Wednesday, 28 September 2011

South Sudan to close borders with north as fighting flares

The South Sudanese government has announced that the border with Sudan will be closed from December, in retaliation for an allegedly illegal blockade imposed by the north. The move comes amid renewed fighting with pro-southern rebels in Blue Nile state.

Atem Garang, a senior figure in the South Sudanese government, announced the border closure on 24th September, following months of accusations that Khartoum had sealed off border crossings. The breakdown in trade has contributed to high prices and food shortages which have affected thousands.

The closure suggests that Juba's patience with Khartoum is running out. Last week, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir called for greater cooperation with Sudan on key issues including border demarcation.

It also takes place amid a sharp deterioration in the security situation along their 1250 mile border. A major offensive by Sudanese forces against rebels in the border state of Blue Nile has displaced tens of thousands, according to aid agencies. The military operation is aimed at the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N), which is politically and ethnically linked to South Sudan and which has been fighting northern forces for several months.

Since the independence of South Sudan in July, Khartoum has been seeking to reassert control over border regions which have a heavy SPLM-N presence. The Sudanese military is now using aerial bombardments and ground assaults against the region, leading to widespread accusations of civilian casualties. A UN-backed call for demilitarisation, which both sides agreed to, seems moribund.

Officials in the SPLM-N have called on the US to impose a no-fly zone along the border region, warning that the Khartoum government's offensive threatened the independence of South Sudan. US officials have rejected the request.

The fighting, as well as Sudan's efforts to block access to Blue Nile and South Kordofan, another rebel province, is also hampering cross-border trade and communication. Any further intensification of the conflict would make it even more difficult to freely cross the border, and lead to a serious deterioration in relations between Khartoum and Juba.

Sources: Sudan Tribune, Guardian, AFP

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