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Spotlight on Southern Sudan: June 2010

Since the signing of the peace agreement in 2005, the village of Lobone, in Southern Sudan, has seen thousands of formerly displaced residents return from refugee camps in Uganda. (Christian Fuchs – Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
Monday, June 28, 2010
By Sean Kelly –  Jesuit Refugee Service/USA

Until recently, most Southern Sudanese had known nothing except war. After a generation of civil war, the five years since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 have allowed the Southern Sudanese to experience the tangible benefits of peace. In that time, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates 320,000 refugees and 50,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have returned home. Peace has brought marked improvement in education, health, and sanitation. Jesuit Refugee Service has contributed to this development by building schools, supporting teacher training, providing school supplies, and encouraging the education of girls.

If conflict returns it will jeopardize all of this progress. After the six year cooling off period, the CPA provides for a referendum in Southern Sudan on January 9, 2011. Many observers believe the people of Southern Sudan will vote for independence instead of their current unity with Sudan, which is governed from the capital city of Khartoum. Despite Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s pronouncement that he will accept the referendum’s results, it is uncertain whether Khartoum would truly accept the division of the country. If the north and south resume fighting, it will eliminate Sudan’s recent progress and rob the people of Southern Sudan of their best opportunity for a peaceful, prosperous and secure future.

The Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) concluded twenty-one years of bloodshed when they finalized the signing of the CPA on December 31, 2004. The agreement created a semi-autonomous administration in Southern Sudan, and hope that the two parties could settle their remaining differences before the planned referendum. The failure to resolve key sources of tension – such as the control of oil resources, the delineation of borders, and preparations for the referendum – have generated grave concerns that a vote for independence may lead to renewed warfare, plunge the south back into chaos, and destroy its recent progress.

The Potential for War

After the referendum, the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS, with its capital in Juba) and the Government of Sudan (Khartoum) will no longer be obligated to share oil revenues as outlined in the CPA. Currently, both governments have oil dependent economies and pump oil from fields along the border or disputed territories. If the GoSS and the government in Khartoum were to negotiate a new arrangement for revenue sharing and oil field ownership, it would significantly diminish a major source of friction and reduce the possibility of reviving the war. There is little hope, however, that each side will adopt such an agreement prior to the referendum.

Other important sections of the CPA remain unimplemented and threaten continued peace. Voter registration and logistical planning have fallen behind schedule for the referendum. Most significantly, the north and south still cannot agree on a common border and continue to dispute five sections of it. While efforts are underway to mediate the disagreement, the Vice President of the GoSS recently stated that the referendum should move forward without waiting for a resolution to the matter. Ultimately, the incomplete CPA implementation raises fears of postponement to the referendum, which would have unpredictable consequences.

Inter-tribal fighting is another factor that greatly contributes to Southern Sudan’s instability. Last year the open hostilities in Jonglei State claimed 2,500 lives and displaced 350,000 people, while so far this year 450 individuals have perished and 40,000 have been uprooted, primarily in Unity, Lake, and Warrap States. In Western Equatoria, the insurgent group Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has repeatedly raided local villages and attacked Congolese refugees. Continued LRA operations in Southern Sudan could increase the region’s vulnerability to civil war with the north and draw it deeper into the wider regional conflict with the LRA.    

This fear of fresh hostilities between Juba and Khartoum keeps a wide range of international actors – including IGAD, the African Union, United Nations missions, the League of Arab Nations, the United States, and the United Kingdom – interested in assisting peaceful negotiation and resolution to disputes between north and south prior to the referendum. This commitment sustains a glimmer of hope for lasting peace, but one that fades as time grows shorter.

The internal violence, combined with drought and high prices, has caused widespread hunger in Southern Sudan, particularly for Jonglei state. Inter-tribal warfare has intensified the food shortage by driving farmers off of their land and reducing crop production. New refugees and IDPs have placed additional pressure on failing local food supplies. Lisa Grande, the UN’s Deputy Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Southern Sudan, called Jonglei’s Akobo County “the hungriest place on earth,” while other humanitarian organizations have noted high malnutrition rates among children. The food insecurity will continue to deteriorate and add to general insecurity, unless the World Food Program (WFP) receives the support it needs to intervene. This issue requires urgent attention that addresses human suffering and breaks the cycle between food insecurity and local conflict.

Maintaining Peace

As an international agency that serves, accompanies, and defends the rights of refugees and forcibly displaced persons, Jesuit Refugee Service believes that the SPLM/A and Government of Sudan must each uphold its commitment to non-violent reconciliation. In order to succeed in its struggle to stop the killing among its own people, the GoSS must receive more international support to strengthen its institutions, especially the Southern Sudan Police Service. The main international actors should give greater support and encouragement to the GoSS and the Government of Sudan to ensure effective implementation of the CPA and an agreement on post-referendum oil rights.

The clock is ticking. To prevent another north – south armed struggle, all major stakeholders must act urgently to refocus and intensify their efforts to create the conditions that make a sustained peace possible.