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[Dehai-WN] Time.com: The War of the Sudans: All Not So Quiet on the Southern Front

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Sat, 28 Apr 2012 00:00:46 +0200

The War of the Sudans: All Not So Quiet on the Southern Front

By <http://www.time.com/time/letters/email_letter.html> Alan Boswell /
Panakwac, South Sudan Friday, Apr. 27, 2012

From the grass stalls of Bentiu, where a burnt market and upended billboard
bear scars of air strikes, South Sudan's road north to Sudan buzzes with the
locomotion of war. To the left and right, oil fields lie pocketed with
shrapnel-filled craters. Civilians with chairs or beds on their heads stream
south, as trucks full of South Sudanese soldiers and Darfur rebels rumble
back and forth. Our convoy, escorted by the South Sudanese army, blows by
the town of Lalop - emptied of civilians and teeming with soldiers, tanks,
and anti-aircraft guns. Further ahead, we pull to a stop at a smaller
encampment of grass huts and foxholes. Troops fan out to the east and west,
bundled under trees, waiting. "They dropped 24 bombs on us last night," said
Brig. Gen. James Kuac, the commander. "Even ten minutes ago, they dropped
four. It's not good for you to stay long."

This is the latest front in one of Africa's oldest wars, except this time
the stage is much more prominent: after South Sudan won its independence
last year, what was once a civil war has transformed into a full-blown
regional conflict. Two miles north of this South Sudanese position is the de
facto international border, where the fighting all began several weeks ago
and spread northward as South Sudan marched on the disputed oil territory of
Heglig, captured it, and then blitzed even deeper north, vowing to take more
territory. South Sudan says it was acting out of self-defense, but who fired
first is unknown. What is obvious is that tensions had been rising for
months: South Sudan shut down its oil production to cut off the flow north,
and talks between the two sides have been deadlocked. Meanwhile, Sudan
angrily denounced South Sudan for its links to various rebellions across the
border. South Sudan's march north suddenly reversed when, on April 20, South
Sudanese officials in the capital Juba announced their forces were pulling
all the way back. Heglig was abandoned once again, its oil facilities
ablaze, the town thoroughly looted.

 <http://lightbox.time.com/2012/04/26/pete-muller/#1> (PHOTOS: Inside South

Now, the move is in Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's court, and he badly
needs a victory to take home after being humiliated in Heglig by an enemy
army that was a ragtag guerrilla force just six years ago. So far, Bashir
has refused to return to talks and vowed to crush the South Sudanese
"insects." Meanwhile, South Sudan's military is digging in to counter what
they expect to be a retaliatory ground invasion, as Khartoum rains bombs
from above, some killing civilians. South Sudanese and other security
sources speculate that Bashir could try to capture the Unity oil fields, or
even march all the way to Bentiu itself, before returning to the negotiating
table with a better hand.

South Sudan's mobilization towards war has embarrassed the United States,
which backed its quest for independence and continues to throw aid and
diplomatic weight behind the young, fledgling nation. But South Sudan's
leaders say they have no apologies. "We liberated Heglig. Heglig is in South
Sudan," argued South Sudan's vice president, Riek Machar, before boasting to
TIME: "We are always the underdogs." South Sudan hoped its withdrawal from
Heglig will smooth over its friends' ruffled feathers. But, that move failed
to impress amid skepticism that the retreat was a strategic imperative and
less a diplomatic concession. Facing a fierce Sudanese counter-offensive
along a flat terrain with no natural defensive positions, South Sudan
probably had little choice but to pull back.

So, what now? Both armies are back to where they started, at the old border,
but nothing is back to normal. The state of war rages on. South Sudan's top
military brass and field commanders continue to arrive at the front, as its
troops ready for a big battle. Sudan launched several waves of ground attack
on Sunday, but the attack was repulsed. Ever since, the front lines have
sunken into an eery silence broken only by the sound of Sudanese war planes
above and bombs below. The aerial attacks are not limited to the front
lines: on Monday, in Bentiu, a car of journalists had just crossed the
town's bridge when a bomb fell nearby. Dirt basted into the air fifty yards
away. One of the missiles hit the market, where a charred boy's corpse lay
twisted under billows of smoke.

 <http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2112356,00.html> (MORE: The
War Between the Sudans)

There is hope: the quieting front lines could be a sign that external
diplomatic pressure is working. U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria
Nuland on Thursday called on the two parties to "formalize" the ceasefire,
which she called a "small glimmer of hope." China has deep energy interests
in both nations and is pushing for an end to the fighting. The U.N. has
strongly condemned Sudan's aerial attacks, just as they denounced South
Sudan's capture of Heglig earlier. In a meeting in Ethiopia on Tuesday, the
African Union passed a roadmap to peace with a three month ultimatum for
both sides to strike a deal, or else. Diplomatic sources say both sides are
being threatened with U.N.-backed sanctions if they don't cooperate. With
both economies spiraling downward, leverage may be limited. South Sudan, in
particular, already has shut down its oil production and has no functional
economy to blacklist. But, South Sudan, unlike its northern neighbor, still
seems sensitive to international condemnation. "South Sudan can't afford to
be a pariah state," said Vice President Machar.

The grim reality on the ground that makes peace so elusive is that there is
not just one conflict in the Sudans, but many - and they are all connected.
Exhibit one: the out-of-place Darfuris, northern Sudanese who have joined up
with South Sudan for the fight. Boasting roofless trucks and heavy machine
guns, the Justice and Equality Movement rebel fighters roll like a modern
calvary, excelling in hit-and-runs and flanking maneuvers. Just to the east
of Heglig are the Nuba Mountains, where more South Sudan-aligned rebels,
allied with JEM, have been putting up a spirited fight against Sudanese
troops and taking ground. Their rebel partners further to the east, in Blue
Nile, are waging guerrilla warfare on another front against Bashir. Until
Sudan finds a way to accommodate its own marginalized opponents, and until
South Sudan is willing to admit its links to them, real peace along the
world's newest border will likely remain a distant mirage on a road map to

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