UN Security Council prods Sudan and South Sudan back to talks

The UN Security Council voted to impose economic sanctions on Sudan and South Sudan if they don't stop fighting immediately and restart mediation over oil revenues and borders. 

Lucas Jackson/REUTERS
Deng Alor Kuol, the South Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, speaks to the media following the passing of a United Nations Security Council resolution regarding ongoing hostilities between Sudan and South Sudan at UN headquarters in New York, May 2.

The United Nations Security Council has voted to impose economic sanctions on Sudan and South Sudan if the two countries don’t cease their fighting immediately and go back to the negotiating table to settle their disputes over territory and oil revenues.

The two countries, which separated peacefully in July 2011 after a referendum, have been fighting a low-level war since early April, after South Sudan seized an oilfield in Heglig, a town that both Sudan and South Sudan claim. The South Sudanese assault on Heglig followed weeks of aerial bombing raids over South Sudanese territory and months of bickering over how to divide the revenues from oil that is produced in the land-locked country of South Sudan, all of which must be pumped through northern pipelines in order to reach global markets. South Sudan claims that the north, which charges $32 to $36 per barrel, is charging too much in pumping fees.

In the UN Security Council vote – which both Russia and China supported, despite initial reservations – Sudan and South Sudan must commit to a cessation of fighting within 48 hours, and immediately return to mediation over its disputes on demarcation of borders and oil-transport fees. If either country fails to do so, they face economic sanctions, such as the partial or total cutoff of rail, air, sea, postal, and electronic linkages between these countries and the rest of the world.

South Sudan welcomed the UN resolution, but Sudan said that it needed to study it.

"It is also essential that both parties return at once to the negotiating table under the auspices of the African Union High-level Implementation Panel to reach agreement on critical outstanding issues,” said the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, after the vote. “We support the plans of the African of the African Union to travel to Khartoum and Juba in the coming days to begin the process. This is ultimately the only way that further conflict can be avoided."

With crucial issues, such as the final borders between their countries, left unresolved by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Sudan and South Sudan were almost inevitably bound to return to conflict. Diplomats hoped, however, that war fatigue and canny economic self-interest for the two countries would ensure that the two countries keep their dispute in the negotiation room and off the battlefield. One month of fighting and hundreds of deaths later, those hopes have been quashed.

Now, with both the United Nations and the African Union pushing the two countries to get back to mediation, diplomats hope they are creating the chance for Sudan and South Sudan to cool off and give peace yet another chance.

South Sudan Minister for Government Affairs Deng Alor Kuol told journalists at the UN on Tuesday that Juba was ready to abide by the UN resolution.

“If we reach an agreement, we will continue to export our oil through Port Sudan,” Bloomberg news agency quoted Mr. Kuol as saying, referring to the northern Sudan port on the Red Sea. “At the same time, we will continue to look at building alternative pipelines.”

If South Sudan sounds a bit bold, that’s because it ended up keeping some three-quarters of the once-united Sudan’s total oil output of 490,000 barrels a day.

The Sudanese government in Khartoum, which once paid for its large military and its large bureaucratic and intelligence apparatus through oil revenues became a largely agricultural country again in mid-2011, and is facing a mounting fiscal crisis. South Sudan, meanwhile, became one of Africa’s largest oil-producing nations but with almost no expertise for how to manage those proceeds, and no means for getting its oil to market, except through the territory of its former enemy, with which it fought a 20-year-long civil war.

Sudan, for its part, has been eager to get what little is left of its oil industry back up and running. On Wednesday, Sudanese Petroleum Minister Awad Ahmed al-Jaz told reporters at Heglig that Sudan had resumed oil production at the Heglig oil field, which once produced 55,000 barrels a day, almost half of Sudan’s total 115,000 barrels per day production.

"This oilfield was producing 55,000 barrels per day," Mr. al-Jaz said at the oilfield. "Now as we said ... we plan to produce more than that, besides the production of other oilfields which will follow."

Khartoum may have difficulty increasing production, however, since most of the country’s remaining oilfields are in its southern states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, both of which have full-blown domestic insurgencies that have tied down the Sudanese Armed Forces and threatened economic installations such as oil-pumping stations.

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