Tensions remain high between Sudan and South Sudan


Vehicles of the SPLA (South Sudan People's Liberation Army) on the road from Bentiu to Heglig, on April 17, 2012. The SPLA (South Sudan People's Liberation Army) has seized both the town and oilfields of Heglig but Sudan vows to retake the area. War threatens between the two countries.


Adriane O'Hanesian

Tensions remain high between Sudan and South Sudan, as shown by the burning of a Christian church by a mob of Muslims in Khartoum.

The South's withdrawal of its troops from the Heglig oilfields on Friday pulled the two Sudans back from the brink of war, but both sides say that serious disputes remain. Sudan President Omar al-Bashir made belligerent speeches in which he likened South Sudanese people to "insects" and vowed wage war on the South.

Continuing resentment against the South is blamed for the Saturday night incident in Khartoum in which a Muslim mob torched a Catholic church attended by South Sudanese, reported Associated Press.

More from GlobalPost: Sudan: Muslim mob torches Catholic church in capital Khartoum

The church in Khartoum's Al-Jiraif district was burned by a mob of several hundred shouting insults at southerners, according to witnesses and local newspapers. Fire engines could not put out the fire, they said.

One newspaper, Al-Sahafah, said the church was part of a complex that included a school and dormitories. Ethiopian refugees living in the Sudanese capital also used the church.

On April 9 South Sudan's army troops seized Heglig, which produces more than half of Sudan's oil and is on the hotly disputed border between the two Sudans. Heglig is internationally recognized to be in Sudan, but South Sudan has always maintained its claims on Heglig, which it calls Panthou. South Sudan charged it seized Heglig because Sudan was using the border town to launch raids on South Sudan.

War appeared to loom between the two Sudans as both sides moved troops into the area. Sudan bombed South Sudan's strategic center of Bentiu, according to GlobalPost corresondent Tristan McConnell, who visited the town.

More from GlobalPost: Fighting ends between Sudan and South Sudan, for now

On Friday South Sudan withdrew its army troops from Heglig, removing the immediate cause for hostilities. But South Sudan's retreat has not ended the tensions between the two countries.

With such a build-up of military activity and belligerent rhetoric, the war-like atmosphere appears to have encouraged crowds in Khartoum to attack the Christian church.

South Sudan became independent from Sudan on July 9, 2011, six years after a peace deal ended more than 20 years of war between the two sides. But tens of thousands of southerners remain in Sudan, a legacy of the civil war that drove hundreds of thousands of them to seek relative safety in the North of what was then the single nation of Sudan. 

No matter who controls the Heglig oilfields, neither side will be able to benefit from the oil, according to new information.

Key parts of the oil pipeline have been destroyed, according to a new report by the Satellite Sentinel Project which today published new images showing the damage in Heglig. The damage appears to be so severe, and in such a critical part of the oil infrastructure, that it would stop oil flow through the pipeline, according to the satellite project.

The oil collection manifold — equipment that allows oil flows without interruption — was apparently blown up in some type of explosion, according to DigitalGlobe satellite imagery analyzed for the satellite project by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.

More from GlobalPost: South Sudan to withdraw troops from Heglig

The satellite project says it cannot determine whether the damage was by Sudan’s aerial bombardment or by ground action from South Sudan’s troops. Both nations accuse the other of deliberately damaging the oilfield.

“This destruction of oil infrastructure benefits neither side" said Enough Project Executive Director John C. Bradshaw. "To avoid the mutually disastrous consequences of an all-out war, both Sudans must return to the negotiating table to iron out a comprehensive peace deal that resolves the underlying issues, including border demarcation and oil revenue sharing.”

Because of the high tensions, US President Barack Obama urged the governments and people of Sudan and South Sudan to resume peaceful negotiations in order to avoid a return to war.

In a video message posted on the Internet site YouTube late Friday, Obama called on the people of both nations to turn away from further armed conflict.

“It does not have to be this way. Conflict is not inevitable. You still have a choice. You still have a chance to avoid being dragged back into war, which only leads to one place: more suffering, more refugees, more deaths, more lost dreams for you and your children.”