What could have led to the beginning of a much-unanticipated peaceful resolution of disagreements between Sudan and South Sudan was frittered away at the weekend with news of fresh conflict in the disputed oil town of Heglig.
Newly independent South Sudan had occupied the rich oil town located in South Kordofan about two weeks ago, claiming its force would not retreat on its control of the region. But while it effected a turnaround pullout at the weekend, following strong criticism from United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, Sudan forces were reported to have launched fresh attacks at the evacuating soldiers.
“Last night, we were in full control of Heglig and now we have almost completed our orderly withdrawal,” Spokesman of South Sudan’s army, Philip Aguer said on Saturday. “The Sudan armed force bombed our positions last night … and this morning with Antonovs,” he added. Although he gave no hint of a reprisal, it is unlikely that the assailed forces would turn a blind eye.
In a move that at once reinforces its overstated readiness for the application of brute force, Sudan has announced that the prolonging disagreement will not end any soon, as the breakaway country is unlikely to accede to its pre-negotiation demands.
“I think the chances are very remote,” Sudan’s State Oil Minister Ishaq Adam Gamaa said. “I think there will be conditions which the government will ask for, conditions by which they will not come to negotiations without meeting those conditions.”
“Sudan will ask for compensation for the losses, the costs incurred during the Heglig invasion … and maybe other political items have to be added to the terms by which Sudan will agree for negotiations,” he added.
The disputed town of Heglig produces half of Sudan’s oil, some 115,000 barrels per day (bpd), although the recent batch of fighting has consumed 40,000 bpd of those.
Since South Sudan seceded last year on the back of a 2005 referendum, hostilities with the other Sudan have been on the rise, as the former now owns some three-quarters of the oil spoils that originally belonged to both countries. And the tension between the two countries has been further heightened by rising food prices and abrupt depreciation of their currencies on the black market.