Tensions on the rise ahead of South Sudan Referendum



The United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) expressed strong concerns over increased violence ahead of South Sudan independence. Khartoum’s accusations over the South aiding Darfur rebels might indeed endanger the peaceful unfolding of the vote. Meanwhile, the Sudanese Army (SAF) is continuing its fight in the western region. According to UNAMID sources, two persons were killed, 16 others wounded and at least 250 forced to flee following recent clashes between the SAF and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) rebel group in South Darfur. In these circumstances, Minni Minnawi, the only SLA leader to have signed May 2006’s Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) - blamed the government of failing it and warned that he was ready “to do battle” if such actions repeat.

Khartoum is under heavy pressure as January 9 referendum is very likely to result into a separation of the South. Among other consequences, such outcome would increase the importance of Darfur rebels in the North. Recently, the accusations of links between the South and these groups have been multiplying. Mandour al-Mahdi, Secretary of Political Relations of the ruling National Congress party, has indeed stated that the SLA leader Abdel Wahed el-Nur was going to visit the southern capital Juba and that another Darfur rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) had moved its forces to the South to receive training. He qualified these acts as “a declaration of war”. It is worth recalling that shortly after these statements; South Sudan’s Army accused the SAF of having launched an air strike on one of its military bases that injured four southern soldiers and two civilians.

Therefore, it is very likely that the persistence of the insurgency in Darfur might not only continue to represent a threat for the stability in the North, but might also maintain the relations strained with the South. It would thus jeopardise the completion of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the Second Sudanese Civil War on January 9, 2005, granting the South autonomy for six years and stipulating the condition of the independence referendum. On the other hand, there is a high risk for conflict to resurge, as the oil-producing county of Abyei, which lies along the disputed border, is also supposed to hold a vote on January 9 in order to choose whether to join or not the South. Currently, the county belongs to the Muslim dominated North, but is mainly inhabited by Christian or Animist ethnic group loyal to the South such has the Ngok Dinka.

In such a tense security context, North and South authorities convened at the beginning of December to protect oil fields. Combined security forces set up under the 2005 CPA – allowing the two parts of the country to split oil deposits equally – would continue to guard the territory around the wells. This comes as oil fields in Southern Sudan account for much as 80% of Sudan’s oil production, most of it being located near the border with the North. Regardless of the actual result in January, negotiations on post-referendum issues – including the questions of oil and water resources, but also on other topics – are to continue in Juba.

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