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SOUTH SUDAN: Tension Builds as Peace Agreement Marks Anniversary

Analysis by Moyiga Nduru

JUBA, South Sudan, Jan 18 2010 (IPS) - Sudan is at a crossroads. Its future looks grim. “Only a miracle can save it from disintegrating. The signs are already on the wall,” says Khamis Lako, a petty trader in Juba, the capital of South Sudan.

Nursing injuries after an attack on a South Sudanese village: ethnic conflict threatens full implementation of the peace agreement. Credit:  Peter Martell/IPS

Nursing injuries after an attack on a South Sudanese village: ethnic conflict threatens full implementation of the peace agreement. Credit: Peter Martell/IPS

It’s a far cry from the euphoria that greeted the 2005 north-south peace deal that ushered in a new era of optimism. The agreement, at least from the point of view of the north, offered the last chance to prevent Africa’s largest country from disintegrating like the former Yugoslav republics.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), brokered by outside powers, ended a 21-year conflict between the Arab Muslim north and the black Christian south. According to human rights groups, more than 2 million people perished during the 1983-2005 war.

The fifth anniversary of the deal, is being commemorated on Jan. 19 in Yambio, the capital of South Sudan’s Western Equatoria state, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

Even for skeptics like Lako, the deal CPA has produced some concrete results. “The guns have gone silent,” he said. “People can now move freely, doing their business without harassment or intimidation.”

The south has its own government, flag and a standing army – the former rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). Virtually all northern troops have been withdrawn from the territory. The semi-autonomous region also maintains a string of liaison offices (embassies in all but name) in most key capitals of the world.

Right now, the north and the south only share nationality and currency – nothing else.

Challenges ahead

Despite the progress made, Sudan’s challenges remain enormous. The peace partners, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in the north, have yet to define the north-south border as it stood at independence in 1956.

At stake here is Sudan’s oil which straddles the north-south border, although most of it lies in the south.

Earlier this month NCP’s Ghazi Salaheddin, an advisor to President Omar al-Bashir, warned that the referendum on South Sudan’s independence, which is scheduled for January 2011, would lead to a new war if key issues such as the north-south border, nationality and responsibility for external debts of over $30 billion dollars were not addressed.

The NCP suggested recently that the estimated five million southerners living in the north would automatically lose their citizenship if the south opts for independence in 2011. The same would apply to northerners living in the south.


Disagreements also continue over the oil revenue which the south shares equally with the north. The south complains of lack of transparency in the distribution of oil revenue. The north has rejected the allegations.

The north fears that an independent south will deprive it of the badly needed oil revenue. “Secession will leave the north in a difficult situation. Oil accounts for 90 percent of the north’s exports,” said John Luk Jok, South Sudan’s minister of energy, at a symposium on ‘Southern Sudan: Preparing for 2011 and Beyond’, in Juba on Dec. 5-6.

The north considers oil as a strategic commodity. “The north want their interests protected in a future independent South Sudan, or they’ll sabotage it,” Elijah Malok, the head of the Bank of Southern Sudan, told the symposium.

Sudan’s foreign friends are encouraging both the SPLM and NCP to start discussing the post-2011 arrangements.

“I believe that we need to come up with a process now so that we can work with the parties and the parties can work between themselves to come up with solutions on citizenship, on the north-south border demarcation, on the sharing of resources – and that includes the oil – grazing rights, the Nile waters,” said Scott Gration, special envoy for Sudan, at a news conference in Washington on Jan. 11.

He added, “There’s so many issues that have to be decided that we cannot wait until the referendum is here, until the people have made their will known. It will be too late at that point. These must be done right now, and we’re encouraging the process to start and we are in constant communication with the parties to help them come up with a process and a methodology to get these talks started.”

Violence continues

One contentious issue which may unravel the fragile peace deal is the growing culture of ethnic conflict in the south. Since 2008, at least 2,500 people have been killed and 350,000 displaced from their homes by ethnic conflict and cattle rustling, according to a January 2010 report compiled by aid groups including the British charity Oxfam.

Prior to the outbreak of conflict in 1983, cattle rustlers used archaic weapons such as spears, and bows and arrows. But now they carry automatic assault weapons, particularly AK-47s.

Recent consignments, confiscated by South Sudanese security agents, are of brand new weapons.

The sources of these weapons remain an open secret, although the north has distanced itself from supplying them. SPLM secretary general Pagan Amum believes “the enemies of peace” are supplying the weapons to disrupt the referendum.

“The referendum must be conducted on January 9, 2011 as stipulated in the peace agreement,” he told journalists in Juba.

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