by Abayomi Azikiwe
Multiple wars now wrack Sudan and South Sudan, which less than a year ago were one country. Oil fields on the Sudan side of the border, seized earlier by South Sudan, are now back in northern hands. “Within South Sudan itself, there is factional fighting that has resulted in the dislocation of thousands of people in recent months.” South Sudan-allied rebels are on the offensive in the north, with “a military campaign against the Sudan government in Blue Nile state.”
Sudan, South Sudan on the Brink of War Over Oil
by Abayomi Azikiwe
This article previously appeared in Pan-African News Wire, of which Mr. Azikiwe is editor.
“Reports on April 23 indicated that there are large scale troop build-ups by both North and South Sudan on their respective borders.”
Sudan and the newly-independent South Sudan have moved to the edge of all-out war in this oil-producing central African region. Sudan initially agreed to recognize the partition of the south of the country during 2011 after a January vote in South Sudan that was overwhelmingly in favor of secession.
However, major issues related to the demarcation of the borders between the two states and the control of oil resources were not resolved prior to the break-up of the country, which was, prior to the partition, the continent’s largest geographic nation-state. In the period leading up to the division of Sudan, the country was producing over 500,000 barrels of oil per day.
The seizure by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the armed forces of South Sudan, of the Heglig oil fields in South Kordofan state on April 10 prompted international condemnation and a declaration of war by Khartoum. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir told supporters of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) at a rally on April 18 that he would go to war rather than surrender the Heglig oil fields, the country’s largest, to the South Sudanese government.
South Sudan announced that it was withdrawing its forces from Heglig on April 20. Later the Sudanese government declared victory over the SPLA in the dispute claiming that Khartoum had “liberated” Heglig from Juba (the capital of South Sudan).
“In the period leading up to the division of Sudan, the country was producing over 500,000 barrels of oil per day.”
On April 23 it was reported that Sudanese military planes had bombed the oil towns of Bentiu and Rubkona in South Sudan’s Unity state. In a statement issued by the South Sudanese Information Minister “Since yesterday and today, they have been bombing. There has also been a ground attack on our positions and we have the right to react.” (Christian Science Monitor, April 23)
Additional reports on April 23 indicated that there are large scale troop build-ups by both North and South Sudan on their respective borders. South Sudan described the bombings of Bentiu and Rubkona as a “serious escalation” and a “clear provocation.”
Lt. Gen. Obuto Mamur told the French Press Agency (AFP) that “Yesterday they (Sudan) attacked us, and then today they continue to attack us, what is next? We do not attack. But our soldiers are in their position.” (AFP, April 23)
President Omar al-Bashir on April 23 addressed thousands of troops at the recently liberated Heglig oil fields urging the military to respond to any further aggression by South Sudan. The president also rejected any negotiations with the South Sudanese government until it halted military actions against his government.
Al-Bashir said that “Sudan with its old borders will not accommodate us with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and one of us should leave. The South Sudan government, on top of which are Salva Kiir and Pagan, does not care about its citizens because at the time when they send their sons and families to live and receive education abroad, they send the southern Sudanese citizens to war with Sudan to target its economic capabilities.” (xinhuanet.com, April 23)
“South Sudan described the bombings of Bentiu and Rubkona as a ‘serious escalation” and a ‘clear provocation.’”
The president continued stressing that “we will continue until every inch of our homeland in South Kordofan and Blue Nile areas is liberated from the remnants of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).” Al-Bashir was accompanied to Heglig by other government officials including Vice-President Al-Haj Adam Yousif, Minister of the Presidency Bakry Hassan Salih, Presidential Assistant Nafie Ali Nafie, Defense Minister Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Hussein, Minister of the Council of Ministers Ahmed Saad and Presidential Assistant Abdul-Rahman Al-Sadiq Al- Mahdi.
Instability Increases With Fighting in Other Border Areas
Other fighting in the border areas includes a series of battles between the SPLA-North, a rebel group allied with the SPLA, which says that South Kordofan is part of South Sudan. The SPLA-North attacked the town of Talodi and claimed that it had seized a portion of it.
However, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), the military of the Sudanese government based in Khartoum, denied that any part of Talodi had been taken over and that the attacks had been repulsed. Spokesman for the SAF, AL-Sawarmi Khalid Saad, said that the rebel forces suffered heavy losses in lives and equipment.
