AFTER having pushed to separate oil rich South Sudan from the North, the US is now preparing for military action against the north, accusing it of seeking to undermine South Sudan, in order to overthrow the government of President Bashir.
Secretary of State Clinton is accusing Bashir of trying to undermine newly independent South Sudan, adding US would consider increasing pressure on Bashir to reverse course.
Last Wednesday Clinton told US lawmakers that ‘what we’ve got with Bashir is a very determined effort to try to undo the results of the comprehensive peace agreement,’ which led to the creation last July of a separate state in South Sudan.
She recalled that ‘the United States played a very important role in negotiating that agreement,’ a 2005 deal that ended more than two decades of war between the Islamist-led government in Khartoum and rebels representing the mainly Christian and animist south.
‘The people of South Sudan voted for independence and ever since, despite Bashir going to Salva Kiir’s inauguration, there has been a steady effort to undermine this new state,’ Clinton said, referring to the new southern president.
‘We will certainly look at trying to up the pressure on Khartoum and on Bashir personally,’ the chief US diplomat told a House of Representatives committee.
On February 3, Bashir said on national television that Sudan is closer to war than peace with the breakaway state of South Sudan, with a dispute over oil and other issues stoking tensions.
Bashir spoke after Kiir warned that renewed conflict could erupt if oil negotiations with Khartoum do not include a deal on other key issues, including the contested Abyei region.
Tensions have also been raised by the still undemarcated border, parts of which cut through oilfields, as well as mutual allegations that each side backs rebel forces against the other.
‘We also believe there has to be an agreement to finish out the comprehensive peace agreement and try to finalise all of the border issues, the oil issues, and that’s going to be very difficult, too,’ Clinton said.
‘We support the process that the African Union is running in Addis Ababa but it doesn’t seem to be making a lot of progress yet,’ she said.
This hidden war, affecting hundreds of thousands of people as tensions mount between Sudan and the newly independent South Sudan and the US, threatens to erupt into direct conflict.
Fighting between ethnic Nuba rebels and government troops in South Kordofan state where there is also oil began last June, one month before the South’s formal independence.
The Nuba were allies of southern rebels during a 22-year civil war which ended in 2005 before an overwhelming southern vote in January 2011 for separation.
But Khartoum alleges that the new southern government continues to support rebels from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in the Sudanese state of South Kordofan.
Khartoum threatened retaliation last week after accusing the South of backing a rebel attack in the disputed border area of Jau.
‘It is something serious because we fear the conflict by proxies, that today exists between the north and the south, becomes direct conflict,’ with the risk of destabilising the entire region, said a Western diplomat.
Khartoum said rebels accompanied by officers from South Sudan’s army launched a ‘direct attack’, but Juba denied supporting opposition groups in Sudan and said Jau is part of its territory.
In an escalation on Thursday, the South alleged Sudanese MiG warplanes bombed oil and water wells 74 kilometres (46 miles) inside its frontier while ground troops moved 17 kilometres into oil-rich Unity State.
Khartoum denied the claims, but the United States expressed alarm. It called such incidents ‘unacceptable’ and said they threaten to raise tensions between the two states.
The earlier Jau attack could not have occurred in the absence of direct involvement by South Sudan’s army, said Magdi El Gizouli, a fellow at the Rift Valley Institute.
‘Without SPLA proper they can’t do this,’ he said. ‘They can’t just come from South Kordofan.’
He sees the fighting as part of the ‘bargaining process’ between two nations which are engaged in a major dispute over oil fees and other issues related to the South’s separation.
When South Sudan gained its independence it took about three-quarters of Sudanese oil production but it has no facilities of its own to export the crude.
‘The two countries have been unable to agree on how much Juba should pay to use the northern pipeline and port.
‘If they can reach a deal, the insurgency will essentially die out,’ said Gizouli. The alternative is that it could flare into direct war.
However South Sudan is playing a dangerous game by supporting the rebel movements and seeking the fall of the Khartoum regime, in the belief that it has US support.
There is a feeling that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, or the government of South Sudan, has not understood that it can no longer act like an armed movement, but that it has to act from now on as a government.
John Ashworth, an adviser to Sudanese churches for 29 years, says the South Kordofan rebel movement has its own reasons to fight and probably gets very little support from Juba.
It ‘will continue its struggle with or without external support, using captured weapons and ammunition,’ said Ashworth.
He added: ‘They and their people believe that the alternative continued oppression by Khartoum is worse than death, and they will fight to the death,’ he said.
Ashworth said the war is destined to continue ‘a long time’ with Khartoum opposed to meaningful negotiations and the rebels unable alone to overthrow the regime or enforce their own conditions for peace.
The government of Sudan has severely restricted access to the war zone for journalists, diplomats, and aid agencies, but the United Nations says more than 360,000 people have been internally displaced or severely affected by fighting in South Kordofan and the nearby Blue Nile state.
There is now great concern over malnutrition and food shortages in the area.
Neither the UN nor the Red Cross can say how many non-combatants may have died since June in the war which has led to repeated allegations, denied by Khartoum, that civilians have been bombed from the air.
‘This is probably, in civilian terms, a very costly war,’said Gizouli. ‘There is no winning here.’
Meanwhile dozens of oil companies are negotiating with the South Sudan government to have access to its considerable oil wealth.
• Further north, in ‘Liberated’ Libya, NATO’s allies have been busy.
The Libyan ‘authorities’ have been ‘extremely apologetic’ over the desecration of Commonwealth graves in the eastern city of Benghazi, a British Foreign Office minister said Sunday.
Jeremy Browne said the incidents were ‘appalling’ and people would be ‘shocked’ by the footage of the February 24 and 26 attacks.
‘The Libyan authorities themselves are shocked too,’ he maintained.
‘We have had direct dealings with them. They have been extremely apologetic and made a very strong commitment they will get to the bottom of this happening. They will try and do everything they can to resolve it.’
There is film of a mob of Libyan ‘revolutionaries’ smashing up the gravestones of the UK Second World War dead, saying of the dead ‘They are dogs’.
Local reports said the group comprised Salafists, who had risen to rule Benghazi due to the support of NATO bombers.
Some 1,214 Commonwealth troops who died in the north African desert battles of World War II are buried at the Benghazi War Cemetery, where around 200 headstones were damaged.
Of the 1,051 identified graves, 851 are those of British troops, with others belonging to Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, South African and Indian servicemen.
Around a quarter of the headstones in the nearby Benghazi British Military Cemetery, which does not contain World War graves, were also damaged.
The British and French air forces last year aided Benghazi-based rebels to oust Libyan leader Colonel Gadaffi from power and to murder him in the streets.
A Foreign Office spokesman said that Britain’s ambassador in Tripoli has spoken to Transitional Council chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil and Libyan Prime Minister Abdel Rahim al-Kib about the attacks.