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Oil Reignites North-South Conflict in Sudan

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Conflict over oil is flaring up once again between North Sudan and South Sudan. Today, the North accused the South of aiding rebels in attacking a pipeline in a disputed region on the border between the two states. This comes on the heels of an announcement earlier this week that North Sudan would be closing the oil pipelines out of the South due to the South’s continued support of rebel groups fighting against the government of President Omar al-Bashir. The South, for its part, has pointed to the continued presence of North Sudanese troops ten miles within its borders and has threatened to appeal to the African Union.

However, both the rebels and the South have denied any involvement in the pipeline attack. The BBC News reports:

“Army spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad [from North Sudan] said the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem) from Darfur carried out the explosion in Diffra, after receiving ‘technical support from South Sudan’s army’. […]

‘We cannot do that at a time when we want the oil to flow,’ [South Sudanese] foreign affairs spokesman Mawien Makol Arik told the Reuters news agency.

Regardless of who was behind the attack, the struggle is bad news for both countries, as it threatens to shut off the oil revenues that both rely on to stay afloat:

Both Sudan and the South are reliant on their oil revenues, which account for 98% of South Sudan’s budget. But the two countries cannot agree how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north.”

Both countries need each other in order to stay solvent; the South has the crude oil, the North the means of export. Unfortunately, ethnic and political tensions between the two countries persist, making it difficult to agree on how to distribute the oil wealth. As a result, post-separation Sudan has been oscillating between ethnic conflict and the need to keep the peace to keep the oil flowing. Earlier this year, it looked like the need for oil revenues would be enough to keep the two neighbors from fighting; now the pendulum seems to be swinging the other direction.

Regardless of how this latest episode plays out, one thing is clear: The creation of South Sudan has done little to change the dynamics that made the region one of the most volatile on the planet. Last year, the threat of war between the two stopped oil production in the South, hurting both economies. This year, conflict is once again threatening to shut down the oil. Thus far, South Sudan’s infancy isn’t turning into the peaceful fairy tale some expected.

[Oil pipeline photo courtesy of Shutterstock]

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