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After decades of near-constant civil war, Sudan seemed to have finally found a peaceful compromise, allowing its southern half to break away into independence this year. But now the peace is unraveling – and the two new countries could be on the brink of war again.
Fighting has flared up in several contested regions of Sudan. The north is using brutal military tactics to impose its will on the disputed regions. And talks between Khartoum and the newly independent country of South Sudan have broken down, leaving rebel militias on the verge of war against the north again.
"There is a real possibility of a new era of protracted civil war in Sudan," the International Crisis Group has warned in a new report.
"Fighting could expand quickly within Sudan and spill over into South Sudan," it said. "The conflict in Sudan may spiral out of control and engulf the region."
Khartoum has already wielded its military power to seize control of the disputed regions of Abyei, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile over the past few months. Sudanese warplanes have bombed civilians in Southern Kordofan, and satellite images have shown that thousands of northern troops are massing in Blue Nile for another potential assault.
Across the disputed regions, hundreds of thousands of ordinary people have been forced to flee for their lives – including 25,000 who fled from Blue Nile state into neighbouring Ethiopia in recent days, according to the latest reports from the United Nations refugee agency.
In another ominous sign of an escalating war, hardline army generals in Khartoum appear to have led a "soft coup" within the ruling party, and their preference is for military tactics, rather than peace talks. Rebel forces in Darfur and Southern Kordofan, meanwhile, have forged a new alliance against the Khartoum regime, threatening to trigger another war.
International pressure might be the only way to prevent full-scale war in Sudan. Yet the international community, especially the United States, seems to have lost interest in Sudan following the official independence of South Sudan in July – which was apparently Washington's chief priority in Sudan.
The fate of the disputed regions, including Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan, was supposed to be settled by "popular consultations" in the regions, according to a peace agreement between the south and north in 2005. Yet those consultations were never properly held, and both sides are switching back to military tactics.