Sudan and South Sudan Mobilise for War
With no end in sight to fighting between Sudan and South Sudan over the disputed Heglig oilfield, questions have arisen over the South's motives and endgame in the conflict.
IHS Global Insight Perspective
Both governments appear to be mobilising their populations for war, as Sudanese president Omar al Bashir has vowed to "liberate" the people of South Sudan.
Bashir's comments appear to signify a declaration of war on the South, and the actions of the SPLA in co-operating with rebels sworn to overthrow the government in Sudan suggest that a peaceful resolution to the crisis is unlikely.
With the Sudanese Armed Forces already overstretched, there is little prospect of a swift end to the conflict, with a high risk of fighting spreading to other areas.
Fighting around the disputed Heglig oilfield continued between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) yesterday (18 April), as the leaders of both Sudan and South Sudan mobilised their populations for war. Meaningful dialogue between the two countries appears to have ceased, as each government has turned inwards to rally their populations behind the war effort. In the closest Sudan has yet come to overtly declaring war, Sudanese president Omar al Bashir gave a speech to supporters in the Sudanese capital Khartoum yesterday in which he vowed that his main goal was now to "liberate" the people of South Sudan from the "insects" of the Southern government. Bashir is no stranger to issuing inflammatory rhetoric, having repeatedly warned the South as to the possibility of war over its sponsorship of rebel activity in Sudan's restive southern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. However, the speech in which he vowed to "either end up in [South Sudan's capital] Juba and take everything, or [the SPLA] end up in Khartoum and take everything," appeared to go beyond mere posturing. His comments, which came a day after the Sudanese parliament declared the South to be an "enemy" state (see Sudan: 17 April 2012: Sudanese Parliament Declares South Sudan an "Enemy" State), were echoed by senior officials in the SAF as they launched a new offensive to retake Heglig.
Politicians in both Sudan and South Sudan have called on their constituents to mobilise for war, with civilians in both countries volunteering to join paramilitary forces. Sudan has decried the aggression of the South, and has vowed to liberate the Southern people from what it describes as a belligerent regime, while South Sudan has couched the conflict as a fight for the defence of the new nation. South Sudanese vice-president Riek Machar toured villages along the border with Southern Darfur yesterday to assure residents that the Southern army would protect them. He had earlier travelled to the states of Warrap, Unity, and Lakes to urge youths to put aside their tribal grievances and join the army to defend the country from Sudanese forces.
The seriousness of the situation on the ground in Heglig was revealed earlier this week when foreign journalists were permitted access to the area by the SPLA. Accounts of the sporadic skirmishes between the SAF and SPLA over the past year have typically been fragmentary and vague, making it difficult to accurately gauge their significance. The first-hand reports from Heglig have described an area strewn with abandoned military equipment, destroyed tanks, and the bodies of numerous SAF soldiers left to decay in the sun. There is also evidence of extensive damage to Heglig's oil facilities. This suggests that the fighting has escalated beyond the level of mere border skirmishes.
Of particular significance are reports that fighters from the Darfur rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) are fighting alongside the SPLA in Heglig. The Sudanese government has repeatedly accused the South of providing training and materiel support to the rebels fighting in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and these reports appear to offer the first independent confirmation of this. The open collaboration with JEM fighters may suggest that the South is committed to this conflict for the long term. The JEM is a member of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), an alliance also comprising the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Sudan People's Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N) that has the explicit objective of overthrowing the government in Khartoum. By aligning itself with the SRF, the South risks projecting the message that it is also fighting for the downfall of the Sudanese government.
The objective of the SPLA campaign appears vague, as military officials have given widely varying accounts of what their forces will do next. The officer in command of the South's forces in Heglig, General Makal Kuol Deng, told reporters that he did not know what the end-goal was, saying "if they [headquarters] say go ahead, we go ahead. If they say stop, we stop." SPLA spokesman Phillip Aguer told The Sudan Tribune today (19 April) that the South was continuing to advance until it completed the "liberation" of its border territories in Upper Nile, Unity and Northern Bahr el Ghazal states. If, as seems likely, these territories lie in areas that Sudan claims as its own, the fighting has the potential to rapidly spread throughout the already restive border region.
South Sudan has alleged that Sudan has destroyed its own infrastructure in its efforts to recapture control of the Heglig (or Panthou) oilfield in Block 2. The allegations of culpability remain difficult to verify given the lack of independent reporting from the area, although some damage to oil facilities has been confirmed, possibly including the central processing facility.
The purposeful bombing of oil processing and transportation infrastructure by Sudan seems unlikely, given that this would considerably set back its ability to restart nearly half of its oil production which has been locked in as a result of the occupation of the field and the surrounding areas by South Sudanese forces. Heglig and other fields in the Block 2 and nearby Block 4 area have an estimated production capacity of 60,000 b/d, around half of Sudan's remaining 115,000 b/d production, making them essential for budgetary purposes and to meet domestic fuel demand. Ownership of the complex by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, including CNPC, ONGC and Petronas, would represent another disincentive to deliberate targeting of infrastructure, rather than SPLM troops In the area, as China's CNPC is by far and away the country's leading foreign investor, operating the other major Sudanese oilfield at Block 6, as well as holding midstream and downstream infrastructure, including a 50% stake in the country's largest refinery at al-Jili.
Regardless of that, the continued lock-in of the field carries considerable economic implications for the country, which has already seen the loss of its 50-50 revenue sharing on some 350,000 b/d of southern oil production since the secession of the South in July 2011, as well as the lack of economic compensation since then for the use of its infrastructure by Southern oil, one of the route causes of the current conflict, which saw Sudan confiscate some crude as payment in kind before the South moved to deliberately shut-in its own oil at the end of January.
Outlook and Implications
Although the South claims that its motive in attacking Heglig was self defence, the speed and effectiveness with which the SPLA captured Sudan's main oilfield suggests otherwise. A source close to the African Union-brokered negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan told the BBC that during years of discussions, South Sudan had never claimed the oilfield as part of its territory. Following the South's shutdown of oil production in January 2012, neither side can afford a full-scale war. The SAF is already overstretched in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Darfur, and the South may be counting on it being unable to bring its superior military resources to bear against the SPLA. The South may be gambling that by further strangling Sudan's oil revenues, it can force them to their knees through increased unrest sparked by currency and fuel shortages, rising food prices and war weariness, before the government in the South succumbs to similar pressures itself.
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