethnic groups that speak 100 languages.
Culturally, it is almost two separate countries: the Islamic north
and the black south. The southern SPLA rebels, led by John Garang,
are fighting for more autonomy from the Islamic north and for
potential oil revenue to remain in the impoverished south, rather
than being diverted to the north.
The new fighting, which is spreading quickly along a 390-mile
front, poses the biggest challenge yet to the Islamic government,
which seized power from an elected one in 1989.
Most of new offensive, which began on Jan. 12, has been in the
east near the Eritrean and Ethiopian borders. But Sunday, Sudan
said it had attacked a rebel base near the southern border with
Uganda. While analysts believe another front may be opening, the
rebels deny it.
Eritrea, Uganda, and Ethiopia deny claims by Khartoum that they
are taking part in the fighting. But the trio make no secret of its
enmity toward the Islamic extremist government of Sudan's President
Omar Bashir, which the US considers to be a sponsor of
Eritrea and Ethiopia have accused Sudan of sending commandos
across the border to attack on their soil. Uganda has repeatedly
complained about Sudan giving support to Ugandan rebels. …