Trench marks new border as rains approach

Weather ‘will stop the war’ but only temporarily

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TACHUIEN, SOUTH SUDAN | A trench dug across a red dirt road marks part of the shifting border between Sudan and South Sudan, old enemies whose forces have clashed in recent weeks.

Truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns and 107 mm rocket launchers lurk underneath the trees. New foxholes have been dug.

The United States and other nations are trying to stop all-out war from breaking out between Sudan and the South, the world’s newest country, but the weather might do more to dampen hostilities.

The sky is a low-hanging gray, portending seasonal rains that will turn the earth into mud, impassable to tanks and trucks.

Brig. Gen. Abraham Jongroon Deng thinks the six-month rains will cool tensions.

“They relax and we relax. We wait until December. It will stop the war,” Gen. Deng told an Associated Press team that visited the front lines last week.

Lingering disputes over borders, oil and other issues led to heavy battles last month that threaten to reignite a decades-long war that ended when a fragile peace was forged in 2005.

Buth even the rains are unlikely to bring hostilities to a complete halt.

Political leaders and some commanders in the South’s military - the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, or SPLA - note that troops can still march over the soggy ground and Sudan can still deploy bombers, which have been carrying out periodic airstrikes.

Fight over oil

A military patch on Maj. Gen. James Gatduel Gatluak’s sleeve shows the symbol of the 4th Infantry Division, and the reason the stakes here are so high: an oil well spouting black crude. The division is known as the SPLA Petrol Division.

“I expect more attacks from Sudan. Even if they don’t come themselves, they can send militias or attack from the air. The rain, it can stop the fighting, but not always,” said Gen. Gatluak, whose face is a mask of tribal dots that is a tradition among the Nuer tribe.

In recent weeks, Gen. Gatluak’s men have shot down two Sudanese aircraft - a Russian MiG fighter jet and a baby-blue unmanned spy plane that Gen. Gatluak said appeared to have been from Iran.

When South Sudan broke away and became an independent nation in July, it took with it roughly 75 percent of Sudan’s oil industry.

Last month, SPLA forces moved into the oil town of Heglig, site of Sudan’s last remaining large oil installation.

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