Sudan declared a state of emergency in a flashpoint border state and appointed a military ruler Friday, official media said, after clashes between the army and forces loyal to the elected governor.
“President Omar al-Bashir declared a state of emergency in Blue Nile state and named a military commander in the Damazin area as military governor of the state,” SUNA news agency reported.
The announcement came just hours after fighting erupted between the army and former rebel troops loyal to Malik Agar, leader of the northern branch of the SPLM, Sudan’s main opposition party.
The clashes, which erupted on Thursday night, follow a troop buildup in Blue Nile and warnings that the three month-old conflict in nearby South Kordofan was likely to spread along Sudan’s new international border with the south.
Earlier this week, Khartoum lodged a complaint at the UN Security Council against newly-independent South Sudan, accusing it of fomenting unrest in its northern neighbor, according to AFP.
The Khartoum government has sought to reassert its authority within its new borders in view of the south's formal declaration of independence on July 9, and to disarm troops outside its control.
Blue Nile and South Kordofan are located north of Sudan’s new border.
But they both have large numbers of SPLM-North supporters and fighters loyal to the opposition party who fought alongside the SPLA/M, ex-southern rebels turned ruling party of the south, during a devastating 22-year civil war.
Khartoum has previously threatened to disarm southern-aligned fighters in Blue Nile.
“The Sudanese army started the attack on our positions,” Malik Agar, governor of Blue Nile and member of the northern branch of the SPLM, told Reuters earlier on Friday by telephone.
He accused the government of planning the attack because it moved soldiers and 12 tanks into al-Damazin, the capital of Blue Nile state. Agar also said the Sudanese government launched air raids on an area around the Blue Nile town of Kormok, and claimed that a woman and child were killed.
Sudanese army spokesman al-Sowarmy Khaled Saad told Reuters that SPLM forces attacked the Sudanese army late on Thursday in and around al-Damazin. It said the army responded and was now in control.
There was no immediate government comment on any aerial raid, a charge the governor made after Saad spoke, nor was there any independent confirmation of such an aerial incident.
Similar clashes and mutual accusations about who was to blame have led to an escalation in violence in South Kordofan, another state in the north that is on the southern border.
Agar earlier told Sudan’s state news agency, SUNA, that clashes erupted between the SPLM-aligned forces at the entrance of al-Damazin and the Sudanese army forces during the night of Thursday to Friday.
“Clashes quickly spread to all areas where (forces of the SPLM) were stationed,” SUNA quoted him as saying.
South Sudan split from the rest of the country in July after a referendum on secession, part of the 2005 peace deal that ended decades of conflict between north and south. The separation was relatively smooth but tensions simmer.
Under the 2005 deal, residents of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, where the two sides have also clashed, were offered “popular consultations” to determine ties to Khartoum. These have not been completed.