19 April 2012

War in Sudan

It seems that South Sudan is losing the PR war. The decisions to shut down Southern oil production and now to take Heglig do not seem to have been viewed favourably by the international community.

I started trying to write something this morning, but I just got angry and frustrated. Just in time, here is John Ashworth, who for me is the best and most articulate political analyst on Sudan going, and who is frankly worth quoting in full. I would strongly urge anyone with any influence on the matter to read it. John is clearly like me very biased in favour of South Sudan, but this bias is based on considerable evidence rather than whimsy, not least of which for me the fact that amongst all this moral equivalence between the two sides, there is still an international arrest warrant out for the President of Northern Sudan for murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture, rape, pillaging, and intentionally directing attacks against civilians.

Here's John:
A senior international church leader said to me yesterday, "many statements, including those of AU and UN, seem to suggest that South Sudan just woke up one morning and decided to invade and occupy Heglig. And then they go ahead to apportion equal blame to the two states. We have to find a way of countering this perspective." The international discourse seems to be based on Khartoum's narrative. This must be balanced with Juba's narrative, not in order to support Juba's claim, but in the interests of resolving the problem. A one-sided approach will not lead to lasting peace. As Juba's Spokesperson Dr. Barnaba Marial says, “I think it is good that the Security Council first listens to the story of Heglig, and I think they have not listened adequately from our point of view" (article 6, below). 
Indeed South Sudan did NOT just wake up one morning and decide to occupy Heglig. It should be remembered that President Salva Kiir has always followed a policy of refraining from military action. In the run up to the referendum and independence, he specifically instructed his commanders not to be provoked by Khartoum's military aggression, and not to retaliate. This policy proved remarkably successful and helped to deliver a peaceful referendum and independence. 
The President then continued to pursue a similar non-military policy for 9 months or so after independence. Khartoum has walked out of negotiations, made unreasonable demands (eg demanding more than ten times the international standard fees for transit of South Sudanese oil through its pipelines), abrogated agreements which it had already signed (eg the peace deal with SPLM-N, the agreement on the status of South Sudanese in Sudan, to say nothing of the Abyei Protocol), continued its military occupation of the disputed area of Abyei, harassed South Sudanese in Sudan, continued to attack South Sudan's former allies in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, siphoned off (or stolen) a percentage of South Sudan's oil, attempted to build illegal pipelines, forcibly occupied the disputed area of Jau, bombed refugee camps and civilians well inside South Sudan, supported South Sudanese rebel movements (and allowed them to abduct and forcibly recruit South Sudanese in Sudan), stifled cross-border trade, and much more. As article 5, below, points out, "the Khartoum government has been launching ground and air attacks against [South Sudan] since it declared independence July 9 [2011]". During all of this, South Sudan's army did not retaliate offensively, limiting itself to pushing SAF out of Jau but stopping when it reached the current border (which is not the 1956 border). President Salva Kiir's policy of restraint was not popular in South Sudan; people were asking, "What is the matter with him?"

Now, after nine months of restraint in the face of intransigence and provocation by Khartoum, South Sudan has finally decided to assert itself a little, by following an SAF force which attacked South Sudan back to their base, the disputed town of Heglig/Panthou, and ensuring that it could no longer be used as a jumping off point for further aerial and ground attacks on South Sudan. It also made the political point that Heglig/Panthou is disputed, that the current border is not the 1956 border, and that it is erroneous to insist that a town is north or south of the 1956 border until the 1956 border has actually been demarcated to the satisfaction of both sides. It seems to be a very popular move amongst the people of South Sudan.

The result is that the international community leaps to blame South Sudan, which has been so restrained for so long. At the same time, President Omar Hassan al Bashir has now declared that his aim is to change the government in Juba, which he has described as "insects". Surely this is a rather serious matter, when a president declares that he will take military action to overthrow the government of another sovereign state? Can we now expect the international community to severely censure Khartoum and make it clear that any attempt to change the government of another sovereign state will be met with the strongest possible sanctions? Can we expect them to cease their "moral equivalence" and recognise that there is an aggressor here - and that aggressor is not the "insects" of South Sudan? Urging both sides to make peace is fine, but which is the side that has consistently refused to make peace, and which is the side that has acted in a restrained manner and genuinely tried not to be drawn into armed conflict? 
Note that South Sudan has offered to withdraw from Heglig/Panthou if the UN puts a neutral force there (articles 2 and 6, below), an offer which the international community is unlikely to accept because Khartoum will not agree. Again, which side is refusing to make peace in Heglig? 
I don't think I will ever understand the international community! 
The BBC makes two errors in article 1, below. Firstly, it is not true that Heglig is "generally recognised as Sudanese territory". Many analysts who actually know what they are talking about (as opposed to journalists, diplomats and politicians) argue that it is disputed. Millions of South Sudanese, Nuba and others "generally recognise" that Heglig belongs in South Sudan. Secondly, both sides do NOT "claim" Abyei. South Sudan claims that the residents of Abyei should have the referendum which they were promised in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to decide whether Abyei should be part of Sudan or South Sudan; Khartoum has blocked the referendum and occupied the area militarily.

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