Meanwhile in another disputed border region of Blue Nile, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) said that it has seized three areas occupied by the SPLA-North. Major General Murtade Abdalla, commander of the fourth infantry in Damazin said that “the Sudanese armed forces have managed, during their military operations in Blue Nile State, to kill more than 50 rebels and arrested 17 others. The armed forces, backed by the People’s Defense Forces and other regular forces, have defeated the SPLM-N forces and control three areas, including Magan, Jilgo and Gabanet, at al-Angasana mountains in the state.” (Xinhua.net, April 22)
The SPLA-North launched a military campaign against the Sudan government in Blue Nile in September 2011 and is in control of some major areas in the state. The SAF said in November that it had expelled SPLA-North rebels from al-Kurmuk, its major stronghold in the area.
Blue Nile state is located in a strategic area on the border with Ethiopia. The SPLA-North is reported to have 20,000 soldiers in the area most of which fought alongside the SPLA in the south that now constitute the conventional army of the South Sudan government.
Nonetheless, within South Sudan itself, there is factional fighting that has resulted in the dislocation of thousands of people in recent months. The South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA), which is at odds with the government of President Silva Kiir, has announced that it is sending ten thousand fighters to Manga and Bentiu in order to overthrow the authority of the government in Juba.
“The SPLA-North is reported to have 20,000 soldiers in the area.”
In a statement issued by the SSLA, it accuses the Kiir government of corruption. The SSLA reports that it has seized military trucks and killed numerous SPLA soldiers and taken some officers into custody. According to the SSLA, Capt. Domeris AKilo, Samuel Makuach Maker, Immanel Feliz, William Mamer Kiir, Peter Malong Deng, Hames Wani, Lado Samuel Tattali, Tut Gatkuouth Chol, Gatluak Chuo Biel and James Deng Atem are being held by their forces.
The SSLA statement concludes by stressing that the organization “is calling upon remaining SPLA forces to join the forces of change to liberate our country from corruption. Under the leadership of Salva Kiir, South Sudan cannot achieve peace because the only thing Salva Kiir specialized in is corruption.” (Sudan Tribune, April 23)
The SSLA goes on saying “Without equality, democracy, internal peace and stability, the realization of the good life—better food, housing, and living conditions—would be impossible under the leadership of corrupt Warrap’s elites.”
The Role of China and the United States
As a result of the resumption of fighting between South and North Sudan, the South Sudanese government says that it will cease exporting oil through the government in Khartoum. South Sudan claims that it has secured funding to construct a new oil pipeline, noting that “Oil is off the table. South Sudan has taken a strategic decision not to export our oil through Sudan.” (Bloomberg, April 23)
One report indicates that South Sudan is seeking funding from the People’s Republic of China to build a new pipeline. South Sudan President Silva Kiir arrived in China on April 23 for a five-day official visit.
In a statement to the Financial Times, Pagan Amum, the Secretary General of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) ruling party, he said that the pipeline project would “be a consortium and China could join.” South Sudan is landlocked and oil production totaling 350,000 barrels per day has been shut down due to ongoing conflict with Sudan since February.
“South Sudan claims that it has secured funding to construct a new oil pipeline.”
China is the largest investor in the oil industry for both South Sudan and Sudan. China, for this very reason, is in a strategic position to perhaps mediate the escalating conflict between the two neighbors.
According to the Oman Tribune, “China’s long-term support for Khartoum, including its role as an arms supplier, had been a sore point with the South. But Beijing has expanded ties with South Sudan, eager to tap its oil. China can also build badly needed infrastructure in the country.” (Oman Tribune, April 23)
The United States under successive administrations has taken a hostile position towards Sudan. The Obama administration was a major proponent of the partition of the country.
Although the Obama administration has a public posture that calls for calm between the two countries and the resumption of negotiations, in actuality the U.S. administration is seeking the overthrow of the NCP government in Khartoum as well as the secession of the western region of Darfur, where fighting has intensified in recent weeks.
Since China is the major player in the oil industry in both South Sudan and Sudan, increasing hostility and instability would provide Washington with greater opportunities to intervene and lay claim to the vast resources inside both countries.