– Tensions remain high between Khartoum and Southern Sudan
– Oil-rich Abyei remains a potential flashpoint
– Violence in Darfur increases
– Pressure on international power players such as China is desirable
Sudan’s Abyei province located in the South Kordofan region along the border of Southern Sudan is slated to become the next conflict area of the country. The government of Sudan, based in Khartoum, previously fought a 21-year war with Southern Sudan, finally ending in 2005 under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). However, an ongoing war in Sudan’s Darfur region continues. These two conflicts, combined with large oil reserves in Abyei, serve as necessary ingredients to contribute to armed conflict in Abyei. Further, the possibility exists wider war between Khartoum and Southern Sudan may occur.
Keeping the CPA Alive
The signing of the CPA in 2005 brought Africa’s longest civil war to an end. The agreement established the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS), set up timetables for a 2008 census, 2009 national elections, and a 2011 referendum on secession for Southern Sudan. The CPA also includes the Abyei Protocol, which provides for local governance until 2011, a process to determine Abyei boundaries, a portion of oil revenues for Abyei residents and returnees, and referendum in 2011 to join Southern Sudan or Northern Sudan. Further, the Abyei Boundaries Commission (ABC) was established to determine the boundaries of the region. In July 2005, the ABC presented its results. In its report, the ABC determined the border between Abyei and northern Sudan was 87km north of Abyei town, resulting in Abyei maintaining control over oil field’s located within its borders.
Despite the CPA requiring both sides agree to the ABC results, the government in Khartoum has unilaterally rejected the findings. Due to its staunch disagreement with the results, Khartoum is now seeking to determine the borders of Abyei outside the CPA. To avoid the possibility of provoking armed conflict in the region, it is essential the international community, and particularly the United States, which played a significant role in the Abyei Protocol and the CPA, insist on full implementation of the CPA and resist efforts by Khartoum to renegotiate any aspect of the CPA or the Abyei protocol.
Darfur Heats Up
While tensions between Khartoum and the GoSS have risen over the past several months, Khartoum has continued to wage its war. Further, for the first time in nearly two years, Janjaweed attacks, purportedly backed by the Sudanese air force and followed by the Sudanese military, have occurred. In the past, these attacks characterized the beginnings of a drawn out war and resulted in the largest level of violence. The return to this method of attack often referred to as Sudan’s version of the “scorched earth” policy reflects an overall increase in violence between the Sudanese government and the rebels as well as government and Janjaweed attacks on civilians.
The increase in hostilities is a result of Darfur rebel groups increasing their operational capabilities, almost entirely due to Chad’s support of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Also, Khartoum has always sought to avoid a war on two fronts. The war in Darfur began in 2003 as the civil war between north and south Sudan was winding down and negotiations were being held. The increased fighting and return to a scorched earth policy may be indicative of Khartoum’s efforts to deal a knockout blow to the Darfur rebels in an effort to prepare them for an outbreak in hostilities between north and south Sudan.
The Curse of Oil
Abyei is undoubtedly important due to its vast oil reserves. Khartoum, which has done little to entice Southern Sudan or Abyei to vote in favor of remaining in Sudan in the 2011 referendum, is fearful Abyei will vote in 2011 to secede with Southern Sudan to form a new country. With the loss of Abyei’s oilfields, Khartoum would lose most of its oil, and thus the support of international power players such as China, which has repeatedly supported Sudan in United Nations Security Votes. Therefore, it is highly unlikely Khartoum will allow Abyei and its oil fields to join a sovereign Southern Sudan.
War is Not Inevitable
In recent weeks violent clashes between the northern Misseriya tribe, supported by Khartoum, as well as the regional equivalent of the Janjaweed, and the Ngok Dinka, supported by the GoSS and its Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) erupted in the region. The fighting has elevated tensions in Abyei and raised fears that Khartoum is attempting to draw the SPLA/M into escalating hostilities. While the SPLA/M has been engaged in fighting, it remains committed to the implementation of the CPA.
With limited international attention almost exclusively reserved for human rights atrocities suffered in Darfur, renewed conflict between north and south Sudan remains a significant issue and real possibility. However, war is not inevitable. The war in Darfur, the 21-year Sudanese civil war, and contention over Abyei are all linked to Khartoum’s continued policy of oppressing minority regions and withholding development funds. While the international community has repeatedly sought to solve each issue individually, a unified approach is necessary. Pressure by advocacy groups directed at China have already begun to show small gains, suggesting China can be influenced to end its unconditional support of Khartoum. With increased pressure from the international community, including China, full implementation of the CPA remains possible. Failure to fully implement the CPA in the set time frame risks plunging Sudan into full-scale civil war, with devastating effects internally and regionally.