Tension is escalating on the border between Sudan and South Sudan. Regional expert Roland Marchal warns of “disastrous consequences” if the countries do not pull back from the brink of all-out war.
Sudan and South Sudan are on the verge of open war. Violence along the contested border between the two countries has been escalating in recent weeks, culminating, on April 10, in southern forces taking Heglig, the north’s biggest and most valuable oilfield.
Khartoum hit back with “reprisals”, targeting a UN peacekeepers' camp on April 15, killing 7 civilians and injuring 14 others.
Source of the tension
Sudan and South Sudan separated officially on July 9, 2011, but tensions between the two countries have not subsided, especially over the issue of shared oil revenues and defining the border.
Most of the oil fields of the old unified Sudan are now in the South, which says that Khartoum is asking for too big a share in the proceeds.
In January, the south cut off oil supplies to Khartoum, putting economic pressure on the north, while at the same time depriving itself of valuable revenues.
The following day the Sudanese parliament voted overwhelmingly to brand its southern neighbour “the enemy”.
The two countries are not officially at war – but the current crisis is at its most serious since the South voted to declare independence from Khartoum in January 2011.
Nevertheless, there is no immediate cause for alarm, insists Sudan specialist Roland Marchal, researcher at the Paris-Based Centre for International Studies and Research (CERI).
“The situation is serious, yes, but it is only affecting the border region,” he told FRANCE 24. “Khartoum has the means to bomb the South’s military facilities, and it has not done so.”
It is in neither state’s interest to start a war that would have “disastrous consequences” and would be “counterproductive” for both countries, he said.
“South Sudan is risking the dwindling amount of sympathy it enjoys with the international community,” he said. “And Omar al-Bashir in the north would find himself even more isolated diplomatically (he has been the subject of an International Criminal Court arrest warrant since 2009).”
“We have to ask ourselves if both sides are even aware that they are not heading towards a localised conflict but towards one that will destabilise the entire region,” he added.
His opinion is shared by Christian Delmet at the Centre of African World Studies (CEMAf), who told RFI Radio on Monday that the South’s decision to capture the Heglig oilfield was “incomprehensible.”
“Why did South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir decide to take the oilfields when he doesn’t even need the petrol, has already begun negotiations, and stated that he was ready to meet with al-Bashir?” he asked.
So far there have been few victims in the violence along the countries borders – but the fighting has brought back memories of a civil war that caused up to two million deaths between 1983 and 2005
Meanwhile, the international community is worried that the current violence may yet undermine efforts to establish a permanent peace.
“There still exist some ways to resolve this conflict,” said Marchal. “Big powers like the USA, China, Russia and Qatar, as well as neighbouring countries, will continue to put pressure on both countries to end the violence.”
Marchal added that “there are reasonable men in both countries’ capital cities” who he hoped would move to lower the tensions.
“Let’s just hope that they are listened to,” he said. “Because right now everything that was gained between 2005 and 2011 is in the process of being destroyed.”
Date created : 2012-04-16