People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 22

June 03, 2012

War Flares up in Sudan again


Yohannan Chemarapally


PEACE has proved to be an elusive commodity in a region that has been witnessing bloodshed for the last six decades. Any hopes for a lasting peace received a serious setback in mid- April. The military forces of the newly independent South Sudan occupied the oil town of Heglig near the border with the Republic of Sudan. The Sudanese army was caught napping as their former compatriots ransacked the town after systematically destroying the oil rigs. Also badly damaged was Heglig’s central processing facility that was used for the separation of oil from water. The oil from both the countries was brought to Heglig for this purpose. It will take some time now for the oil from the region to once again reach the international market. The surprise attack form the South Sudan army came when talks between South Sudan and its neighbour were going on in Addis Ababa under African Union’s (AU’s) auspices. Earlier in the year, the two sides had signed a “non-aggression” pact and had agreed to find a negotiated settlement to the disputes revolving round their long border and resource sharing.




Khartoum’s response to the aggression from South Sudan was swift and brutal. Reinforcements bolstered by planes and tanks were sent in forcing the southern Sudanese army to scatter. Casualties are said to be in their hundreds. President Omar al Bashir, the man who presided over the bifurcation of his country, declared that the country was “at war” with the South and that the hostilities would only stop after the government there was taught a fitting lesson. After the division of the country, the government in Khartoum lost most of its oil producing areas. Heglig was one of the few remaining oil producing areas in its territory. The Heglig field produced around 55,000 barrels every day, which is crucial for the economy of Sudan.


Both the North and the South were facing serious oil shortages in recent months. The two sides were locked in a dispute over the splitting of oil revenues. Before the government in Khartoum agreed to the division of the country, the two sides had worked on a blueprint to share the oil revenues. All of landlocked South Sudan’s oil is transported through a network of pipelines passing through the North and culminating in Port Sudan. After the South became independent, the leadership there, encouraged no doubt by some western governments and oil companies, started backtracking on its commitments. While making plans to build alternate pipelines through Uganda and Kenya, the government in Juba, led by President Salva Kiir, took the precipitate decision earlier in the year of completely stopping oil production in the South, citing the revenue sharing dispute. At the same time, the South claimed that oil producing areas like Heglig and Abyei along the border were being illegally occupied by the North. Heglig is located in the Republic of Sudan’s South Kordofan province and was recognised by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as an integral part of the country.


The decision of the South Sudan president, Salva Kiir, to stop oil production (the South produces around 350,000 barrels a day) earlier in the year  caused serious shortages in the South as well as the North, besides depriving the government of South Sudan of desperately needed revenues. Some 98 per cent of the South’s revenues are generated from oil sales. India’s ONGC has a three billion dollars investment in Sudan’s hydrocarbon sector. China has even bigger investments. If the conflict continues unabated, the commercial interests of both the countries could be adversely impacted. There is also pressure from western oil companies on South Sudan for the renegotiations of contracts that were signed when the South was under the control of the government in Khartoum. India and China are both scrambling to protect their stakes in South Sudan. Both the countries have dispatched special representatives to Sudan and have offered to participate in South Sudan’s plans for building an alternate pipeline to the Kenyan coast.




Since independence last year, the government of South Sudan has not been able to maintain law and order in the ethnically diverse country. It has a bloated and undisciplined army of former guerrilla fighters which the government is finding difficult to disband or disarm. Cattle raiding, a habitual pastime of warring ethnic groups in the South, have claimed thousands of lives this year. Livestock is a prized commodity among the pastoral communities of the South. New found independence has not made a dent on poverty. The country remains among the poorest in the world. These facts have, however, not stopped the new government from allotting two “Toyota Land Cruisers” to all senior officials. The capital city, Juba, gets electricity only for a couple of hours every day. International aid workers are aghast by the high levels of corruption they are witnessing in the capital. 


