x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Both Sudans are goaded towards a needless war

The multiple border issues are drawing both Juba and Khartoum into an escalating conflict that is against both of their interests.

Last week, South Sudanese troops seized the oil-rich town of Heglig in South Kordofan province. As those soldiers continued to evacuate the town yesterday, the harm had already been done. The multiple border issues are drawing both Juba and Khartoum into an escalating conflict that is against both of their interests.

The south was formed along many fault lines, ranging from immigration issues, demographics and debt repayments to the distribution of oil and Nile water. Land disputes have troubled the area long before the partition in July. Two months before formal separation, Khartoum's forces had stormed the contested region of Abyei, forcing the flight of tens of thousands of southerners, who were replaced by tribesmen from the north according to some reports.

There has been no shortage of provocations since, with regional conflicts across South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and major attacks against civilians carried out by Khartoum's forces. Those conflicts are largely driven by localised competition and grievances, but they threaten to ignite a larger conflict.

As the Heglig occupation demonstrated, further aggression plays into Khartoum's hands. As a result, Sudan's parliament declared South Sudan an "enemy state", the opposition in Khartoum set aside their differences with the government, and President Omar Al Bashir rallied his supporters against Juba, saying it had "revived the spirit of jihad".

The international community and United Nations also condemned the offensive (although it was unclear yesterday whether South Sudanese forces were withdrawing because of the UN demand that they do so, or whether they were being forced out by Khartoum's pounding). Either way, the South's occupation of such a critical oil-production centre was always going to provoke a response.

The tit-for-tat provocation will certainly continue; indeed, instability might even serve Mr Al Bashir's regime and justify his tightened grip on the country. For Sudanese on both sides, however, it is a disaster.

It is important to remember that Abyei, Blue Nile and South Kordofan were all granted special status in the peace deal brokered by the international community in 2005, which ended two decades of civil war between the north and the south. It is a mistake not to apply the same peacemaking efforts as a new potential war festers.