Home | News    Saturday 10 December 2011

South Sudan ’on brink of war’ with north Sudan

December 9, 2011 (JUBA/BENTIU) - South Sudan’s foreign minister told the BBC on Friday that the newly independent state was on the ’brink of war with north Sudan after clashes in a contested border region.

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A Sudanese man points to damages at his house caused by fighting between government forces and SPLM-N rebels with strong ties to South Sudan, in Kadugli, South Kordofan on October 21 (AFP)

Nhial Deng Nhial said that the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) had invaded the town of Jau on Saturday 3 December using tanks and aerial bombardment in the attack. The town is claimed by both north and South Sudan.

On Wednesday SAF repelled an attack by the South Sudan army (SPLA), which tried to take back the town. There are unconfirmed reports that the SPLA retook the town on Thursday evening.

The UN has warned that the clashes could trigger a return to war, only months after South Sudan gained independence as part of a 2005 deal that ended decades of conflict in which 2 million are estimated to have died.

Nhial was joined by local officials in Unity state urging intervention from the international community.

As well as the recent clashes SAF have been accused by the UN and South Sudan of bombing a refugee camp in Unity state. Khartoum denies it bombed the camp, and that there are any northern refugees in South Sudan. The UN says that thousands of displaced people from fighting in South Kordofan state in the north have fed into South Sudan.

North Sudan accuses the south of backing rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, while Juba says Khartoum is backing rebellions in South Sudan. Both sides deny the claims.

"We had been associated with the SPLM-North [rebels] during the years of our struggle. After independence we severed all military ties with our units in the north and we didn’t provide any additional equipment," the foreign minister said.

Nhial said the Jau fighting was in South Sudan’s Unity state was threatening the peace between the two countries.

"Although there have been frequent aerial bombardments of different places in the Republic of South Sudan, we think that Khartoum has raised this offensive to an entirely new level by committing ground forces to cross into the Republic of South Sudan," Nhial told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.

"We are still very much committed to the principle of dialogue with Khartoum - we are still hopeful that we can pull back from the brink of outright war."


The Unity State Legislative Assembly on Friday echoed the foreign minister by accusing SAF of invading the Jau.

State speaker, Simon Maguek Gai Majak, said that according to the border as it was at Sudan’s independence in 1956, Jau is in Unity State. Border demarcation is one of the many post-independence issues yet to be agreed upon the two sides as well as oil, debt, Nile Water and citizenship.

Gai said Friday that the assembly asked SAF to withdraw from their territory, calling on South Sudan’s government to protect its citizens.

“The attack was actually a violation of the sovereignty of the territory of South Sudan, actually this area is an area inhabited by the local population of Panarou, and the area is in the deep South that is why we came out and condemning this provocative attack by the SAF forces”, said Gai.

The speaker appealed to international community to intervene and condemn the attack. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has a strong chapter 7 mandate, he said, arguing that peacekeeping forces should do more to protect civilians.

One of the main rebels groups in South Sudan, the SSLA, is based in oil rich Unity state.

Local leaders in say that the recent fighting and SSLA activity was evidence that Khartoum was attempting to annex South Sudan’s oil fields. When South Sudan seceded it took with it 75% of Sudan’s known oil reserves triggering severe financial problems in north Sudan.

Malual Manyiel, a paramount chief of the area told Sudan Tribune on Friday that “some places in the extreme north of Parieng, places like Aleel, Wunkur, Gumriak, Yida including Parieng town itself, are certainly potential target for invasion,” and unilateral demarcation by Khartoum.

Stephen Mabek Lang, commissioner of Parieng County says that the area under dispute falls “deeply” inside South Sudan.

“There should no guesswork as to where this area belongs. The Sudanese government, especially our Nubian brothers whom we share the border, knows very well that this area belongs hundred percent to South Sudan”, Lang told Sudan Tribune on Friday by phone.

“Panaruu community whose some of its members inhabits Jaau has never been part of North Sudan even during colonial era”, he said declining to confirm the authenticity of reports claiming that the area has been retaken by South Sudan army on Thursday evening.

The office of the Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations in South Sudan told Sudan Tribune it was still gathering information about the incident.