Tensions Continue to Rise along Sudan-South Sudan Border As Heglig Apparently Falls Again to Southern Forces

Posted by Nenad Marinkovic and Jenn Christian

Reports emerged late today that South Sudan’s military forces, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, or SPLA, may have again taken control of South Kordofan state’s Heglig, home to Sudan’s largest remaining source of oil following the South’s secession. If true, this would mark the second time in weeks that the SPLA has occupied territory well within Sudan, and comes amid escalating violence along the ill-defined international border separating Sudan and South Sudan. Details, however, remain sketchy, with one source on the ground telling Enough that the Sudan Revolutionary Front, or SRF, was responsible for taking Heglig on Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday, the SPLA’s spokesman charged the Sudan Armed Forces, or SAF, with occupying southern territory around the disputed border town of Teshwin until the SPLA repulsed them. Juba further claimed that SAF fighter jets had earlier in the day targeted a strategic bridge in Abiemnhom, Unity state.

The violence comes days after yet another failed round of negotiations between Khartoum and Juba, held under the facilitation of the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel, or AUHIP, in Addis Ababa. In an attempt to defuse tensions between the two sides, the AUHIP proposed a six-point document that included provisions for an immediate cessation of hostilities, the halting of negative media campaigning, the withdrawal of troops from disputed areas along the border, and the resumption of planning for a bilateral presidential summit, similar to the canceled summit of April 3. Pagan Amum, the South’s chief negotiator, addressed the media at a press conference in Juba on Sunday, stating that Khartoum refused to sign the document and asked for more time to conduct internal consultations. He attributed this refusal to the “hawks” in Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party, or NCP. Apparently, Khartoum has conditioned its agreement to the AUHIP’s proposal on South Sudan’s immediately cessation of support to rebel movements in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Amum was clear that any accusation that South Sudan is supporting rebels in the north is not true.

Further negotiations are anticipated in the coming days. However, the failure, to date, of the AUHIP-facilitated process to yield few, if any, lasting agreements between Khartoum and Juba, coupled with South Sudan’s recent public indications that it is displeased with the AUHIP, perhaps begs the question of whether the nearly two-year old negotiation process needs to be, at least in part, revamped?

Serious consideration on the part of influential international actors, including the United Nations, the African Union, IGAD, the League of Arab States, the Sudan Troika consisting of the U.S. U.K., and Norway, Ethiopia, South Africa, Kenya, China, Qatar, and others, should be had as to what extent the AUHIP process should be augmented moving forward. As well, and in the most immediate term, these and other international actors must continue to exert the highest level of diplomatic pressure on both Khartoum and Juba to dissuade either side from further escalating the conflict. These efforts must complement those related to a cessation of hostilities between Khartoum and the SRF, negotiated humanitarian access to populations throughout South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and the initiation of a constructive political process in Sudan designed to address the systemic issues underlying ongoing violence throughout that country.