Sudan opens bigger dam in conflict state
By Ian Timberlake, AFPROSEIRES, Sudan -- A torrent of water surged Tuesday into Sudan's Blue Nile river as President Omar al-Bashir inaugurated the expanded Roseires dam, which officials say should help develop one of the country's poorest, insurgent-hit regions.
January 3, 2013, 12:02 am TWN
When Bashir arrived to open the Arab-funded, Chinese-built expansion before thousands of dancing and flag-waving residents, an arc of water poured through the flag-draped dam, sending spray into the air and rapids bubbling.
Military helicopters flew low overhead and troops were stationed throughout the area, about 550 kilometers (340 miles) southeast of the capital Khartoum.
Rebels from the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) — which Sudan says are backed by South Sudan — have been fighting the government in Blue Nile state for more than a year.
The main conflict zone is in Bau and Kurmuk districts, dozens of kilometers south of the expanded dam which opened on the 57th anniversary of Sudan's independence.
“God willing, Blue Nile will be free of rebels,” Bashir told an audience that included Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, and water ministers from Ethiopia and Egypt.
“The sons of Blue Nile are the ones who benefit most from this dam,” Bashir said as a machine sprayed tinsel strips over the podium which looked out onto billboards featuring his likeness against a backdrop of the dam.
SPLM-N rebel spokesman Arnu Ngutulu Lodi dismissed Bashir's comments as “a kind of political game.”
“It's going to benefit only those in power,” he told AFP. “The investment of the government is not on people.”
Residents near the 25-kilometer dam live in huts made of thatch and mud brick.
“Decades of civil war and years of conflict have devastated the physical and social infrastructure” in Blue Nile, the U.N. children's fund (UNICEF) said in a 2011 report on Sudan.