Sudan conflict undermines talks but war unlikely: analysts
By Simon Martelli (AFP) -
KHARTOUM - Ties between Sudan and the newly independent south are badly
strained after violence surged along their tense border and darkened the
prospects of talks, but analysts say all-out war is unlikely.
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir said Thursday his country would not
sacrifice any more of its people in wars with the north.
But he also claimed that Khartoum was looking for a pretext to invade and
seize southern oil fields.
"We will never allow our sovereignty to be violated by anybody," he warned.
Shortly afterwards, southern officials say the northern army carried out two
cross-border air strikes, including on a refugee camp, and a deadly ground
attack in the country's oil-producing states of Unity and Upper Nile.
Khartoum strongly denied the allegations, insisting that Juba was supplying
the southern-aligned SPLM-North rebels that the Sudanese armed forces (SAF)
claimes to have defeated in Blue Nile state but continues to battle in South
Analysts warn the ongoing violence in the border area will only make it
harder for Juba and Khartoum to resolve key post-secession issues, which
include the division of oil revenues, the future of the disputed Abyei
region, and border demarcation.
"The fighting is going to complicate the negotiations because the two
parties need to sit down and amicably resolve the pending issues," said Fuad
Hikmat from the International Crisis Group.
"This is not a healthy situation. The African Union is trying to bring the
two parties together for talks in Addis Ababa, but ... it's getting ever
more difficult," he added.
Hikmat said the discussions on some of those issues, especially Abyei, were
"extremely complicated" and required a lot of political will, which was
notably absent from the language of senior officials, north and south.
In a speech to mark the Muslim Eid al-Adha festival and the capture of the
Blue Nile border town of Kurmuk last Sunday, President Omar al-Bashir
accused Juba of a string of betrayals and provocations.
He said if the south wanted to go to war, "our army is there."
Magdi Gazouli, Sudan analyst with the Rift Valley Institute, said "I can see
a lot of rhetoric. But there's nothing concrete to support the notion that
these people are going to fight any time soon."
"Bashir delivered a very triumphant speech in Kurmuk, which contained a
warning to the south," he said, arguing that it was mainly for "internal
"He was not stating the position of his government towards South Sudan. I
think he was doing a propaganda stunt for the SAF, saying 'we fought the
war, we won it together, we were not defeated.'"
Equally, Kiir's claims about the north trying to capture the southern oil
fields were simply "a cry for international support," according to Gazouli.
He believes the attacks in Upper Nile and Unity states were targeting the
retreat positions of the SPLM-North in South Kordofan, comrades in arms of
the ex-southern rebels who refused to give up their weapons when the south
Both sides have repeatedly accused each other of -- and denied -- arming
Roger Middleton, Sudan expert at the London-based Chatham House think tank,
says the history of conflict in Sudan, and in the region generally, is
characterised by governments supporting rebels or opposition groups in
"The idea of support across the border for insurgent activity in the north,
that kind of thing is much more realistic than ... a full-scale war between
the two countries," he told AFP.
The numerous internal problems facing Juba and Khartoum, the severe economic
woes dogging the Sudanese government and the cost involved in such a war
were the main reasons he gave.
"But I don't think we'll see the end of cross-border skirmishes," he said,
adding that he also believed the ongoing clashes would make future
negotiations "much harder."
For now, Juba is able to continue exporting its oil, the lifeblood of the
south's economy, via Port Sudan. And Khartoum is remunerated in back
payments, getting less than what it used to, but more than it is likely to
receive under a final oil deal.
Failure to strike such deals, however, points to more serious dangers on the
"The longer these things are left unresolved, the more likely you are to get
into a situation of permanent antagonism, like Ethiopia and Eritrea, or a
Kashmir situation," said Chatham House's Middleton.
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Received on Tue Nov 15 2011 - 18:40:57 EST