Greed is creeping in to deflate the joy of a peaceful vote for independence that took
place in January. No one expected the transition to two Sudans to be easy, but—again no surprise—fighting has been breaking out in the disputed territory of oil-rich Abyei. According to the CPA agreement by both sides in 2005, Abyei was to hold a referendum to determine if it would join the North or the South. This was to take place in January at the same time the South voted on succession. That opportunity was essentially blotted out on May 21, 2011, when thousands of northern Sudanese soldiers marched into Abyei and seized the border town.
Tensions have been building in the region for months where armies from both the North and the South (called Joint Integrated Units) were supposed to be patrolling together to keep the peace. The invasion with tanks and air cover, firing on civilians, sent 80,000 residents fleeing for their lives. Southern leaders have absorbed the loss of Abyei, complaining bitterly about it but deciding not to respond with military force, saying that could jeopardize all they have sacrificed for.
The United Nations Security Council and a host of Western nations have repeatedly condemned the act. U. S. President Obama’s special envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman, called it a disproportionate response to an attack by the southern army on a U. N.-escorted northern military convoy in the area on May 19.
Northern leaders have been bold in their intentions to unilaterally annex large areas of contested territory. Some observers believe that the North’s maneuvering may be in response to the mounting pressures on Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir. Many northerners are upset and fearful about losing the South, especially its oil. President Bashir can make himself look strong even though he is still boxed in, having been indicted by the International Criminal Court in connection to the massacres in the western region of Darfur.
This outbreak of violence against the South, as well as blockades to prevent the movement of food and fuel is causing a humanitarian crisis. Prices are swiftly rising and the fuel shortage has forced businesses to close in a number of towns, meaning a loss of jobs.
ETHIOPIAN PEACEKEEPERS TO THE RESCUE
According to Western officials in Juba, capital of South Sudan, Ethiopia has volunteered to deploy several thousand soldiers to the Abyei area, which straddles the border between northern and southern Sudan—the section seized by the northern Sudanese military on May 21.
Under the proposal, the northern army would withdraw from the area in the next few weeks, and in their place the Ethiopian solders would come in until a permanent solution could be reached. Ethiopia is viewed as a neutral player in Sudan, trusted by leaders from both sides. Ethiopia has concerns about an outbreak of war in Sudan spilling over their borders.
Col. Philip Aguer, a spokesman for the southern Sudanese military, said, “The government of southern Sudan is negotiating and definitely the SPLA will welcome Ethiopians as part of the U.N. Mission in Sudan.”
“We will not accept this,” said Rabie A. Atti, a Sudanese government spokesman. “Maybe this is something under discussion. There have been many discussions, but no decision has been made.” However, a Western official, who works closely on Sudan issues, said privately that both sides have bought into this arrangement.
Let us hope that this plan comes to pass, a border agreement comes soon, and that another civil war can be avoided. The South is eager to celebrate the official declaration of their new nation 9 July. May it be a joyful one!