May 10, 2012 · 1 Comments
Fighting recently broke out between the Sudans when South Sudan assumed control over the Heglig region in South Kordofan, Helglig belongs to Sudan but is also claimed by South Sudan as part of Warrap state. South Sudan asserts that the mid-April 2012 occupation of the disputed Heglig region was a move to counter attack the aggression of the North. South Sudan claims that it has been under threat from Sudanese invasion ever since it gained independence in July 2011 and that the Sudanese government has been bringing its rebels in the country – ostensibly to inflame the current conflict. Sudan on the other hand claims that the attacks were purely to regain its territory from South Sudan and denies the allegations of posting rebels in that country.
The oil rich Heglig region is said to contain about 50 percent of Sudan’s oil reserves, which makes it valuable territory for the Sudanese government, so much so that it has resulted in the Sudanese government going to extreme lengths to regain control over the territory over the past few days – including the running of several hundred high-altitude sorties by the Sudanese air-force dropping an undetermined number of bombs in the region. Heglig has long since been contested territory between the two Sudans, the conflict over this area dates back to the first Sudanese Civil War between and 1972 and the recurrence of old border disputes reveals that the separation of the two Sudans, although necessary is a somewhat superficial solution to a deep crisis.
Any form of a lasting peace agreement between the two Sudans has to meaningfully tackle the border issues between the two countries, in that, it is not enough to just have signed agreements that are not adhered to and seemingly divorced with the reality of the disputed area. The South Korfodan region; of which Heglig is part, is home to many people who classify themselves as Southern Sudanese even though the area is considered to be part of Sudan. It is this very omission that has driven Sudan to set a May 20 deadline for South Sudanese to vacate the area – floundering any conventions and perceptions of self-determination for the areas’ population. Any agreement or attempts to broker peace in the area that do not include the issue of self-determination for those resident in the disputed South Kordofan region is bound to fail.
In response to the violence the United Nations Security Council announced that it would impose sanctions on both countries if the bombings did not stop. The African Union responded by urging the two countries to continue the negotiations on the road map proposed by the AU. Economic sanctions as envisaged by the Security Council remain premature at this stage, but the negotiation route, headed by the former president South African president Thabo Mbeki are increasingly being viewed ineffective – on 29 April South Sudan called for the removal of Mbeki from the mediation process. Implying then what is needed is a joint intervention at the negotiation stage. The UN Security should take a keen interest in the discussions facilitated by the AU to resolve the tensions between the two Sudans. There should a deeper engagement on the issue of borders between the Sudans and it should not be dealt with superficially as it was before the formation of South Sudan.
The presence of international powers that are not Sudan’s major oil importers but also have power to impose sanctions would add greater persuasive value to reaching a more sustainable solution and faster. While the AU on its own can create dialogue it is not necessarily persuasive and does not have enough political or financial will to implement any meaningful decisions. Engagement on the issues should result in a clearer demarcation of borders. The deployment of international troops to Helig and other disputed areas to ensure compliance with the agreements continues to be vital, a dispute that began over 40 years ago cannot be resolved with the ratification of peace agreements.
Issues of interdependence and economic co-operation also need to be discussed in greater detail between the two countries. South Sudan may have more oil but it remains dependent on the North for the transit and exportation of the oil to rest of the world. Likewise the government of Sudan gains revenue through the taxation revenues from the South. This highlights a need for better cooperation on economic matters. So any form of agreement between the two states should lead to the development of policies that give greater protection to this mutual relationship.
Despite the recent incidents of violence and air-strikes by Sudan, there still exists some prospects of peace between the Sudans and it is incumbent on the international community to work together in ensuring that a peaceful agreement beyond the African Union peace plan is in place. Realising the past inadequacies of this regional body in brokering peace in the region, the international community through the UN should provide an appropriate level of political and financial support, with the former being the most needed at this stage – a threat of sanctions and/or force remains the only realistic solution to the resumption of meaningful talks between the two countries, which might be able to yield lasting peace for the two neighbours.
- Libongo Ndabula