CONFLUENCE OF BLUE AND WHITE NILES AT KHARTOUM
Sudan is the largest country in North Africa. It lies directly south of Egypt. Much like Egypt, the Nile river and its tributaries are the life of this very hot desert country. People have lived in Sudan for thousands of years farming by the Nile and herding livestock. Pyramids tell of a time when the Pharos made Sudan their home. Today, with a population of about thirty five million, Sudan is a developing modern country attempting to somehow find its place in the international community.
Sudan is a huge country. It is about the size of Western Europe. The marking feature of the country is the Nile river, formed by the White Nile and the Blue Nile which meet in the capital city, Khartoum. In general the country is flat. The exceptions are the coastal mountains in the east, the Nuba Mountains, and the far western mountains. There is also a marked distinction between the north and south. Northern Sudan is very dry, consisting of large expanses of desert and arid planes. Southern Sudan contains large areas of rain forests and swamps making it much more adaptable for farming.
Sudan is hot, very hot. There is a dry season and a rainy season. The length of the rainy season is largely determined by how far north one lives. The extreme south of Sudan normally has a nine month rainy season while a city like Atbara in the North is lucky to get more than a week of showers. Khartoum usually has a two month rainy season lasting throughout July and August. Temperatures in Sudan are highest in May and June, which is also the common season for sand storms. Average daily highs range between 37oC and 43oC with an occasional day in the 48oC. Because the country is mostly desert there is usually a large difference between day time and night time temperatures. In Khartoum a January day might have a high of 27oC and dip to 7oC at night.
POPULATION & CULTURE
Sudan has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the world. Over four hundred ethnic groups have their own language which they use alongside a trade language such as Arabic. The population has two major groups, the Muslim people living in the north, and the darker skinned people of the south. Because of famine and war, almost three million southerners live in the north, which now is home to about 75% of the country's population. Greater Khartoum, the largest city in the country, has a population of about six million. Sudan's current total population is around thirty five million people.
The main food items such as meat, river fish, eggs and milk (which should be boiled if it is not bottled) is available throughout the year. Fruits like bananas, orange, grapefruits, mangoes, melons and dates are also available in season, and other kinds of fruits (apple, apricot etc.) are imported. While various imported tinned food items are available at the Government-run duty-free shop and private groceries, they are comparatively expensive. Other special food items have to be imported. The city water in Khartoum and other towns is treated. However, it is preferred that tap water be filtered and/or boiled before use. Bottled mineral water locally produced is available on the market at suitable prices SD100 for 1.5 lit. Bottle. Uncooked food should be avoided.
It is difficult to give an accurate picture of the Sudanese government. In theory, Sudan is a federal republic of twenty six states led by a directly elected President who works alongside a national assembly. Sudan is led by President Field Marshal Omar al-Bashir. Since 1989 he has headed the national assembly.
The civil war between the North and the South started in 1984 when the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) was formed and began fighting the Khartoum government. The South does not support the Khartoum government which tried to impose traditional Islamic law on the entire country. The North sees the war as a holy war against the unbelievers who threaten the "true faith". War between the North and the South dates back many years and resulted in genocide. But the war is not only between the North and the South, fighting is also common between the southern tribes. In Sudan, war was part of everyday life, but the situation is fast turning towards normalcy with the intervention of the UN. At present potential local threats might include violent actions from militias aligned with the GoS, the SPLA, non-aligned armed groups, foreign armed groups, criminal elements and land mines. It is important to appreciate that these threats may vary significantly during the transition process and the post transition period (referendum and post referendum).
HISTORY OF SUDAN
Sudan's history goes back thousands of years before Christ and is almost as old as the Nile itself. The Cush kingdom of the Old Testament was located in present-day northern Sudan, and for thousands of years the center of power along the Nile shifted between Egypt and Sudan. The sixth century saw the rise of Christianity in Sudan. The Christian faith officially remained until the Islamic Conquest in the thirteenth century yet many people kept their faith until the fifteenth or sixteenth century. Islamic rulers from the Ottoman empire led the country for several centuries until the 1880's when the British, alongside the Egyptians, took control of Sudan. The conquest was part of an effort to control the river as well as a response to the Mahdist Islamic revolution seen as a possible threat to the stability of the area.
On December 19, 1955, the Parliament voted unanimously that Sudan should become "a fully independent sovereign state". British and Egyptian troops left the country on January 1, 1956; the same day a five-man Council of State was appointed to take over the powers of the governor general until a new constitution was agreed. From 1956 to 1989 several governments tried to rule the country but frequent drought and the constant clash between the north and the south brought them all down.
