Implications of South Sudan troop’s withdrawal from Heglig

By Jacob K. Lupai


April 25, 2012 (SSNA) — Since the interim period of six years of the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) between northern and southern Sudan signed on the 9th January 2005, the two parts of Sudan have never been good bedfellows. With independence of South Sudan relations with the North have even gone from bad to worse. The North is the angrier because of the perceived loss to the South of all the known resources for its development. This is, however, not the fault of the South. The South had no alternative but to opt for separation and eventual independence to become the Republic of South Sudan leaving the North to remain the Republic of Sudan. It is a long story but telegraphically the Republic of Sudan wants to have a lion’s share of resources especially oil from the Republic of South Sudan by force because there is no guarantee through other means.

The problem started when the Republic of Sudan attempted to alter the North-South border to annex a chunk of territory from the South to the North. The sinister plan was simply to exploit the substantial quantities of oil deposit that were recently discovered in the South. Since the discovery of oil in the South any intention of the South was suspect. The North granted itself absolute right regarding decisions on oil issues. As the oilfields were mostly located in the South, it was expected that the South would have a say. Indeed the South had pressed for construction of a refinery near the oilfields in the South. However, the North was adamant and took a unilateral decision to locate the refinery at Kosti in the North. Where there were no problems the North-South border became a contentious issue simply because of the oil discoveries in the South. The recent clashes in the North-South border areas are because the North is paranoid of losing the substantial quantities of oil to the South when the border is demarcated as it stood on January 1st, 1956. This is because nearly all the known oilfields along the border will definitely be in the Republic of South Sudan. It is here that the Republic of Sudan will not cooperate in the demarcation of the North-South border.

The above situation may explain the Republic of Sudan’s aggressive and military campaign of bombing targets deep inside the Republic of South Sudan as an act of intimidation and subjugation. This is of course all for the oil in South Sudan. The puzzle is that the United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU) are lip tight. However, when South Sudan retaliates against such naked aggression such as in chasing the Sudanese army up to and out of Heglig, the UN and the AU have made the loudest of noises against South Sudan’s right to self-defense. Are the UN and the AU afraid of the Republic of Sudan because it will unleash terrorism throughout the region and the world?

State of belligerence

It is not in the interest of people of the Republic of Sudan and that of South Sudan for the neighbouring independent countries to be in a state of belligerence. The CPA was clearly endorsed by the international community precisely to usher in an era of peace between the North and South. Indeed relations between the two countries were characterized by peaceful co-existence although implementation of some of the modalities of the CPA was bumpy. For example, the implementation of the resolution of the Abyei conflict was deliberately obstructed by the North. More importantly the demarcation of the North-South border was equally obstructed by the North for the North to continue to exploit the oil from the South unabated. In addition the resolution of the conflict in the two States of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile was completely ignored by the North. All this has left North-South relations in tatters. The conflict that flared up in the border areas between South Sudan and Sudan was inevitable as the two countries were in state of preparedness for war. To make matters worse the recent baseless blames of South Sudan by the UN and the AU seem to have emboldened Sudan. Sudan is now more aggressive than ever as evidenced by the sporadic attacks on South Sudan from the air and on the ground with impunity. This is because Sudan is aware that the UN and the AU will turn the other way leaving South Sudan to fend for itself in whichever way possible. Arguably it is the UN and the AU that seem to encourage the state of belligerence of the two neighbouring countries by being hard on South Sudan but soft on Sudan. However, it is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in South Sudan that should carry a large share of blame for its incompetent and ineffectual articulation of our side of the story of the conflict in the border areas. It was expected of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to create awareness by articulating where the oilfields were located as on January 1st, 1956. In this way the world might have known the legitimate grievances of South Sudan. Sudan has managed to convince the world in turning its baseless claim over Heglig into something authentic. The world now supports Sudan but not South Sudan that had the authentic and legitimate claim to Heglig. In the absence of strenuous diplomatic offensive South Sudan is now seen as the aggressor. No wonder South Sudan was unceremoniously ordered out of Heglig due to ignorance of the international community. Vigorous diplomatic offensive to some extent might have cleared out that ignorance of South Sudan as a peaceful country.

Claims over Heglig

Does Helglig belong to South Sudan or Sudan? In the start of conflicts in the border areas this question should have got answers from the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to make the world aware of where Heglig belongs. This could have probably saved us the embarrassment of having to be blamed and ordered out like aggressors, and this was precisely how we were treated. Sudan claims Heglig and so does South Sudan. Whose claim is reliable? The President of Sudan is upbeat about their claim over Heglig. This may be because behind the scene the President is being fed with false information on the location of Heglig. Sudan’s diplomats abroad are also convincing the world of the claim that Heglig is in Sudan’s territory. The statement that Heglig is part and parcel of South Sudan is not enough to convince the world. One other queer thing is that when the South Sudan army reached Heglig, where we are convinced it is ours, why weren’t we quiet. Sudan denies it ever bombs nor attacks South Sudan. We should always deny occupying any territory including Heglig but Panthou and areas inside South Sudan. Let the UN come and establish where the border is if Sudan complains.

