Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir says restoring peace to the country’s southern province of South Kordofan — where government troops are fighting rebels — is Khartoum’s “top priority,” as anti-government protesters plan to hold rallies in Sudan’s war zones.
“Our top priority is to bring peace to this area” the Sudanese president, dressed in military uniform, told a crowd of his supporters at a televised rally in Kadguli, the capital of South Kordofan, on Monday.
“We are ready to go to any length to bring peace to this area. We will undertake all efforts that will bring peace to this area,” Bashir said.
Since 2011, members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), a political party and a militant organization, have been engaged in an active insurgency in South Kordofan and Blue Nile provinces against the Sudanese government, accusing Khartoum of having politically and economically marginalized the two southern regions.
Khartoum accuses neighboring South Sudan, which seceded from the Republic of Sudan in 2011, of supporting the armed rebels in their bloody insurgency, which has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions more over the years.
The East African country, particularly Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman, has also been the scene of deadly anti-government protests since December 17 last year over price hikes and shortages of food and fuel.
The rallies first erupted in the farming town of Atbara in the wake of a move by the government to triple the price of one loaf of bread, which angered people and triggered the initial demonstrations, which swiftly mushroomed into nationwide protests against Bashir.
On Sunday, hundreds of protesters held rallies in their neighborhoods and some squares in Khartoum and Omdurman despite the heavy presence of riot police and security agents, who prevented protesters from convening at several of the designated protest sites.
The Sunday rallies, as those held previously, were called and organized by the Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA), an umbrella group of unions representing doctors, teachers, and engineers.
Call for rallies in war zones
The SPA, which calls Bashir a “dictator” and has demanded his swift resignation, called for more rallies to be held in the three conflict zones of Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan on Monday.
It said in a statement late on Sunday that demonstrations, which have also been have called in other provinces and in camps for internally displaced persons, were meant “to show our people’s rejection of the dictator.”
During the past weeks, Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) have reportedly been carrying out a crackdown on protesters, opposition leaders, activists, and reporters in an attempt to prevent the spread of the rallies.
Official figures say that at least 30 people, including a number of security agents, have lost their lives since the onset of the rallies. Some rights groups say at least 40 people have been killed.
Sudan has been struggling with a worsening economic crisis, including a serious shortage of foreign currency. The cost of some commodities, including medicines, has more than doubled and inflation has hit 70 percent. A growing lack of food and fuel has also been regularly reported across several cities, including Khartoum.
Bashir, who took power through a military coup in 1989, is wanted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide related to the war in Darfur. He strongly rejects the charges.