In 1989 a coup brought into power a military regime led by Lt. General Umar Hassan Ahmed al-Beshir which was dominated by the National Islamic Front led by Hassan al Turabi, Speaker of the 400 seat National Assembly. Following the 1989 coup the war against the SPLA intensified. Internationally sponsored attempts to negotiate a peace settlement between the two sides, such as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) sponsored negotiations made little progress until June 2002, although the Government, and the SPLM/A agreed in 1997 on a Declaration of Principles (DoP). The DoP held that the unity of the Sudan should be given priority, provided that the social and political system was secular and democratic and that resources be equitably shared. In the absence of these principles, the South would have the right to self-determination through a referendum.
The Naivasha agreement was signed in Naivasha, Kenya on 25 Sep 2003. During pre interim and interim period 6 1/2 years SAF and SPLA will separate and distinct. Joint integration unit (JIU) will be formed. Joint defense board would be chaired by Chiefs of Staff of SAF and SPLA alternatively. After 2 years SAF and SPLA will withdraw the remaining force. Forces allied to either of the parties shall be offered the opportunity to join those forces or shall be integrated in civil services. All stated agreements took effect from the Comprehensive Peace Agreement on 09 Jan 2005. The UN Security Council passed resolution No.1590 on 24 Mar 2005 to establish its peacekeeping presence in Sudan.
EVACUATION AND REINFORCEMENT OPERATIONS
Abyei is located southwest of Kadugli at a distance of about 120 miles. Due to its location on the ceasefire line between the north and the south, and also the discovery of large reserves of oil, it has been the bone of contention between the two warring parties in Sudan. The IAC flies regular sorties to Abyei where Sector HQ is located in a UN Camp adjacent to Abyei town. Though the flying environment has been peaceful till now, Abyei is a sensitive area and minor tribal fights and road closures have been occurring necessitating additional air effort.
On 14 May 08, a minor altercation flared up and resulted in pitched battles all over Abyei town between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army(SPLA) and government’s Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). The fighting intensified and involved the use of Medium Machine Guns and Mortars. An IAC heptr that had gone to Abyei on a routine passenger sortie was stranded and subsequently tasked to evacuate the UN civilian staff there as they were under fire. After assessing the security situation and the direction of fire, in consultation with the base the crew made a safe escape along with the evacuees. This was followed by a request for another helicopter the same evening, which flew into Abyei avoiding ground fire and evacuated more UN staff by night, much to the delight of UN officials. Such operations involving evacuation of UN civilians had been accomplished for the first time in the UN Mission in Sudan.
The following day, the IAC flew seven more shuttles into Abyei , evacuating a total of 109 UN personnel as sporadic firing continued, at all times ensuring the safety of the helicopters and passengers. By the end of the day the firing had ceased and with warring groups being brought to the table a sense of calm prevailed.
On 16 May 08, doing routine commitments were forced to make a halt at Abyei due to enroute bad weather. Their unscheduled night halt due to bad weather was again interrupted by some heavy firing which had again started. The crew was tasked by the UN to evacuate the remaining UN personnel as fighting had intensified and the UN camp was under threat. Due to enroute bad weather it was decided the evacuation was completed the following day at first light. Having evacuated all the UN civilian staff out of Abyei, the UN camp needed to be reinforced with additional troops. The UN again turned to IAC for flying Force Reserve Battalion troops. This was carried out in a four heptr Special Heliborne Operation which inducted 60 fully armed troops with their equipment and supplies in a precisely timed operation carried out with efficiency, stealth and speed and the mission included the COO/CO in the lead aircraft.
The UN Mission in Sudan was to operate under Chapter 7 (Peace Enforcement) mandate of UN Security Council, but till now it has been operating under Chapter 6 (Peace Keeping). This is the first time that UN heptrs have had to operate a hostile helipad under threat of fire and have been involved in emergency evacuation/ troop reinforcement in Sudan. It is noteworthy that for the first time the UN was convinced that passengers should be carried along with an internal fuel tank as it reduces ground time on helipads and increases the range of the helicopters. Thus a precedent has been set for carriage of passengers in UN helicopters along with internal fuel tanks.
The missions accomplished by the IAC between 14 May 08 and 17 May 08, wherein all the UN civilian staff have been moved to safety from Abyei and reinforcements have been inducted, have been praised by the highest quarters in the UN Force HQ. The aircrew earned accolades for their professionalism, bravery and sense of duty from none other than the Force Commander who had personally come to congratulate and show his appreciation for valiant effort by the Indian Air Force. Indian Air Force also won the gratitude of scores of UN staff who were evacuated from the troubled team site of Abyei.