Less than six months ago, South Sudan broke away from Sudan, creating the world’s newest nation, the Republic of South Sudan (RSS). Tensions between the neighbors remain and have crystallized into fears of direct confrontation. The aid group Oxfam observes that “the potential is high for the existing conflict to spill over into a full-blown war.” The Associated Press reported on Nov. 15, that the presidents of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan are both predicting the possibility of a new war in this oil-rich region.
The ingredients for war have been simmering for some time. History and identity issues, economic concerns about oil revenues, incomplete negotiations before the Republic of South Sudan gained independence, internal strife, and accusations of military aggression on both sides are looking to be a recipe for war.
North-south tensions go back decades, to even before Sudan’s independence in 1956. The north is mostly Muslim and historically has identified with the Arab world, while many southerners are Christian and more connected to Kenya, Uganda and other sub-Saharan nations. The power structure has been in the north and many of the economic resources in the south.
After years of civil war between the north and the south, these two regions of Sudan split into two nations this past July. However, many of the issues between them were not resolved before the split occurred. Much of the current conflict is in the border areas where there has not been full agreement about the line separating the two countries, in particular the states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, and the Abyei region.
Southern Kordofan lies within the boundaries of Arab-dominated northern Sudan but is home to the Nuba Mountains and the Nuba people, many of whom are Christian and fought alongside the southern rebels during the long north-south civil war. The Abyei region, which straddles the north-south border, is being claimed by both countries. Military conflict has dominated the last six months in these regions and continues to escalate. Additionally, how the two sides will share the south’s sizable reserves of crude oil was never agreed upon. The south took over most of Sudan's oil, but pipelines to the sea run through the north, a major ingredient in this recipe for conflict.
There has been some muscle flexing on both sides of the border between Sudan and South Sudan. In November, the president of the Republic of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, denounced the Sudanese governrnment for threatening what he called a “military invasion” of South Sudan. Mr. Kiir has accused the Sudanese government of bombing the South Sudanese area of Guffa, killing at least seven people. Last Thursday, two bombs landed in a refugee camp in Yida. Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir has fuelled security fears at Yida by claiming the camp houses rebels. These acts potentially move insurgencies on both sides of the border closer to an international conflict.
Ambassador Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, remarked November 11 that the United States is gravely concerned about the escalation in tensions between the government of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan, in particular that “there is no humanitarian access, that some 300,000 or more people have been displaced, and that they don’t have the ability to receive the food and the other support that they desperately need. We have urged the government of Sudan to open up access, as has the United Nations and its humanitarian entities, and thus far they’ve refused.”
The Sudanese president, Omar Al-Bashir, warned on November 6 that his country was running out of patience in the face of “continued provocations” by South Sudan, saying that Khartoum is ready to return to war. "We are ready to teach you another lesson," Bashir said of South Sudan, reported the New York Times.
This is an ethnic, economic and territorial conflict between two countries. It is a ramped up conflict and potential war that not only could endanger the lives of millions, but could potentially affect Christians in places like the Nuba mountains, home to many Christians.
Father, we pray for an end to the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan where many believers are caught in the crossfire. Soften the hearts of politicians in both countries to love You and remain committed to building peace and upholding all citizens’ religious rights. Strengthen the believers with wisdom and courage to worship You and proclaim the Gospel as the Spirit leads, even in the midst of the current conflict. In the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, Amen.