KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan’s defence minister on Monday accused anti-government fighters of trying to create “a second Benghazi” in the border state of Southern Kordofan and said the military was continuing efforts to “clean” the area.
The Libyan coastal city of Benghazi is the seat of power for rebels trying to oust the country’s leader Muammar Gaddafi.
North Sudan’s military has been fighting southern-aligned groups in Southern Kordofan — an oil-rich northern state — for more than two weeks, raising tensions as the south prepares to secede on July 9.
“Up to this moment, our forces are continuing their efforts and their struggle to clean this area and nip this sedition in the bud,” Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein told members of parliament.
Analysts have seen Southern Kordofan as a flashpoint ahead of the split because it is home to thousands of fighters who sided with the south against the north during a north-south civil war, which claimed about 2 million lives.
As a legacy of that conflict, many of the fighters are heavily-armed and seasoned, analysts say, and are still referred to as part of the south’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). The southern military says they are no longer in its army.
Officials with the south’s dominant Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) have said fighting started in Southern Kordofan when the north tried to disarm fighters there.
The north’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has accused the fighters of trying to start a rebellion after the NCP’s Ahmed Haroun was named governor of the state last month.
Haroun is wanted by the International Criminal Court over allegations of war crimes in the western Darfur region, which borders Southern Kordofan. Khartoum refuses to recognise the court.
The SPLM said the vote was rigged, which the north denied. Hussein said rebel fighters were now trying to take control of the Southern Kordofan’s state capital Kadugli and install Abdelaziz el-Helu, the SPLM candidate in that election, by force.
He accused rebels of making a plan to “occupy Kadugli and other cities, seize Southern Kordofan, declare el-Helu governor of Southern Kordofan and temporary president of the ‘New Sudan’, and make Kadugli a second Benghazi”.
Humanitarian groups fear a mounting death toll in the state, and the United Nations has said an aerial bombardment campaign has caused “huge suffering” for civilians there.
The northern military rejects the charge, saying it is helping civilians, not hurting them.
Southerners voted to secede in a January plebiscite promised in a 2005 peace deal.