The civil war that resulted in South Sudan’s independence from Sudan already has cost thousands of lives, but now the violent fighting over oil money and the ongoing persecution of Christians has pushed the two national leaders involved into talks in hopes of a resolution.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir and Sudanese strongman Omar al-Bashir recently have met to consider territorial disputes and oil rights in Abyei Province, as well as the multiple attacks on South Sudan’s Christians by Muslim marauders from the north.
And although total numbers are sometimes difficult to ascertain, the New York Times reported last year that a “burst of communal violence” there cost 3,000 lives.
At the time, Joshua Konyi, commissioner of Pibor County, said, “We’ve been counting the bodies. It’s really a genocide. If you come, you will see.”
But Kiir and al-Bashir recently have had meetings in Juba and Khartoum in an attempt to resolve their differences over the oil-rich Abyei Province. At issue is which country governs Abyei and which country is entitled to profits from the sale of crude oil on international markets.
Abyei Province is a strip of land on the border between the two nations and the two leaders have talked about holding a referendum to allow residents of Abeyi to decide their own future.
At present, no deal has been reached in either session, but more talks are being planned.
South Sudan-focused human rights group Global Response Network President Tom Zurowski says that the potential for further conflict over Abyei is very real.
“The oil fields remain and will continue to remain a strong point of contention, as long as Sudan remains defiant about who the oil rightfully belongs to,” Zurowski said.
Zurowski maintains that South Sudan has the better claim to the land.
“The oil belongs to South Sudan, yet at this point, they are dependent on Sudan for export through Port Sudan. Juba is undergoing talks with their neighbors to provide an alternate route of export, which may or may not solve their current challenges with Sudan,” Zurowski said.
Zurowski adds that a major hindrance to any agreement is the dependence both countries have on the oil revenue.
“To cut off Sudan from any oil revenue may cause a whole new set of problems and more than likely will. Sudan and South Sudan are both dependent on revenue gained by oil production; without it, both nations have and will suffer greatly economically,” Zurowski said.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide USA President John Eibner agrees. He says the referendum is important, but adds that understanding the actual relationship is difficult because it’s not often the same as how the relationship appears.
“Bashir and Kiir recently met in Juba. Relations between Juba and in Khartoum appear to have improved recently. But this can change overnight,” Eibner said. “The potential for conflict in Abyei in connection with the referendum issue could quickly lead to a deterioration of relations.”
Since South Sudan’s independence, disagreement over the location and placement of the actual border has been an ongoing. Eibner says further military action is possible under these circumstances.
“As long as the border is not demarcated, the status of borderland oil fields will not be certain, and ownership will be a point of contention,” Eibner said.
Zurowski says fighting between the nations is ongoing, even though there is the appearance of “peace.”
“Though there is an appearance of peace, the feelings between the two governments are far from friendly. South Sudan cannot trust the Bashir government,” Zurowski said.
“Without trust, real trust, it is difficult to advance and function as independent nations. With every small agreement that is made between the two nations, South Sudan is forced to trust with their eyes open,” Zurowski said.
“Agreements between the two administrations are more of an experiment than an agreement. So far, South Sudan has had to suffer the brunt of broken promises, which makes development very difficult,” Zurowski said.
There also continue to be frequent reports that Sudan continues to persecute its small Christian minority. Sudan is mostly Muslim, while South Sudan, which separated itself, is mostly Christian.
“Zurowski says that many of the Christians who still remain in Sudan are still hoping to emigrate to South Sudan.
“Persecution of Christians remains an issue in Sudan. There are many Christians who are hoping to settle in South Sudan as soon as possible due to the continued threat by Sudan’s intolerant Islamic government,” Zurowski said.
WND reported earlier that al-Bashir continues to suppress Christianity because it’s a winning political strategy for his regime.
Heritage Foundation Africa analyst and Allison Center Director Steven Bucci believes that by ramping up persecution, Bashir is seeking to appease his supporters.
Bashir’s base of power is the Muslim north, Bucci pointed out.
“He plays to them, and going after the Christian south and Christians throughout the country is a winning strategy for him and his backers,” he said.
Bucci estimates that the persecution will continue because Bashir’s regime is firmly in control of the Khartoum government.
Zurowski says that all things considered, South Sudan is making progress toward “statecraft” despite its hurdles.
“South Sudan is having its ups and downs when it comes to adjusting to its independence. They seem to take one step forward and two steps back,” Zurowski said.
“At this point, independence is bitter sweet. For those of us who live in well established nations, it is difficult for us to understand South Sudan’s current position,” Zurowski said.
“At this point, the very thinking of the people has to catch up to their new-found freedom. I believe it is imperative for the next generation to be educated with the highest level of excellence possible. In my humble opinion, this will require help from outsiders who are truly free to show them the way to lasting freedom,” Zurowski said.