After the raid and capture of Heglig, the UN was quick to criticise South Sudan, describing it as an act of aggression. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon described the attack on Heglig “as an infringement on the sovereignty of Sudan and clearly an illegal act.”  Even Washington, among South Sudan’s biggest backers, was alarmed. The US special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan said that the move of the government in Juba went “beyond self-defence” and warned that the war “could get nastier and nastier.” In the first week of May, the UN Security Council gave an ultimatum to both the sides to cease fighting and accept a seven point plan put forward by the African Union (AU) for a negotiated settlement of the conflict. The Security Council threatened to impose Chapter 7 sanctions on both the countries.


The South Sudanese president, who had said in the last week of April that Khartoum had declared war on his country by using planes to bomb the oil fields of Unity State, was quick to accept the UN Security Council ultimatum. Earlier the Sudanese President Omar al Bashir had said that the leaders of the South only “understood the language of the gun.” On April 20, speaking after the Heglig was liberated, the Sudanese president said that it was South Sudan that “started the fighting and we will announce when we will stop.” Despite the heated rhetoric, Khartoum has cautiously welcomed the UNSC resolution. The Sudanese foreign ministry in a statement said that meaningful peace could only be achieved if South Sudan ended its support for the rebel groups fighting in the North. Sudan’s ambassador to the UN, Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman said that the UN sanctions should be imposed on the “aggressor” South Sudan and not on the victim.


Ultimately both sides once again promised to abide by the AU peace plan. Under the AU roadmap, both sides have to resume negotiations by mid-May and resolve all outstanding disputes within three months. The UN Security Council resolution has also called for the withdrawal of troops from all the disputed areas.




It is a fact that the two sides are supporting proxy rebel groups. However, it is the government in Khartoum that has been the most affected. South Sudan is helping the rebels in Darfur to regroup. South Sudan is also supporting the SPLM (North) rebels in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile area. The UN as well as Washington has called on the government of South Sudan to stop supporting the SPLM (N). The SPLM (N) has joined forces with the rebels in Darfur and other parts of Sudan to form the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) with the avowed aim of toppling the government in Khartoum.


The Sudanese president is now trying to rouse patriotic passions by focusing his attention on the so called “treachery” of the South Sudan government. His speeches, containing racial undertones, may have gone down well on the domestic circuit but have come in for criticism internationally. Many Sudanese feel that the Sudanese president also has to own a lot of responsibility for the events that have unfolded since the South was allowed to secede last year. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) brokered by Washington, which led to the division of the country, was signed in a hurry. The CPA was vague about the modalities to be adopted “on the division of power and wealth” and the demarcation of borders. Bashir, however, chose to sign the CPA under western pressure --- ceding three quarters of Sudan’s oil wealth to the South. According to many experts on the region, the seeds of further disintegration of the Sudan were sown with the signing of the CPA.


Senior politicians and officials in Khartoum have been saying that the only long term solution to the conflict is the removal of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) from power in the South. Those feeling the immediate impact of the war are the Southerners who have been long time residents in Khartoum. Before the recent round of hostilities broke out, the two governments were on the verge of signing an agreement that would allow the citizens of the two countries freedom of movement and commerce. Now Khartoum is threatening to forcibly expel more than 500,000 South Sudanese who don’t have the requisite residency papers.


The long running civil war in the country had cost more than two and a half million lives and untold sufferings. A new round of hostilities is something the beleaguered populace of both the Sudans can do without. There is a danger of outside powers being drawn into the conflict. South Sudan has already asked for help from neighbouring Uganda. Senior Ugandan military officials have said that their country would intervene if there is a serious military threat to the government in Juba. The US may be tempted into joining the conflict in a region awash with oil. Washington is also looking for permanent basing facilities for the US Africa Command (AFRICOM). It is being reported that the government in Juba is favourably inclined to provide the US a military foothold on its territory. The leaders of South Sudan are also very close to Israel. In its quest to establish military superiority over its bigger Northern neighbour, South Sudan could ask Israel also for military assistance. As it is, South Sudan is overflowing with weapons supplied from the West in the run-up to independence.