Tensions between the Two Sudans

Jump to: North-South Negotiations | Tracking Compliance with Resolution 2046 | Fighting Along the Border | Abyei Area


South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July 2011, but the relationship between the two countries remains tense. Sudan and South Sudan's border conflict, which flared dramatically in the spring of 2012, has the potential of escalating further if steps are not taken toward peace and security between the two countries. Negotiations between the two countries remain the best means for settling the disputed border, related security arrangements, outstanding financial and oil-related issues, and the final status of the contested Abyei region.

North-South Negotiation Process

Nearly two years have passed since the governments of Sudan and South Sudan started negotiations. The negotiation teams first met in July 2010 to sign the guiding principles for South Sudan’s referendum and secession process; however, progress has been slow.

Today this stalled negotiation process threatens the peace and stability of the two Sudans and the region at large. Therefore, its successful conclusion should be a priority for both governments and the greater international community.

The outbreak of violence in South Kordofan in June 2011, and in Blue Nile in September 2011, has undermined the already tenuous security environment and blocked progress on critical outstanding negotiation issues. The conflicts in South Kordofan and Blue Nile are central to the negotiation process. The Government of Sudan has called for South Sudan to stop its alleged support of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, and for security to be established along their contested border.

  • SPLM-N = Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North
  • SRF = Sudan Revolutionary Front

Negotiations will continue to be stuck until the parties make progress on a series of issues including:

  • a ceasefire;
  • humanitarian access;
  • and transitional political arrangements related to continued fighting between the Sudanese government and the Sudan Revolutionary Front, or SRF, which includes forces from South Kordofan, Blue Nile, Darfur, and eastern Sudan.

A two-track negotiation process is necessary to consolidate peace within Sudan and between the two Sudans. The first track should involve negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan. The second track should be a negotiation process between the Government of Sudan and forces within Sudan. For peace to take hold, the two Sudans must agree on all outstanding post-secession issues. While that agreement takes place, Sudan must also address its internal conflicts, especially in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Focusing on security and related arrangements between the Sudans is the most constructive way forward to prevent a return to war between the two countries.

Tracking Compliance with Resolution 2046

On, May 2, 2012, the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 2046, calling for, among other things, the immediate cessation of hostilities between Sudan and South Sudan, and the two sides’ return to negotiations under the facilitation of the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel, or AUHIP, with support from the Chair of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, or IGAD.

  • AUHIP = African Union High-Level Implementation Panel
  • IGAD = Chair of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development
  • SPLM-N = Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North

The resolution also urges the combatants to accept the so-called Tripartite Proposal concerning access of humanitarian aid groups to the Sudanese states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, as well as the initiation of negotiations between the government of Sudan and the SPLM-N.

The Security Council declared that failure of any party to implement any or all aspects of the resolution could result in the imposition of U.N. sanctions under Article 41 of the U.N. Charter. The Enough Project is tracking Sudan and South Sudan’s compliance with Resolution 2046 in an interactive timeline and table.

View the “UNSC Resolution 2046 Compliance Tracker” for the latest updates in the negotiation process.

Fighting Along the Border

In Spring 2012, tensions between Sudan and South Sudan escalated to open hostilities in the disputed oil-producing border region of Heglig (also called Pathou). Heglig is strategically critical, since it is home to Sudan’s largest remaining source of oil following South Sudan’s secession.

Sudan and South Sudan’s armies first clashed in Heglig on March 26, 2012, which escalated into Sudan bombing oil installations near Bentiu, the capital of South Sudan’s Unity state. Though both sides engaged in African Union High Level Implementation Panel-negotiated talks about a proposed cessation of hostilities, bombardment from both sides continued. Less than one month later, on April 10, 2012, South Sudan’s army overran Heglig in response to Sudan’s April 9 attack on the South Sudanese town of Teshwin, just across the border. South Sudanese officials say the counterattack was never intended to go as far north as Heglig, and the SPLA withdrew from the disputed area to their original positions in response to international pressure.

Read more: “Hostilities between Sudan and South Sudan: A Timeline of Recent Events.”

Immediately after this border violation, South Sudanese officials reported Sudan Armed Forces, or SAF, bombings of Southern oil fields. This Enough Project timeline tracks Hostilities between Sudan and South Sudan from February 11, 2012 through April 23, 2012.

Abyei Area

The Abyei Area stands between Sudan and South Sudan and is a historically disputed territory. The Abyei Protocol (part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA, which ended Sudan’s second civil war in 2005) stated that at the end of the six-year Interim Period Abyei residents would vote in a referendum to either maintain their special administrative status in Sudan or to become a part of South Sudan. The Protocol included the creation and empowerment of the Abyei Boundaries Commission, or ABC, to "define and demarcate the Area" between the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya ethnic groups’ traditional boundaries.

However, the Government of Sudan refused to recognize the conclusions of the ABC.

  • CPA = Comprehensive Peace Agreement
  • ABC = Abyei Boundaries Commission
  • SPLA = Sudan People's Liberation Army

In the aftermath of the ABC debacle, violence increased through 2007 and 2008 between the SPLA, Misseriya fighters, and Sudanese troops. To ease these tensions, Khartoum and Juba signed a roadmap agreement, which provided for, among other things, the two parties to arbitrate the boundaries of Abyei. In 2009, the Abyei Arbitration Tribunal, sitting at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, issued its final and binding ruling concerning the definition of the area’s borders. The tribunal ruled that the ABC had "had exceeded their mandate in certain [not all] areas of its implementation." This conclusion left the area's borders undetermined, a problem that continues to cause problems to this day.

The redrawn border gave control of parts of the oil-rich Heglig area to Sudan.

Read more: "The Abyei Arbitration Tribunal Issues its Ruling: Now the Hard Work Begins."

The promised Abyei Area referendum never occurred, due to a disagreement between the two CPA parties over the definition of the term "resident" of the Abyei area. In May 2011, government-backed militia and SAF invaded the Abyei area following an alleged attack by the SPLA. Northern forces swept through the disputed area, destroying civilian property and displacing over 110,000 Ngok Dinka from their traditional homeland.

The Ngok Dinka are farmers and primarily reside in Abyei, while the Misseriya are nomadic cattle herders and pass through the area seasonally, so some argue that they should not be granted resident status. In May 2011, government-backed militia and SAF invaded the Abyei area following an alleged attack by the SPLA. Northern forces swept through the disputed area, destroying civilian property and displacing over 110,000 Ngok Dinka from their traditional homeland.

Following the crisis, in June 2011 the governments of Sudan and South Sudan signed temporary security and administrative arrangements for Abyei. The agreement installed an Ethiopian U.N. peacekeeping mission, which deployed to South Sudan in July, 2011. The countries also agreed to completely withdraw all forces from the Abyei Area, and establish a new joint administration for the area. But as of June 2012, provisions concerning these two issues had not been fully implemented.

In June 2012 SAF finally withdrew from Abyei town, which allowed the displaced population to begin returning, but an estimated 100 Sudanese "oil police" remain in northern parts of Abyei in violation of the June 2011 arrangements.

Resolution on the final status of Abyei will depend on the larger political dynamics between the governments of Sudan and South Sudan. Pressures from the international community in the form of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2046 and the African Union roadmap has created some momentum in the negotiations, causing the two sides to return to the negotiating table. But current negotiations remain stuck on security and border issues and depend on the outcomes of conflicts in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

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