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May-June 2012

Vol. 37, No. 3


South Sudan: Urgent recalibration is required

Sudan-South Sudan map

Recent assaults by Sudan on South Sudan have included increased aerial attacks; according to reports, more than a half million people in the Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states are at risk of starvation due to the ongoing conflict. Smith College professor Eric Reeves writes that the "outlook for North and South Sudan is extremely bleak." The following are excerpts from Reeves' April 25 article. Read the entire piece on his website.

[I]n January 2003, months after a ceasefire agreement had been signed ..., an unnerving conviction, a grim certainty, was expressed to me by every military and civil society official I spoke with …: if war comes again to Sudan, it will be the most destructive of all our wars. ... In recent weeks, those terrible premonitions from 2003 seem on the verge of becoming a vast and uncontrollable reality.

The Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) leadership has long understood ... that there would be no international guarantors of the security arrangements in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), completed in 2004 and finally signed on January 9, 2005. The SPLM/A was adamant about maintaining its own army, because in the event that the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime violated the peace, no other country would offer meaningful help or protection to the South.

The moment they had feared appears almost at hand. In the last few weeks, the SPLA has repeatedly repulsed a (northern) Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) assault on the border settlement of Tishwin in Unity State, South Sudan. In the process of driving the SAF north, the SPLA temporarily seized the critical oil hub of Heglig, which lies in a complicated and contested border area (Heglig is called Panthou by most Southerners). The fighting was particularly significant in the wake of Khartoum's May 2011 seizure of the large Abyei area just to the west of Heglig – another contested area of immense significance to southerners, and in which Heglig had been placed by the CPA's Abyei Boundaries Commission.

The SPLA withdrew forces from Heglig at the behest of the international community (or, according to Khartoum, pressure from the SAF), but the situation is now explosive. As of [April 25], the northern Sudanese regime was openly bombing targets across the border from Heglig. …

Over the past year, fighting has spread from Abyei to South Kordofan to Blue Nile to the border regions, and in each instance Khartoum has been the clear aggressor, evidently convinced that it can somehow seize southern oil fields or create a situation on the ground that will strengthen its negotiating position. The SAF began (or, rather, resumed) indiscriminate aerial assaults on civilians in November 2010, shortly before the southern self-determination referendum. This has accelerated in recent months and weeks; the very recent bombing of Bentiu, a major city and the capital of Unity State, signals a willingness to attack civilians on a large scale.

For its part, the leadership in Juba is bewildered and dismayed. While appropriately fearing the military threat posed by Khartoum, the SPLM/A did not anticipate during peace negotiations that it would be abandoned diplomatically, allowing Khartoum to pick which elements of the CPA Protocols it would observe and which it would ignore. To understand the current dire situation, ...remember that the international community never secured from Khartoum good faith participation in negotiations over delineation and demarcation of the North/South border, per the explicit terms of the CPA. …

For border delineation to begin in earnest, substantial diplomatic commitment will be needed. Immediately following delineation of any section of the border, the UN should begin demarcation as a means of creating a credible, effective tripwire along the North/South border to prevent, if possible, future aggressive military actions against the South by Khartoum.

In all likelihood, none of these measures will be taken, with Khartoum's obduracy used to justify diplomatic fecklessness. But the responsibility for that war will not be Khartoum's alone. It will be shared by international leaders who chose the expedient route, even with millions of lives at risk. §

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