JEM's surprise push was 1st 'joint force' op
03 May 2013, 15:11
Khartoum - Sudanese insurgents have carried out their first
combined attack, a surprise push into a strategic and previously peaceful
region, but analysts doubt the rebels' readiness to take Khartoum by force
On Saturday, the Sudan Revolutionary Front rebel coalition
swept through Umm Rawaba, the second-largest town in North Kordofan state,
during coordinated attacks on several nearby areas.
"In the past two months we start to reorganise
ourselves as a joint troops, a joint force," said Gibril Adam Bilal, spokesperson
for Darfur's Justice and Equality Movement (Jem), one of four main groups in
"Our attack to Umm Rawaba is the first time we had a
joint force working together to implement our goals, and we think we
The United Nations, African Union and European Union
expressed shock, concern and condemnation at the attacks, which came the same
week as the first direct peace talks in two years between Khartoum and rebels
from South Kordofan state who belong to the SRF. Those talks were inconclusive.
Analysts said there had been rumours of an attack, though
the specific target may not have been clear, and residents complained that Umm
Rawaba was undefended.
"It was really a big shock" for the authorities,
said a leader of the ethnic Nuba community native to South Kordofan, where
rebels have been fighting since 2011.
"I think these people want to tell the government,
'we're here and we can do it.'"
Magdi El Gizouli, a fellow at the Rift Valley Institute,
wrote in his blog that the attack was an "embarrassment... a humiliating
surprise," comparable only to JEM's 2008 attack on Khartoum's twin city of
The Umm Rawaba death toll was unclear but included some
policemen, according to residents and officials, who added that the power
station and other facilities were damaged and looted.
Rebels said they blocked a main road that links Umm Rawaba
to Darfur in the west and the capital Khartoum 500km northeast.
The operation was carried out by Jem, two factions of the
Darfur-based Sudan Liberation Army and the Sudan People's Liberation Army-North
from South Kordofan, SRF said.
Founded in late 2011, the rebel coalition signed with
members of opposition parties in January a pact to overthrow by armed and
peaceful means the 24-year Arab-dominated regime of President Omar al-Bashir.
Some SRF member groups fought together before, but a Sudan
analyst confirmed that Umm Rawaba was their inaugural joint-force offensive,
despite most of the attackers belonging to Jem.
In separate reports this year, analysts from the
International Crisis Group and the Small Arms Survey both said Jem's strength
in South Kordofan had grown to a reported 700-1 000 men with about 120
Jem has supported SPLA-N in South Kordofan since shortly
after war began in that state, the studies said.
Bilal, Jem's spokesperson, claimed the SRF combined force
has more than 250 vehicles.
On Friday, insurgents still held one of their targets, Abu
Kershola, in the far north of South Kordofan, said Arnu Ngutulu Lodi, rebel
spokesman in that area.
Aid agencies say about 20 000 people have fled Abu Kershola.
"The whole international community should class them as
terrorists," senior ruling party official Rabbie Abdelatti Ebaid said of
The Nuba leader said all of Sudan "is crying because of
what happened in Umm Rawaba. Of course, it's not right".
"People are worried," he added. "I think
worried of the war being close to them."
But he asked why there has not been an equal reaction for
the people of the Nuba Mountains "being bombed for the past two
years" by government forces in South Kordofan.
Gizouli said "it would not come as a surprise" if
another SRF strike did bring the war to Khartoum.
"Scoring a clear victory or controlling territory is
another issue altogether of course," he told AFP.
The Small Arms Survey, in its March report, said the
possibility of a major SRF offensive to topple the regime "seems quite
More worrying, analysts say, is that North Kordofan could
now face the ethnic tensions seen during Darfur's decade-long war and the more
recent conflict in South Kordofan.