Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Sudan refuses border demarcation as risk of confrontation grows

The Sudanese government has turned down an African Union proposal for a new round of negotiations with South Sudan, as military tensions along their disputed border rise sharply.

On 15th November, a South Sudanese minister complained that Khartoum has suspended the talks, which were being held under the auspices of the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), chaired by former South African leader Thabo Mbeki. AUHIP talks have been struggling on for two years, but have failed to make progress on key issues such as border demarcation and oil sharing.

The suspension of talks comes at a critical time in relations between Sudan and South Sudan, which formally seceded in July. Rebels linked to Juba's ruling Sudan Liberation People's Movement, operating in border states within Sudanese territory, have intensified their battle against the Sudanese military.

According to local NGOs, Khartoum has responded with a major bombing campaign against border regions. There have been persistent accusations that it has launched airstrikes against refugee camps, including one across the border with South Sudan. Oxfam has pulled out its staff in response to the violence. The Sudanese military has also allegedly boosted its military presence near the boundary, with refurbished airfields and greater deployments of armoured forces.

The military build-up has provoked fears of a new war. South Sudanese president Salva Kiir has warned that Khartoum is seeking to invade South Sudan and steal its oilfields. Sudan's leader Omar al-Bashir, for his part, has said that he is ready for conflict if Juba provokes it.

Although a full-blown military conflict remains unlikely, the harsh rhetoric makes it more difficult for the two sides to demarcate the border, agree on oil-sharing, and prevent cross-border cattle raids which have killed hundreds. The AUHIP does not seem to have the political clout needed to calm tensions and push both sides into a compromise.

Sources: Sudan Tribune, AFP

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