Bloody Dispute Clouds South Sudan's Approaching Independence

Player utilities

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

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, and this is The World. There have been steps in the past several years to bring peace to the African nation of Sudan. An agreement in 2005 ended decades of civil war between the north and the south. Then, this year, southerners voted to secede. The south is set to declare independence in less than a month, but peace remains elusive, especially in the border state of Kordofan. A bombing campaign there is causing huge suffering to civilians and endangering humanitarian assistants. The BBC's Peter Martell is in Sudan. He joins us from Juba, the South Sudanese Capital. Peter, what's the latest you're hearing about what's going on in Kordofan, this area between the north and south of Sudan?

Peter Martell: Well, it's a terrible humanitarian situation there. The fighting began around the 5th of June. This is between the forces of the northern army, fighting against former rebel soldiers, who are loyal to the now official army in the south. Perhaps a very complicated situation, but, in short, what's happening is that government airplanes are bombing areas. There's heavy fighting in the state capital. Almost half the state capital according to U.N. estimates. That's around 30,000 or 40,000 people have fled. Then out in the more rural areas, there's been more bombing. Today, we heard that bombers blew up one of the airstrips in one of the main areas opposed to them. So horrific reports of killings, of bombings, of churches being looted, eight agencies being ransacked, and very difficult to get supplies or support into these areas.

Werman: It's odd because things in Sudan seemed to be on track for a peaceful transition to dividing Sudan into two nations, north and South. President Bashir seemed to have finally softened on his approach to the south. What happened on June 6th? Why this crisis now?

Martell: Well, tensions have been building for a long time. The January referendum, that's when the south voted to split away. The world was incredibly peaceful. People were worried, but in the end, it was successful, it was peaceful, and it was calm. But as the months have come closer and closer towards, of course, that final independence date, the efforts to divorce the two sides of Sudan, as people here call it, have created tensions and problems.

Werman: Could this derail the independence for South Sudan?

Martell: Well, the southerners are determined not to let that happen. The north has actually been bombing across the south into the southern border areas. In the south, they said they're not going to retaliate. The north even took a contested border region, an area called Abyei that most sides claim. The south again said they're not going to retaliate. They're desperate that their independence will not be derailed. It will not be stopped, and it will happen as is planned on the 9th of July. So I think that is certain. It's just how the two sides of Sudan split apart, and whether they can do it in peace, or whether, as at the moment, whether there's going to be further conflict.

Werman: The United States has invested so much in helping to stabilize Sudan in recent years. I'm wondering if this current crisis could be the undoing of those efforts. Have you seen any signs of the U.S. stepping in to make sure independence for south Sudan happens?

Martell: Well, certainly, the U.S. government and U.S. aid agency in the USA have been making enormous efforts. They have huge projects to develop the South, these border areas, and the north itself. Of course, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in the region meeting with southern president Salva Kiir yesterday and trying to put pressure on both sides to resolve these issues amicably, to not allow the conflict to return between north and south. So, yes, the U.S. has been making huge pressure, but at the end of the day, it's got to be an agreement between the two sides, between Khartoum and Juba, where I'm speaking to you from.

Werman: The BBC's Peter Martell speaking with us from Juba in South Sudan. Thanks so much, Peter!

Martell: Thank you very much!