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Fighting continues between Sudan and South Sudan, as economies collapse

At this time last year, South Sudan was preparing to become Africa's newest nation. Now the dispute between South Sudan and Sudan may turn both into the latest failed states.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / May 9, 2012

A SPLA-N fighter holds up his rifle near Jebel Kwo village in the rebel-held territory of the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan, May 2.

Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

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If everything had gone according to plan, South Sudanese bureaucrats would have been scurrying around to make preparations for the country’s first annual independence day celebrations in July.

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The January 2011 referendum is symbolized in this music video by South Sudanese singer Yaba Angelosi.

Its oil wells would be pumping and generating income to help build roads, electrical and water systems, hospitals, and schools. And its closest neighbor, the Sudanese government in Khartoum, would be sharing in oil revenues from all that South Sudanese oil being pumped through Sudanese pipelines to international markets.

Instead, Sudanese Antonovs and fighter jets are bombing South Sudanese villages; South Sudanese forces continue to occupy Sudanese territory along their disputed border; rebel forces have taken advantage of the disarray and begun taking territory in Sudan’s restive Darfur region; and the economies of both countries seem to be collapsing, according to the World Bank.

"The World Bank is deeply concerned with the economic and development impact of the unresolved oil issues and how this will affect the people of both South Sudan and Sudan, particularly the most vulnerable," the World Bank told the Sudan Tribune in a statement on May 7. "Given the desperate living situation being faced by people in both Sudan and South Sudan, the World Bank's economic analysis unambiguously shows that it is in the interests of both countries to resume talks urgently," the Bank added.

Clearly, it wasn’t supposed to end this way, when Sudan and South Sudan parted ways on July 9, 2011, after South Sudanese citizens voted overwhelmingly to split from the Khartoum government, with which South Sudan had been fighting a vicious civil war for some 20 years. A peace plan hammered out in 2005 was supposed to be the start of either a new era of cooperation in a unified Sudan, or a new period of friendship between two independent but peaceful neighbors.

That didn’t happen.

From the beginning of their unity government, there were suspicions that officials in Khartoum were using money from Sudan’s oilfields – three quarters of which are found in southern Sudanese territory – to benefit the north. Khartoum, for its part, said that South Sudanese officials were so ill-educated or corrupt that they didn’t know how to use the oil revenues they got.

When it came time for southern Sudanese voters to decide in a January 2011 referendum whether to stay in a unified Sudan or to move toward independence, the choice seemed clear. It’s easy to forget the enthusiasm and hope of that time, symbolized in this music video by South Sudanese singer Yaba Angelosi.

Now there appears to be no end to the fighting.

Existential fight?

The United Nations voted a resolution calling for a cessation of Sudanese aerial bombing of civilians, and for South Sudan’s military to give up territory it has taken from the North. Both sides continue to violate this resolution, observers say.

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