South Sudan in Conflict with Sudan Over Disputed Oilfield

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: The World's newest country, South Sudan, is also the scene of a tense standoff today. Tensions have been rising between South Sudan and Sudan ever since the south declared independence last July. Those tensions have turned into intense fighting in disputed regions near the new border. This week southern military forces occupied an oil rich town that was under northern control. The south says it's in response to previous attacks by the north, and today South Sudan's president says he wont withdraw his troops. Now there's concern that an all out war could break out between South Sudan and Sudan. BBC's Nyambura Wambugu is in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Nyambura, you heard the president of South Sudan speak today at Parliament. What did he say and what was his tone?

Nyambura Wambugu: His tone was defiant. South Sudanese have been complaining that their president has not spoken to them in regards to the conflict that's ongoing in the border region, and when he came to Parliament today, I think he came to allay fears that he was doing nothing to protect their territories of South Sudan.

Werman: Let's listen to some of President Salva Kiir's remarks today in Parliament.

Salva Kiir: We've always believed that in the World [inaudible] everything can be resolved by peaceful means. This time I said that I would not order the forces to withdraw. I said this not because, you know, we are interested in the war, but because we would resolve this problem once and for all.

Werman: Nyambura, once and for all. That sounds pretty ominous and judging from the applause, it sounds like the president of South Sudan has support. Do you think this is rhetoric or reality?

Wambugu: Judging from the mood in Parliament today, I think it's probably reality. What the members of Parliament were saying is that they're not looking for war, but war has been brought to them and they will not sit and watch their children and their people continuously being bombed and do nothing about it.

Werman: So what is the north saying about this, the nation of Sudan, and what are its troops and their force doing?

Wambugu: Khartoum says they are not the aggressor, but in fact they are being attacked, so it seems more of a game of tit for tat or blame. Where the truth lies, it's hard to verify because there are very few independent people walking in the border regions that can verify for a fact what's really going on. We get a side from Khartoum and we get a side from Juba, but where the truth really lies, it's hard to tell.

Werman: So the north needs South Sudan's oil. South Sudan needs the north's infrastructure for both to profit from the oil. Has anyone in South Sudan and Juba maybe told you that becoming independent might not have been such a good idea after all?

Wambugu: On the contrary, people in Juba, what they've been saying is that South Sudan was poor without the oil. South Sudan remained poor and even taking away the oil revenues makes very little difference to the ordinary people in South Sudan, but then again, you do have to realize that when it comes to dealing with the Republic of Sudan, there is a sense of nationalism that tends to supercede common sense here in the south, and if it means suffering without the oil, that's what the people seem to be ready to put up with.

Werman: You know, Sudan, Nyambura, has been at war for generations. I'm just wondering what have southern Sudanese told you about their sheer fatigue with what might be another conflict?

Wambugu: I think because this country has been at war for such a long time, it's not that difficult to go back or to convince the population to go back to war, as you would in other countries that have not been to war before. Now what people have been telling me, and I have been asking this question over the past few weeks, this country may go back to war, how do they feel about it, and what they say is we shall defend our country, we shall not be invaded and we are ready for whatever comes. So, it does seem government of Sudan has the mandate from its people to do whatever it takes to, as the president said, 'sort this out once and for all.'

Werman: The BBC's Nyambura Wambugu in Juba, capital of South Sudan.

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