Northern Sudan’s sole oil-producing state, Southern Kordofan, started voting today in elections for governor and the state legislature after a campaign marred by violence.
Southern Kordofan, where the Nuba Mountains are located, was the scene of heavy fighting during the two-decade civil war between the northern and southern regions that ended with a peace agreement in 2005.
The contest threatens to fuel tensions between the two regions before Southern Sudan’s scheduled independence in July, according to Fouad Hikmat, Brussels-based International Crisis Group’s special adviser on Sudan. Under the peace accord, Southern Kordofan will remain part of the north.
“It’s a pivotal state, and elections in Southern Kordofan are important for the stability of the whole of Sudan and the completion of the implementation of the peace agreement,” Hikmat said today by phone from Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.
Ahmed Haroun, the current governor and the candidate of President Umar al-Bashir’s National Congress Party, is wanted by the International Criminal Court over allegations that he was responsible for war crimes in the western region of Darfur.
He’s running against deputy governor Abdel-Aziz Adam Al-Hilu, of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, Southern Sudan’s governing party.
“Results will be a problem either way,” Hikmat said. “If Haroun wins, a lot of people will wonder how, as he is not from the region and he is not accepted by most people. Although al-Hilu does not represent all the tribes, he has a bigger chance. But how will the National Congress Party accept that their candidate loses in the election?”
Northern Sudan produces about 110,000 barrels of oil a day, according to the state oil minister, Ali Ahmed Osman. Southern Kordofan has northern Sudan’s only operating oilfields, according to Al-Sir Sid Ahmed, media adviser to Sudan’s oil minister.
At independence, Southern Sudan will assume control of about 75 percent of Sudan’s daily oil production of 490,000 barrels, the third-biggest in sub-Saharan Africa.
Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Co. and Petro Energy E&P Co. operate blocks in Southern Kordofan. The concessions are mostly owned by China National Petroleum Corp. Other stakes are held by Malaysia’s Petroliam Nasional Bhd, or Petronas, India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corp. Ltd. and Sudan’s state-owned oil company, Sudapet.
Images by Google Inc.-backed Satellite Sentinel Project, set up by founders including George Clooney, showed at least 356 structures were deliberately burnt in the town of el-Feid in Southern Kordofan last month, according to a statement by the project.
The Atlanta-based Carter Center, which is monitoring the vote, expressed concern about the violence that it said “reportedly resulted in dozens of casualties.”
Rabie Abdel Ati, a senior NCP member and adviser to the information minister, last month called the report of violence “fabricated news.”
The three-day vote was postponed from last year’s nationwide elections.
A credible vote would revive secession calls by the Nuba people, who largely fought alongside Southern Sudan in the civil war, London-based Control Risks wrote in an April 15 statement.
While it said “further clashes in the Nuba Mountains area are likely in the coming months under any scenario,” more violence is unlikely to lead to an all-out war between northern and Southern Sudan.