By Eric Reeves
April 27, 2012 (SSNA) — The location of Heglig/Panthou in relation to the North/South border at the time of Sudan’s independence (January 1, 1956) continues to be misrepresented by not only the Arab League and African Union, but now (implicitly) by the UN Security Council, which has introduced the threat of sanctions against Khartoum and Juba if the African Union vision of how peace is to be achieved is not followed. Let us recall first the view of the African Union, which on April 14, 2012 "noted with alarm, the occupation of the Heglig by the forces of (South Sudan) …." (all emphases added)
The U.S State Department followed suit, "strongly condemn[ing] the military offensive, incursion to Southern Kordofan state, Sudan, by the SPLA today [April 12, 2012]." Not to be outdone, the European Union, through EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton asserted that "the move by the South Sudanese armed forces to occupy Heglig is completely unacceptable." Associated Press reports that in Cairo (April 27) the Arab League "condemned South Sudan’s ‘military aggression’ against an oil-rich border region claimed by Sudan while also supporting Sudan’s right to defend itself."
I offered an extensive correction to these peremptory and misguided claims, implicit and explicit, on April 14, 2012. What is added here are two additional notes: The Small Arms Survey in its April 27 report on Heglig reminds us of crucial historical facts:
"Heglig, which is known as Thou (or Panthou) in Dinka, was one of the territories depopulated by militias during the second civil war, when Sudan used paramilitary Popular Defence Forces (PDF) to clear southern residents from areas around oil-producing sites. For many Dinka at the border, accepting Sudan’s possession of these territories is tantamount to accepting the ethnic clearings of the 80s and 90s."
More importantly, on the precise location of Heglig in relation to the North/South border at the time of independence (January 1, 1956), Douglas Johnson—distinguished historian of Sudan and a member of the Abyei Boundaries Commission established by the Abyei Protocol—has offered me his own unsurpassably authoritative account of the issue. He indicates (most importantly) that there is no map extant that unambiguously locates Heglig vis-à-vis the 1/1/56 North/South border:
"The 1:250,000 Sudan Survey maps, which are the most detailed, and on which all other maps are based, shows the provincial boundary as it was established in 1931, but they do not show any place with the name Aliny, Panthou, or Heglig. There are ‘clumps of Heglig’ marked on the map, both east and west of the boundary line, but no villages of any sort or locations with any of those place names. I attach a detail." [ ]
"Until the line of the 1956 border is agreed and re-established on the ground, we won’t have an answer to the question of which side of the border Heglig is on." (email received April 26, 2012)
It is important to recall again that the July 2009 Abyei boundary ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration did not place Heglig in northern Sudan or South Sudan; it simply said that Heglig lies to the east of Abyei.
"The eastern boundary of the area of the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms transferred to Kordofan in 1905 runs in a straight line along longitude 29° 00′ 00" E, from latitude 10° 10′ 00" N south to the Kordofan—Upper Nile boundary as it was defined on 1 January 1956."
This ruling did nothing to settle where the "1 January 1956 border" actually lies. It had no mandate to make such a determination, and did not attempt to do so. This elemental fact has escaped virtually all international actors, in large part because Heglig has been robustly controlled militarily for a great many years by virtue of Khartoum’s militia proxies and ethnic cleansing of precisely the sort Small Arms Survey reports.
Declarations and resolutions that presume to judge the location of Heglig/Panthou prior to a negotiated delineation of the 1/1/56 North/South border will inevitably embolden Khartoum in its ongoing campaign of aerial bombardment against civilians in the unambiguously sovereign territory of South Sudan, and deepen the skepticism of Southern leaders about international impartiality. War is made more, not less likely.
Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade. He is author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.