KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Military tensions between north and south Sudan could spill over into the separate Darfur conflict, undermining troubled peace efforts there, the territory’s peacekeeping chief said on Sunday.
Northern and southern leaders have accused each other of building up troops in the countdown to a politically sensitive referendum on whether the oil-producing south should declare independence or stay in Sudan.
South Sudan shares a border with the remote north Sudanese territory of Darfur, the scene of a separate seven-year conflict between government forces and rebels.
Ibrahim Gambari, the head of Darfur’s joint U.N./African Union UNAMID peacekeeping force, told reporters there was concern about a “spill-over effect” from north-south tensions.
“We have enough security problems in Darfur without the complications arising across the border with south Sudan,” he said.
Gambari said any new fighting in the area might force refugees to pour both ways over the border, worsening the already poor humanitarian situation. He said southern leaders might try to strengthen their hand against the north by building links with Darfur rebel groups.
“Historically there have been some alliances between the SPLM (the ruling party in the south) and some of the movements in Darfur. My fear is that those old alignments might be rekindled as a result of the fighting and will complicate an already complicated situation in Darfur,” he said.
He added a southern vote for secession would also aggravate a dispute over the position of Darfur’s border with the south.
Gambari said UNAMID and the separate U.N. mission covering the whole of Sudan were drawing up contingency plans to deal with any renewed tension or conflict.
UNAMID’s military commander Patrick Nyamvumba told Reuters the disruption might also flow the other way, with a new burst of Darfur violence undermining the political situation in the south ahead of the plebiscite.
U.N. officials and rebels have reported a series of clashes in recent weeks between insurgents and government forces in Darfur on land close to the border with the south.
Nyamvumba said sustained government pressure on the positions of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) would push the insurgents either into the south or into the equally sensitive neighbouring border region of South Kordofan.
“That would worsen tension ahead of the referendum. If JEM moves to the south it will be perceived that the south is supportive of JEM.”
The north’s army has already accused the south of supporting JEM. Meanwhile, south Sudan’s army said on Saturday the north accidentally dropped a bomb on its territory while fighting Darfur rebels just over the border.
Southerners secured the referendum in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of north-south civil war — a conflict that killed an estimated 2 million people. Seven years of fighting in Darfur has killed more than 300,000, according to one U.N. estimate.
Editing by Noah Barkin