Recent clashes between the newly independent South Sudan and its northern neighbor, Sudan, have raised fears that the two countries are sliding back toward war. CRS’ Sudan advisor, Dan Griffin, is currently in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, and spoke with us about the problems between the two countries and what a full-scale war could mean for the Sudanese people.
What is currently happening along the border between Sudan and South Sudan?
Relations between Sudan and the newly independent South Sudan have dramatically deteriorated after violence surged along the tense and undefined border between them. Following repeated allegations that the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) carried out cross-border air and artillery strikes into South Sudan, forces from South Sudan seized the Heglig oil facility that had been under Sudan’s control. This military confrontation, the first since the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, has resulted in a large mobilization on both sides, competing accusations of military support or aggression, and surprisingly sudden and one-sided condemnation in the international community of South Sudan for violating a non-aggression pact signed in February. Sudan has regained control of Heglig, but the South Sudan states of Unity and Upper Nile are still reporting incidents of aerial bombardment.
What are some of the remaining issues between Sudan and South Sudan that have triggered the recent problems?
Much of what we are seeing now are the consequences of failing to resolve the outstanding issues of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement – settling on fees and revenues for the two countries’ shared oil interest; negotiating and demarcation of the border between Sudan and South Sudan; determining the status of the Abyei area; resolving the citizenship status of South Sudanese remaining in Sudan, and Sudanese remaining in South Sudan.
Are there fears that violence could spread beyond the border regions?
There are fears that what is currently largely a border conflict will grow into a full-scale war as the economies of both parties come under increasing strain with the expense of continued fighting, and the loss of revenue from the oil production closed because the sides could not agree on its mutual management. If full-scale conflict does engulf these two countries, it raises the concern that it would engage or affect the nine countries surrounding them.
What is the humanitarian situation now and what would it be if full-blown war was to break out between the two countries?
Even before the violence along their shared border, there were significant humanitarian emergencies in Sudan and South Sudan. The Darfur region of Sudan is still one of the largest humanitarian operations in the world. In Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states there is widespread displacement and hunger but inadequate humanitarian access to those suffering. South Sudan struggles to overcome its own inter-communal violence, a poor growing season, and a lack of the agricultural production and infrastructure necessary to prevent significant hunger. Further fighting will likely delay or prevent humanitarian operations and development efforts.