Sudan Mobilizes Army as South Claims Key Oil Fields

South Sudan takes possession of a strategic town near the border with the north.

South Sudanese soldiers in the region of Abyei, December 1, 2010
South Sudanese soldiers in the region of Abyei, December 1, 2010 (Enough Project)

Conflict between Sudan and South Sudan reemerged last week after northern air forces struck targets south of the border.

Tensions most recently erupted when a village in South Sudan was bombarded by the Sudanese military. In an act of retaliation, the South Sudan Army attacked the town of Heglig in an effort to control the oil wells in the area surrounding it.

There is the possibility that the African Union and United Nations will get involved to try to mediate between the two countries.

The complexity of the conflict between them is not only who controls the oil but also the role of rebels in the region and lack of definite borders between north and South Sudan.

Analysis

The conflict between Sudan and South Sudan is multilayered as it involves local politics, the oil industry and the need for regional cooperation and stability.

The newly independent South Sudan, which formally seceded in July 2011, has yet to clarify issues with Khartoum including the solving of national debt and the delineation of the border.

Geopolitically, the conflict was intensified with the occupation of Heglig by the South Sudan Army. The area around it is rich in oil. Landlocked South Sudan relies heavily on the export of petroleum for its economy. However, the transportation of that oil goes through Sudan’s infrastructure. Because the two states could not reach an agreement on the expense of using the infrastructure, South Sudan has shut its 350,000 barrel per day output.

To further add to the conflict, accusations of rebel support have been flung between both countries.

The United Nations’ ambassador to Sudan stated that if the Security Council doesn’t condemn South Sudan’s actions, there will be retaliation by Sudan which could lead to regional conflict. The African Union has urged South Sudan Army to leave Heglig. Both organizations are calling for constraint on both sides.

Wikistrat Bottom Lines

Opportunities

There have been opportunities for the African Union and United Nations to get involved and assist in negotiations between the two Sudans. Perhaps the most successful way of achieving such talks is to put forth actors from both countries, such as senior officials or prominent leaders in the community. That way, they can guide the mediation while giving space to the two countries to solve their own problems.

Risks

The production of oil will be affected as the South Sudanese army has taken control of one of the most productive fields in the country. This could lead to a disruption in fuel supplies in the region and could affect the oil industry in the global market. There is also the risk that investors or regional neighbors get involved in the dispute in exchange for oil.

Dependencies

Due to the various problems and issues between them, negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan cannot commence overnight. In order for talks to be set, the environment needs to be more stable. Both parties need to be willing to discuss and compromise on the issues that divide them. This stage has yet to be reached.

Monica Gameiro and Graham O’Brien contributed to this analysis.