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Conflict

Is the international community doing enough in Sudan?

Nine months after the separation of South Sudan from the north, the two sides are now involved in daily border skirmishes. The international community is doing little to help and the UN forces are also powerless.

South Sudan is not yet one year old. Still, since separation from Sudan in July 2011, the country has been at loggerheads with its northern neighbor. At stake are massive oil reserves - three quarters of the oil stocks are on South Sudan land, which used to belong to Sudan. The uncertain status of sections of the border is contributing to the problems.

A Sudan Liberation Movement fighter poses with his back to the camera.

Conflict has become a way of life for people on the border between north and south

The international community has feared for some time that civil war in Sudan could be a possibility. Now, it seems to be imminent. Last week, South Sudan occupied the region around the oil city of Heglig and the Sudanese government in Khartoum reacted quickly. They announced that they wanted to recapture the city, and launched aerial attacks.

Earlier this week members of the Sudanese parliament deemed South Sudan an "enemy" via a government resolution. Despite the attacks and the powerful rhetoric, there seem to be few options being currently pursued by the international community.

The wrong tactics

Peter Schumann, former Head Coordinator for South Sudan at the UN mission in Sudan, says that the current problems all started last year when Sudanese troops took over the border region of Abyei.

"People in the south think that they can't trust us anymore. The international community lost a lot of credibility when we sanctioned the military takeover there," Schumann told DW.

The lack of international support was also apparent during recent talks between the two sides in Addis Ababa which broke down at the beginning of April. Leaving the African Union to deal with the negotiations alone was lazy, said Schumann. "Each country could have done more bilaterally to guide South Sudan, including Germany."

More could be done

In July 2011 the United Nations decided to send some 4,500 troops into the Abyei region. The force consisted of Ethiopian soldiers, but only a small fraction of them arrived.

John Ashworth, an analyst who currently works for various charitable church organisations in Sudan, describes the UN troops in Abyei as "almost invisible." "They are completely understrength. It's also wasn't a particularly good idea that they only came from one country," he told DW via phone from South Sudan.

A woman cooks food at Jamam refugee camp

Thousands live in refugee camps, like in Jamam in South Sudan

Due to the ongoing violence in the border region, the number of refugees escaping to South Sudan is increasing. According to the aid organisation International Rescue Committee (IRC) over 400 refugees are arriving each day in the Jida camp south of the border.

They all share the same stories, says Vivian Tan from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. "Their villages have been bombed, on their streets there has been fighting. Most refugees have come a long way on foot to get to safety."

Khartoum's role

Although South Sudan has to carry responsibility for re-starting the latest conflict with its invasion of the Abyei region, some analysts see the long term behaviour of Omar al-Bashir's government in the north as being to blame.

Burning houses in Abyei in the contested region between Sudan and South Sudan, in May 2011

Many were forced to leave Abyei following attacks on their homes

Andrew Natsios, formerly the US Special Envoy to Sudan, says that because Bashir is not able to defeat the south militarily, he is attacking the civilian population. "There are ways, via the Security Council, the African Union or even diplomatically, to tell Sudan that we don't approve of their actions," Natsios told DW. "We just haven't been aggressive enough."

Sudan expert John Ashworth agrees. "The international community's biggest mistake was simply believing everything that Khartoum was saying. That's what got us into the situation we have now, which is even less secure than before."

Author: André Leslie
Editor: Rob Mudge

DW.DE