Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Sudan and South Sudan battle over disputed oilfields

Sudan and South Sudan are close to war along their disputed border, with multiple clashes around vital oil fields and an escalation in troop build-ups.
The tension has been rising for several months, particularly since South Sudan shut down oil production, protesting alleged theft of its crude exports from the pipeline through Sudan. Since then Khartoum, which is heavily dependent on oil export revenues, has sought to increase the pressure on its breakaway southern neighbour to restart production or lose the wells by force.

Most of the oil fields are located in border regions such as Unity state, where the boundary between Sudan and South Sudan was never fully demarcated after the south declared independence last July. Khartoum insists that some of the oil fields are in northern territory, whilst the south – which is almost wholly reliant on oil revenues for its budget – is adamant that it will not cede any territory.

The recent upsurge in fighting began on around 26 March. Details are sparse given the remoteness of the border and the poor communications, but Juba insists that Sudanese warplanes began bombing oil-producing areas in Unity state, before clashes broke out between the armies of both sides.

During the fighting, South Sudan alleges, northern forces temporarily captured oil facilities in the Heglig region, which is claimed by both sides. The facilities at Heglig and in the area struck by air attacks are operated by China’s CNODC. Khartoum claims that the violence came in response to attacks by South Sudanese forces. It insists that its troops are in control of the Heglig field.

The African Union and the UN have called on both sides to pull back their forces from the border and return to the negotiating table to discuss key issues including oil revenues and border demarcation. Neither side has shown much willingness to start a fully-fledged war, but the clashes have stalled their diplomatic discussions. A summit on 3 April, in which Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was due to travel to Juba, has been cancelled.

Sources: BBC, Voice of America, Reuters

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