If we continue to claim Heglig as ours by word of mouth then we must be prepared to produce authentic maps showing where Heglig is located. Sudan avoids the use of the local name of Panthou because that would confirm the claim of South Sudan over Heglig. All the same we need to arm ourselves with evidence of the location of Heglig and to widely publicize the evidence. We do not need to boast when we are occupying our own territories as just when Sudan denies attacking South Sudan.

South Sudan capture of Heglig

As seen above South Sudan and Sudan each claims Heglig as its own for different reasons. South Sudan is convinced Heglig is on its side of the border while Sudan claims Heglig as its own because of the oil. Whose claim is legitimate can only be decided on the basis of when the name Heglig was adopted and where was the place with the local name, Panthou, located as on January 1st, 1956. It is the oil in Heglig that has complicated the problem. Due to oil Sudan is claiming Heglig through the might of the gun and also because it has conned the international community through its efficient foreign service unlike that of South Sudan. It is arguable that South Sudan captured Heglig from Sudan. South Sudan simply asserted its sovereignty over those areas that were illegally occupied and exploited by Sudan. The main issue is the ignorance of the international community as to where Heglig is located as on January 1st, 1956. The weakness of South Sudan may be in that it did not prepare the international community for its assertion over its known territories. Sudan not only occupied Heglig in the South but used it as a springboard to launch terrorist attacks on targets deep inside South Sudan. The response of South Sudan was natural as any country could do under constant unprovoked attack by a rogue belligerent. South Sudan decisively asserted its sovereignity over all areas within its borders to save the lives of its innocent civilians. South Sudan therefore did not capture any territory outside its borders. The Representative of the Secretary General of the UN in South Sudan has now confirmed aerial bombardment of South Sudan by Sudan air force. It will be interesting to see what the UN and the AU response to Sudan’s flagrant attack on South Sudan is going to be.

UN and AU response

When South Sudan asserted its sovereignty over the areas within its borders which included Heglig this was mistaken to be the capture of a territory outside the borders of Sudan. In this case South Sudan was perceived to have captured Heglig in Sudan’s territory. The response of the UN and the AU was unbalanced when they were too hard on South Sudan in contrast to their lukewarm response to the constant bombardment of South Sudan territory by Sudan. It could have been because Sudan always denied ever attacking South Sudan. When the UN and AU ordered South Sudan to withdraw its troops from Heglig immediately, there was no guarantee that Sudan would not use Heglig again as a springboard to launch attacks deep inside South Sudan. This suggests that the UN and the AU were out to appease Sudan for its aggression against South Sudan. Sudan continues to bombard South Sudan as confirmed by the Representative of the Secretary General of the UN in South Sudan. This is a witness of Sudan’s naked aggression which threatens regional peace and security.

South Sudan’s withdrawal of troops from Heglig

South Sudan must have considered carefully the withdrawal of its troops from Heglig. It is most probable that it weighted all options and finally decided on the option most appropriate in serving the interest of South Sudan. Some might have been skeptical of the withdrawal of troops from Heglig so soon while others might have jubilated. At any rate there were mixed feelings. However, when finally South Sudan withdrew its troops, Sudan boasted that it actually recaptured Heglig by pushing out the South Sudan army. The President of Sudan, who previously called South Sudan a bunch of insects, declared he would teach South Sudan an unforgettable lesson. True to their declaration Sudan has intensified air and ground attacks on South Sudan as though it was the price to pay for the withdrawal of troops from Heglig. On the surface, however, Sudan seems to have the upper hand in attacking South Sudan with impunity where innocent civilians are unnecessarily dying, and the UN and the AU are nowhere to be seen to restrain Sudan from such wanton acts of violence against civilians.

Implications of withdrawal of troops from Heglig

Sudan denies the withdrawal of South Sudan troops from Heglig but claims it has actually kicked out the troops and is in hot pursuit. It is difficult to verify the facts on the ground. However, one thing is certain in that the ordered unconditional withdrawal of the troops from Heglig has far reaching implications. One major implication is that the withdrawal is like pulling out the carpet underneath the feet of the President of Sudan where the President is left trembling. Another implication is that the withdrawal has put pressure on the UN and AU to do something against the unprovoked attack on South Sudan while South Sudan has no troops in Heglig. The withdrawal gives the world a chance to build a clear picture of the conflict in the North-South border areas. With the withdrawal of South Sudan troops from Heglig, Sudan is now the aggressor long after the withdrawal. Although the UN and AU seem too slow to react to the tyranny of Sudan they will sooner or later acknowledge either behind closed doors or publicly that Sudan is a menace to regional peace and security, and may contemplate what action to take against Sudan.   


In conclusion, South Sudan should hold its nerves in the face of unwarranted provocation by Sudan. Tyranny is like a passing cloud. Sudan may soon be isolated. What is important now is for South Sudan to launch a robust diplomatic offensive to regain the confidence of the world that South Sudan is not an aggressor and has no territorial ambitions for Sudan territories. North-South boundaries as on January 1st, 1956 should be the first priority in the robust diplomatic offensive. It is precisely to explain to the world where Heglig and other contested border areas are located. Sooner or later Sudan will be proved the sick man of Africa and the Arab world.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

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