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South Sudan: Standoff

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Joe Vieira, from Juba

The political situation between South Sudan and Sudan took a turn to the worse at the end of January when the Government of Juba decided to turn off the pumps in its oil fields accusing Khartoum of stealing the crude and demanding unreasonable fees to allow the export of oil through its infrastructure. In February, negations on post-independence outstanding issues between both countries mediated by an African Union panel headed by Thabo Mbeki were on standstill.
In March, however, there was a significant breakthrough when South Sudan and Sudan reached an agreement on nationality-citizenship and security issues. Hardliners in Khartoum criticized the deal and – Juba charges – boycotted the presidential summit scheduled to April 3 in South Sudan’s capital for Presidents Salva Kiir Mayardit and Omar Al Bashir to ink both agreements and discuss other pending issues, including Abyei, borders and oil.
At the end of March, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) intensified bombardments across the common border with artillery and aircraft. South Sudan’s army, the SPLA, took an active stand, repelled SAF beyond the key oil-rich Higlig area and withdrew to its positions. South Sudan calls Higlig with the Dinka name Panthou and claims the area that produces half of Sudan’s oil. Khartoum was not prepared for such a humiliation, they intensified bombardments and cross border attacks and South Sudan seized Higlig-Panthou for the second time. Kiir told the National Assembly that this time the occupation was permanent. The international community condemned the seizure, the UN threatened with sanctions and some ten days later Kiir backtracked and ordered the SPLA to retreat orderly. Khartoum immediately announced that it beat South Sudan’s army out of the oil rich area, killing 1,500 SPLA soldiers.
Meanwhile, on April 8 the period of grace for Southerners living in the Sudan ended. Over 500,000 people have either to get proper documentation and register as foreigners or go home. On the same day, Sudan suspended direct flights between Khartoum and Juba. After the occupation of Higlig-Panthou, Bashir ordered the suspension of talks with South Sudan accusing Juba of only understanding the language of war and vowed to free the new country from the ‘insects’ of the ruling party. Sudan’s National Assembly declared South Sudan an enemy state.
In mid April, Islamists attacked and burned a protestant church in Khartoum used mostly by Southerners. In Nyala, the capital of South Darfur, the offices of Sudan Aid (Caritas) and Sudan Council of Churches were closed down, some property – including vehicles – confiscated and at least three Southerners working for Sudan Aid were arrested. In Gaderef State, a Catholic seminarian and a catechist were arrested accuse of supporting the SPLM-North.
At the end of April, Bashir declared the state of emergency along the border with South Sudan and the Governor of White Nile State gave seven days to some 12,000 Southerners stranded in Kosti waiting for road or river transportation to South Sudan to leave accusing them to be security and environmental risks.
International observers agree that the situation between South Sudan and Sudan escalated to dangerous levels and it could develop into all out war. The Government of South Sudan is mobilizing the country to support the army with money, food and soldiers. The Governor of Eastern Equatoria promised to enlist 12,000 youths to join the SPLA. Lakes and Warrap State are also mobilizing new recruits.

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