The Worst We Feared: Sudan and South Sudan at War


On Friday Sudan launched a counterattack on South Sudan over the disputed territory of Heglig. Sudanese military spokesman Al Sawarmi Khaled Saad told reporters in Khartoum the army was close to Heglig, and is aiming not just to take over the area but also to destroy South Sudan’s forces in the area. A Unity State government spokesperson in the state capital Bentiu, confirmed the aerial bombings near the border:

“The areas in the north of Unity State are still subject to Antonovs (planes). We don’t have the updates yet between Heglig and Kelet, but all those areas they are subjected to bombing.” – South Sudan Spokesperson, Gideon Gatfan. South Sudan’s military spokesman Philip Aguer told Radio Dabanga that the Sudanese army is still around 30 km from Heglig and said South Sudan is still completely in control of the area.

Calls from Khartoum to mobilize for war in Heglig have reportedly failed amongst the Misseriya in two towns in South Kordofan, El Muglad and Dibab. Witnesses said the Misseriya of the western sector in South Kordofan are not willing to die for the government in a conflict they do not support.

The UN and African Union have unsuccessfully demanded immediate ceasefire, since President Bashir has refused to negotiate with Juba unless they withdraw their forces from Heglig. On the other hand, South Sudan’s lead negotiator, Pagan Amum, said his country was ready to withdraw under a UN-mediated plan.

“On the ground, we are ready to withdraw from Heglig as a contested area … provided that the United Nations deploy a UN force in these contested areas and the UN also establish a monitoring mechanism to monitor the implementation of the cessation of hostilities agreement,” he told reporters.

Sudan has taken it a brutal step further by targeting ethnically Southern Sudanese living in Sudan. Over 5,000 South Sudanese citizens living in a camp in the Sharef area of East Darfur were forced out, looted, and had their homes burned down and destroyed on Monday by a group of Sudanese militia. There have also been a series of rape crimes carried out by militias loyal to the Sudanese government throughout Darfur, targeting displaced girls and women in camps. It is as if there is no end to abuse and violence.

This long-lasting conflict is rooted in major disputes still not settled since South Sudan’s independence in July last year.

“They have no agreement on oil, they have no agreement on their border, they have no agreement on citizenship, they have no agreement on Abyei and indeed these were issues that were meant to be resolved before independence. Also in southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, the popular consultations in the political process which was to incorporate all the people of those regions into the larger Sudan were abandoned.” US ambassador Susan Rice

It might not be as simple as both countries coming to some sort of negotiation and resolution over these pertinent issues, but it would at least be a beginning to light at the end of the vicious tunnel.

Sudan and South Sudan on the Brink of War

The latest clashes have brought the two former civil war foes closer to an outright war (AFP/File, Adriane Ohanesian)

The latest clashes have brought the two former civil war foes closer to an outright war (AFP/File, Adriane Ohanesian)

Why is it that the month of April encounters the most horrid events and atrocities in history? In the midst of genocide awareness and prevention month, there is not only genocide by attrition going on within Sudan (Darfur, Blue Nile, South Kordofon States) but they are also on the brink of war with South Sudan.
South Sudan’s army (SPLA) on Tuesday attacked Heglig, a disputed area containing a significant oilfield. Heglig lies along the ill-defined border between the two African nations and has been the focal point of nearly two weeks of clashes between the armies. The region is home to oil facilities that account for around half of Sudan’s oil production. Juba said it attacked Heglig in response to ground and aerial attacks conducted by SAF deep inside South Sudanese territories.
“Heglig belongs to South Sudan. We did not start this fighting, but after the Sudan Armed Forces attacked us in Tashwin, we start to fight back. Before Numeiri (President of Sudan until 1985), Heglig always belonged to South Sudan and now we took it back. The issue is, that the government of Sudan never draw a borderline, it did not agree on the borders. But they continued to attack us, including aerial bombardments. We then finally decided to defend ourselves.” – South Sudanese spokesman Philip Aguer told Radio Dabanga
Sudan Information Minister Abdulla Ali Masar said Sudan’s forces would reorganize their ranks and prepare to drive back the aggressors and not rest before it recaptures control over Heglig.
The African Union, U.N. chief Ban Ki Moon, along with the US have urged immediate cease-fire on both sides to avoid further bloodshed. The US and UK have condemned South Sudan’s military attack on Heglig but what do they expect when they are being bombarded with ongoing aerial attacks? The root of the problem was never resolved, and now not only are negotiations halted between the two countries, but a full-fledged war is highly likely. When enough is enough, the South Sudanese have turned to hitting Sudan where it’d really hurt them, their source of income -oil.
“We decided to also capture all the other oilfields. All Sudanese know that the income from the oilfields is not going to the people of Sudan, but to the army, the security and some powerful individuals. We want to stop this and we will continue to fight until the government of Al Bashir will be replaced.” – Gabriel Adam Bilal, spokesman of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and part of SRF
In an effort to consolidate peace, Rwanda is contributing 850 troops to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
“We were abandoned in 1994, during this same period of commemoration. This is a historical day, we are not going to abandon others.” – Chief of Defence Staff of Rwanda Defence Forces, Lt Gen Charles Kayonga, at the departure of the initial 150 RDF peacekeepers to South Sudan.
That is a powerful statement by Rwanda, and I hope other countries, especially the ones who have the power to put an end to the bloodshed, learn from example and actively pursue Never Again.
Al Jazeera investigates the hidden atrocities in the remote state of Southern Kordofan in Sudan. Here is the video: