The battle between the armies of Sudan and South Sudan is not over yet, and
future relations require patience and open-mindedness, says Asmaa
25 April - 3 May 2012
Despite the withdrawal of the South Sudanese army from the contested,
oil-rich region of Heglig, which it controlled for 10 days, no sign of peace
is in the horizon.
The latest confrontation in Heglig was the worst between Khartoum and Juba
since the signing of the Sudanese peace treaty in 2005. Juba has accused
Khartoum of bombarding its oil installation in the Wehda Province. Khartoum,
meanwhile, claims that Juba is supporting northern rebels operating in
Darfur, South Kordofan, and the Blue Nile.
The two countries are still on the brink of war, despite hectic efforts by
international diplomats to defuse the situation. The current confrontation,
coming at a time when both countries are faced with a myriad of domestic
problems, not only brings into question their ability to develop a
neighbourly relation in the future, but may have grave consequences for the
region and the world beyond.
Much of the current crisis can be traced to the bitterness Khartoum and Juba
feel toward one another. As they sent their forces into battle, the
governments of both countries launched a vitriolic attack on each other
through the media. At one point, President Omar Al-Bashir called his
southern opponents "insects", which the southerners said was a prelude to a
war of genocide.
Al-Bashir also used a racist slur, referring to "those people (the
southerners) who must be hit with a stick, for this is how God created
Northern officials say that Al-Bashir's tirade was triggered by the southern
attack on Sudanese territories. Juba officials called Al-Bashir a thief and
called for him to be tried as war criminal in the International Criminal
Following the fighting in Heglig, both sides tried to boast of their
prowess. In Khartoum, officials claimed that the government was able to
"forcibly" expel the South Sudanese army. In Juba, the word was that the
South Sudanese army withdrew in response to international pleas and that it
was not beaten by the Sudanese army. The Sudanese army, Juba officials said,
was a "paper tiger".
The current war can only bring more bloodshed and poverty to the Sudanese,
both northerners and southerners. Just as they suffered in the years of
civil war, ordinary people in north and South Sudan are likely to pay the
price of continued hostilities.
At the heart of the current crisis is the division of oil resources and
revenues. Indignant at the way the negotiations over oil arrangements
proceeded, South Sudan shut down its production of oil, a self-immolating
act since oil is the source of 98 per cent of its budget. If Juba shot
itself in the foot to hurt Khartoum, it succeeded. Khartoum, which had lost
three-quarters of its oil production after the secession, had its oil
potential reduced by a further 60 per cent because of the extensive
destruction of Heglig's oil facilities.
Khartoum now accuses the South Sudanese army of destroying the central
treatment station, the control room and other major installations in Heglig
and says that it will sue Juba for the damage.
Juba claims that the damage was caused by Khartoum's air force during its
bombardment of the town. There are no independent reports to corroborate the
claims of Khartoum or Juba.
A satellite monitoring project run by foreign activists including the
American actor George Clooney confirmed the damage in Heglig's oil
facilities without determining its cause.
Due to the destruction of oil facilities in Heglig, both north and South
Sudan are likely to face acute gasoline shortages in the near future.
The Heglig confrontation may turn out to be a turning point in the conflict
between Khartoum and Juba. As short as the confrontation was, it
demonstrated the strengths and weaknesses of both sides, and also gave both
governments a powerful rhetorical ammunition which they are likely to use to
in the future.
On the upside, the difficulties both north and South Sudan faced in Heglig
may prompt them to take a more reconciliatory approach to their political
and military opposition.
Both Khartoum and Juba are desperate to find new allies. Khartoum is trying
to portray itself, to the Muslim and Arab audience, as a victim in a
confrontation with American and Israel who are supposedly using South Sudan
as a pawn.
Meanwhile, Juba is posing as a victim of the Arab north, and is calling for
help from its African neighbours, especially Uganda.
Juba has realised that its lack of air force is a major source of weakness.
It has already tried to buy anti-aircraft rockets and is expected to try to
buy military planes in the future. This could be ominous, for Juba may be
tempted to ask Israel for military help, a move which would add fuel to an
already volatile situation.
Now is the time for an active Egyptian and Arab role to defuse the crisis.
Unless something is done to bring peace to north and South Sudan, a perilous
line may be drawn between the Arab world and sub-Saharan countries.
Years back, the late Ahmed Bahaaeddin, a prominent Egyptian political
analyst, argued that, "If south Sudan is lost, the Arabs will be brought to
their knees." His words sound ominously prophetic.
South Sudan is important for Egypt. For one thing, Cairo hopes for an
increased water supply of 19 billion cubic metres annually from the Jonglei
Canal. With Muslims constituting 25 per cent or more of the south Sudanese,
there is a clear room for cultural operation.
So South Sudanese must not be dismissed wholesale as a treasonous,
ungrateful lot. Juba should be given the benefit of doubt on the outstanding
problems. Allowing the current conflict to get out of hand is not an option.
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Received on Thu May 03 2012 - 17:31:12 EDT