South Sudan oil export ban brings self-inflicted pain

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Tribal conflict, financial crisis and a humanitarian emergency are threatening stability in South Sudan, only eight months after the world’s newest nation gained independence.

In a dispute with Sudan, the southern government cut off the flow of oil to Sudanese refineries, crippling the economies of both nations in a move that could spark a new conflict. South Sudan accuses its northern neighbor of stealing oil and charging an exorbitant fee to use its pipelines.

South Sudan is now shifting its budget priorities toward social programs and awayfrom infrastructure projects in a country the size of France with less than 100 miles of paved roads.

In the eastern part of the country, hundreds of civilians have died in a renewed tribal conflict that dates back several generations.

South Sudan became independent on July 9. A two-decade war between the Arab Muslims of the north and the black Christians and animists of the south claimed about 2 million lives and ended in a 2005 peace deal. But peace between the two nations has remained elusive.

Ongoing talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to resolve differences between Sudan and South Sudan over oil and other outstanding post-independence issues have been deadlocked.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit’s decision in January to cut off the flow of oil to refineries in Sudan has deprived South Sudan of 98 percent of its revenue. Sudan lost 95 percent.

The potential for instability is high, particularly in Sudan, where President Omar Bashir's government is under international sanctions over charges of genocide in Darfur and support for terrorists.

Last week, the U.N. Security Council expressed “grave concern” about cross-border violence between Sudan and South Sudan, neighboring countries in northeastern Africa.

Unease in military

The decision to shut off the oil has created unease in the top echelons of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the former rebel movement that is now the South Sudanese military, in the capital, Juba. Those officers are worried that the cutoff of oil could lead to a new conflict with Sudan.

“Some of the army elite are now talking about a coup,” said a Western official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not permitted to discuss sensitive matters with the press.

“The generals don’t want another war and will topple the government if that’s what it takes to prevent this from happening.”

Jennifer Christian, a Sudan policy analyst with the anti-genocide Enough Project, said Lt. Gen. Bashir is losing support in Sudan.

“As Bashir’s regime feels more isolated, as his popular support diminishes because of a lack of money in the country, his regime will become desperate and lash out against the south, whether it is by supporting militias, pumping arms into the south or taking over its oil fields,” she said.

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About the Author
Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen is a reporter covering foreign policy and international developments for The Washington Times.

Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Sen worked for publications in Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in a number of publications and online news sites including the British Broadcasting Corp., Asia Times Online and Outlook magazine.


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