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Continuing Sudans Dispute Threatens Both Nations

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir (L) and his South Sudan counterpart Salva Kiir. April 2013.

Disputes over oil exports vital to both the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan have flared into a recent escalation in tensions there.

Disputes over oil exports vital to both the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan have flared into a recent escalation in tensions there. Top U.S. officials have been in contact with the leaders of the two nations to avoid a confrontation that could hurt both their economies and their peoples.

Accusing South Sudan of supporting a rebel group in his territory, Sudanese President Omar al Bashir moved to freeze all oil and economic agreements and stop the flow of South Sudanese crude oil exports moving through Sudan’s pipelines. According to Bashir, the taps will be turned off in 60 days, per required notice, unless the government in Juba gives up support of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army-North, or SPLA-N, one of the groups that had fought for greater autonomy before the July 2011 split that created an independent South Sudan. The government in Juba denies it backs any rebels.

Oil brinksmanship is a recurring theme in the dealings between the two neighbors. Most of Sudan’s oil reserves were in South Sudan before the split, while South Sudan has little energy infrastructure and must rely on the North to transport its crude oil exports. South Sudan shut down operations in January 2012 in a dispute over the fees Sudan charges for such services.

Abandoning internationally supported security mechanisms and unilaterally shutting down oil will have serious implications for the viability of both states. Agreements between the two nations made last September allow for the shutdown of the oil pipeline with 60 days’ notice for economic or technical reasons. The Sudanese rationale in this instance fits neither of those criteria.

We urge Sudan to reverse this decision and call on all parties to fully and immediately implement all of the September 27 cooperation agreements without preconditions. The Government of Sudan's announcement that it intends to stop the flow of South Sudanese oil transported via Sudan’s pipeline is in contravention of the September 27 agreements.

When disputes arise, the parties should refrain from brinksmanship and we urge both governments to resolve their concerns through the Joint Political Security Mechanism, the Petroleum Monitoring Committee and the other established bilateral mechanisms. Further, Sudan and South Sudan should respect each other’s sovereignty and bring to an end support for rebel movements on both sides of the border.

The uninterrupted and unconditional flow of oil and the opening and securing of the Sudan/South Sudan border for trade and movement of peoples will bring economic benefit and stability to citizens of both countries, and should be prioritized.