Sudan-South Sudan: The way forward

2012-05-04 14:07

Johannesburg - Sudan and South Sudan have less than two weeks to resume negotiations to settle their differences or face sanctions from the United Nations Security Council, which has put its weight behind an African Union roadmap for peace.

The African Union (AU) has for months been pushing its peace plan, but has not had the teeth to force the sides to make concessions. Sudan President Omar al-Bashir and his southern counterpart Salva Kiir were meant to sit face to face weeks ago, but the outbreak of violence along their border caused the cancellation of that round of talks.

Analysts say the two leaders must meet if there is to be hope of making headway. Both countries' economies are already reeling from the conflict, which has forced them to cut off nearly all oil production, a major source of revenue.

The threat of sanctions that would further hurt their coffers might be just the impetus to bring the sides back to the negotiating table.

"The AU process can succeed if we change the way it is done. If the AU has the support of the international community, in terms of the resources and strategic pressure they need, then the AU will have the strength to push through a deal," says Andrew Atta-Asamoah at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa.

South Sudan in early April seized the Heglig oil fields, which produced more than half of the north's oil. South Sudan's subsequent withdrawal, after an escalation in fighting, has helped reduce tensions.

There are still reports, however, of Sudanese planes dropping bombs in the south, even after both sides agreed to accept the AU roadmap and get back to talks. It is one sign of how fragile the situation remains.

Peace process

EJ Hogendoorn, an analyst on the Horn of Africa with the International Crisis Group, says the upcoming rainy season will reduce the chances of the sides waging all-out war in the coming period.

Over the longer-term, however, without a peace deal there remains a risk of returning to harsh conflict.

"The extremely bellicose rhetoric emanating from Khartoum and Juba will make it harder for both leaders to negotiate in good faith," Hogendoorn warns.

Among other insults, al-Bashir called the ruling party of South Sudan an "insect" and southern politicians shot back saying northern leaders were "mosquitoes".

Hogendoorn says it is vital to make sure China and rich Gulf nations are also committed to the peace process, as they hold influence in the region.

When Sudan and South Sudan split into two countries last year - after decades of brutal civil war - the sides failed to make a clean break. Their border was not properly demarcated, citizenship issues were unresolved and they had no plan on how to share oil revenue and infrastructure.

In the former Sudan, it was not only the south that felt marginalised by the north and took up arms. Other groups, usually located far from Khartoum, also felt that al-Bashir was mistreating them.

Besides the conflict in the western region of Darfur, two Sudanese states along the border with South Sudan - Blue Nile and South Kordofan - are also seeing violence erupting.

Symptoms of governance problems

Remnants of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement - now the southern ruling party - still fight the Sudanese army at those two flashpoints. They say their war with the north is not over yet, as they gained nothing when the south broke away.

Jehanne Henry at Human Rights Watch warns that with the spotlight now focused on trying to resolve the cross-border issues between Sudan and South Sudan, civilians in the conflict zones inside Sudan are at risk of being neglected.

"These conflicts in Sudan are symptoms of governance problems in Khartoum. They are absolutely inextricably linked to overall peace and security," Henry said in a telephone interview.

If South Sudan and Sudan "can address the problems of Blue Nile and southern Kordofan in the context of negotiations, that could help reduce abuses," she said.

Already, more than half a million people in those states have been forced to flee violence, while Sudan is preventing aid organisations from reaching civilians trapped behind the front lines.

One way to help ensure a lasting peace would be to stabilise the whole border region, Henry said.