Unfortunately, war fever seems to have gripped Sudan once again. This time around Sudan and the newly independent South Sudan are at loggerheads.
The point of contention is of course a territorial dispute, albeit a strategic one. The oil field of Heglig on the border between the two states that is disputed territory with demarcations yet to take place, has proven to be the proverbial trap, luring both states into a bloody confrontation.
Despite South Sudan pulling back troops from Heglig recently after a week-long occupation fighting has broken out. Bombings and troop buildup is just the tip of the iceberg. There is fear of the conflict spreading out to other parts and thus escalating to an extent that regional states’ involvement becomes necessary. Ugandan military officials had only recently spoken of helping South Sudan in case of a conflict with Khartoum. In all probability, Uganda will step in to help the government of Silva Kiir against Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir’s forces. While oil installations have already been targeted in alleged plane bombings and/or ground attacks — with both sides blaming the other — civilian areas face a similar threat. It is only inevitable that an all-out civil war breaks out once more, rendering asunder the hard won independence of areas comprising South Sudan and the uneasy peace after the UN brokered truce following years of war.
Partition is never easy especially if territorial disputes pertaining strategic reserves are concerned. Still, hopes were high for attaining peace and stability after South Sudan came into being and Khartoum pledged to work with its new neighbour to resolve all standing issues peacefully.
Hoping for the two to do just that may have been an unrealistic assessment as was witnessed just now with the fresh outbreak of fighting. What must be done immediately is for third parties like the UN and other regional states to step in and urge restraint. Unless both sides rein in their ambitions and belligerence, the states will once again be engulfed in a violent civil war that has the potential to spread. This is something that must be avoided at all costs. Khartoum and Juba must understand the dynamics at play and refrain from further aggravating the situation before it is too late.