South Sudan’s Independence Clouded by Unresolved Issues

Two days before celebrating the independence of South Sudan in Juba, senior U.S. officials warned Thursday that unresolved issues between the new country and Khartoum, as well as ongoing conflicts along or near their common border, threaten the stability of both states.

In particular, the failure by Khartoum and Juba to resolve the status of Abyei and the allocation of oil revenues between the two capitals, as well as the escalating violence in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, are causing growing concern here. 

"This is a fragile and fraught moment," noted Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, who will head a high-powered U.S. delegation to mark the creation of the world’s 195th nation in Juba Saturday. 

"It cannot and must not be taken for granted, least of all by the government of Sudan and the government of the Republic of South Sudan, who will have to still work exceptionally hard to achieve an enduring peace and enable the emergence of two viable states that are peaceful neighbors," she noted. 

Briefing reporters before embarking for the 16-hour flight to Juba, Rice and other U.S. officials, also stressed that Washington will not remove Khartoum from the State Department’s terrorism list until all provisions of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which set the South’s independence in motion, are fulfilled. 

As a result, Khartoum, which was praised by Washington for cooperating with the January plebiscite in which the southern population voted overwhelmingly for independence, will likely continue to be denied funding from key multilateral institutions, such as the World Bank, in which the U.S. exercises major influence. 

"What we will see Saturday with the independence of South Sudan is only one element of the full implementation of (the CPA)," said Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson. 

"As we have all mentioned, the issue of Abyei has not been resolved. In fact, since May 19th, the situation on the ground became worse and is only now returning to the status quo ante," he said, adding, "We are working as hard as we can with the authorities in Khartoum to make progress on these issues, but we are not yet at the end of the line with respect to full implementation of the agreement." 

In addition to Rice and Carson, Washington’s delegation to the Saturday ceremonies will include the head of the U.S. Africa Command (AfriCom), Gen. Carter Ham, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell among other dignitaries. 

Powell’s inclusion, in addition to ensuring the delegation’s bipartisanship, also serves as a reminder of the key role played by the administration of President George W. Bush, along with Britain and Norway, in negotiating the CPA which effectively ended a 23-year civil war in which an estimated two million people – most of them southerners – died. 

That war pitted Khartoum and its mostly Muslim tribal auxiliaries against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M), which has governed the South since 2005. 

In the latter stages of the war, the SPLA/M received strong support from U.S. right-wing Christian organizations, in major part because, unlike most of the rest of Sudan, the southern population is predominantly Christian and animist. Washington provided some 300 million dollars in aid to the South last year. 

As a core constituency of the Republican Party, the Christian Right pressed Bush to make Sudan a top priority in his administration, and the CPA is today considered one of his few major foreign policy triumphs. 

In addition to granting the SPLA/M a governing role for an interim period, the CPA established a process to enable southerners to vote whether to secede six years after the agreement was signed. It also permitted the introduction of thousands of U.N. peacekeepers (UNMIS) to help maintain the cease fire. 

In addition, the accord called for a referendum – also to take place after six years – for the residents of Abyei, a disputed oil- producing region wedged between the north and south, to determine whether they would join the north or the south and for less well- defined "popular consultations" in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states where the SPLA/M has long been present. 

While the Southern referendum went forward as scheduled, Abyei’s has yet to take place. Moreover, northern troops forcibly occupied the city of Abyei in May, provoking the exodus of some 100,000 residents, most of whom have fled to the South. 

While a cease fire. agreement was agreed in June that provided for the withdrawal of Khartoum’s forces, and their replacement by a new U.N. force of some 4,000 Ethiopian troops, the refugees have not yet returned to their homes, and the referendum appears to have been put on ice. 

After demanding that all SPLA forces in Southern Khordofan and Blue Nile states disarm, Khartoum last month also launched military offensives, notably against Nuba communities that have long been allied with the SPLM, in both states, creating new humanitarian crises there. 

Moreover, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is under indictment for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in connection with the government’s counterinsurgency campaign in Darfur, has demanded that all UNMIS troops, including those deployed to Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, leave the country Saturday when their mandate expires. 

In her statement Thursday, Rice stressed that Washington was "extremely concerned" by Bashir’s decision. "It’s vital that the United Nations be allowed to maintain a full peacekeeping presence in these areas for an additional period of time in order to facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid, support the implementation of any cessation of hostilities agreement, and vitally, to protect civilians," she said. 

She and Carson also stressed that Khartoum and Juba have still not reached agreement on three key CPA provisions, including their precise borders; how they will divide the revenues from the oil that is located mainly in the south but pumped to Northern ports for export; and how to determine the citizenship status of southerners living in the North and northerners living in the South. 

"We believe the parties need to urgently resolve these remaining issues," Rice said. "Allowing these issues, including the final status of Abyei, to linger without resolution for any length of time could swiftly destabilize the future relationships between these two states."

(Inter Press Service)

Author: Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service.