Thursday, April 5, 2012

Interview on Sudan-South Sudan Conflict

The English-language service of Radio France Internationale asked me to comment 5 April 2012 on the breakdown of peace talks between South Sudan and Sudan. I responded that the situation along the border is worrisome and, if the report is accurate that South Sudan shot down a MiG-29 flown by the northern government, is escalating. On the other hand, these talks in recent years have often broken down unexpectedly and resumed just as unexpectedly. While the level of concern is higher now, I doubted that it would return to an all out war between Juba and Khartoum. Both sides understand the damage that would cause; they wish to avoid such a development.

There are numerous spoilers on both sides of the border who may find it in their interest to prevent successful peace talks. This is unhelpful and just plain dangerous. There are also so many issues--citizenship, southerners living north of the border who have sympathies with South Sudan, oil revenue sharing, growing numbers of displaced persons and humanitarian concerns, a disputed border, etc. It will take a long time to resolve all of these differences.

The African Union is doing essentially what it can to bring the two parties together. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki has been leading the African Union effort. The African Union is limited in what it can do because of financial constraints and the fact that it has no troops under its command. In addition, both Sudan and South Sudan are members of the African Union and they bring significantly different points of view to the table.

If I am wrong, and the situation returns to war between Sudan and South Sudan, the impact would be negative for all concerned, especially southerners and northerners who live in the border region. But there would also be negative implications for neighboring Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic. The international community would be required to increase humanitarian assistance to larger numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons. A return to war would be the worst possible outcome for everyone.

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