By Hannah McNeish (AFP) –
JUBA — The stability and viability of the world’s newest nation South Sudan is at risk unless a deal is struck to end a furious row over oil with former foes in north Sudan, analysts warn.
The South last month launched a protest shutdown of oil production — the fledgling nation’s critical revenue source — after accusing Khartoum of “theft,” with both presidents warning of a risk of war without an agreement.
The South’s oil — which accounts for 98 percent of Juba’s revenue — is key to paying its bloated ex-rebel army, and which continues to absorb militia forces as part of peace deals to stem multiple rebellions in the new nation.
Alex de Waal, a long-term Sudan analyst and an advisor to dragging African Union-mediated talks slated to restart Friday in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, has called the South’s oil shut down an “economic doomsday machine.”
Some estimates put South Sudan’s security forces as high as 200,000.
“The real survival issue is about control of the SPLA (army)… over 40 percent of the national budget goes into the army,” said Egbert Wesselink, of the European Coalition on Oil in Sudan, a rights group working for peace.
South Sudan — which declared independence from Sudan in July — is already reeling from multiple crises, including an explosion of ethnic violence as well as rebel forces Juba claims are armed by Khartoum to destablise it.
“Less money will make Juba less strong to control revolt, whether funded by Khartoum or not,” Wesselink added.
The crisis between the two nations has become a major threat to regional peace and security, United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon warned last month.
At independence, South Sudan took with it three-quarters of the oil — making up some five percent of China’s imports — but all pipeline and export facilities are controlled by Sudan.
Khartoum has said that Juba had not paid it for using its pipelines and refinery since South Sudan seceded seven months ago, and admits to have confiscated 1.7 million barrels of South Sudan crude.
Tensions have also been raised by their still undemarcated border, parts of which cut through oil fields, as well as the future of Abyei, a Lebanon-sized border region claimed by both sides but occupied by northern troops.
Nevertheless, Juba’s fledgling government is upbeat about its future. Pagan Amum, South Sudan’s lead negotiator in the stalled talks, said he rejected criticism that Juba had “committed suicide” by ending production.
“We will surprise them… history will be our witness,” Amum said.
Juba last month signed an agreement with Kenya to build an oil pipeline to a Kenyan port — potentially freeing it from reliance on Sudan, if Juba survives at least three years without income as the estimated $3 billion line is built.
But Luke Patey, from the Danish Institute for International Studies, warned of the “financial insanity” of investing in a new multi-billion dollar pipeline.
“Economically, the best scenario for South Sudan?s oil is undoubtedly to stop pipe-dreaming, work out an agreement with Sudan, and continue to send its oil north,” Patey wrote in a paper last week.
However, the loss of revenues may have limited immediate impact for many in the oil-rich but grossly impoverished South, where government services are few — if provided at all. Many accuse the fledgling government of rampant corruption.
“South Sudan’s revenue is entirely oil based, and as for the impact, I don’t think the little people are benefiting really, a lot of money goes straight into government,” said Alfred Lokuji, development professor at Juba University.
“I fear that they will take loans against the oil… Although it would solve the problems in the short-term, paying it back would then be the nightmare South Sudan should never enter,” Lokuji added.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir warned last week of the need for “austerity measures to ensure the continued viability” of South Sudan, urging people to accept a “temporary sacrifice for the overall good” of the country.
But UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos has warned that the situation is “extremely precarious” and that a failure to resolve the oil deadlock would worsen existing crises in the South.
“If oil production is shut down, many people will feel the effects,” Amos said last week, after visiting war-wracked regions affected by an upsurge in bloody ethnic violence.
“Humanitarian needs will inevitably increase and the combined efforts of the government, the aid community and the donors will not be sufficient,” Amos said, adding the UN neeed $750 million for humanitarian aid this year.
Peace Eludes South Sudan’s Jonglei State
Gabe Joselow | Juba, South Sudan
A mother waits with her son, both victims of ethnic violence in Jonglei state, South Sudan, for emergency food rations in the town of Gumuruk, Jan.12, 2012.
Inter-tribal fighting in South Sudan’s Jonglei state is testing the government’s ability to maintain security, while church-led peace efforts have stalled, raising the possibility of more violence.
Long before the birth of South Sudan, the tribes of Jonglei state have waged battles. For hundreds of years, the men of the Lou Nuer and Murle tribes have launched raids to steal each other’s cattle, perpetuating a battle of retaliation and revenge.
But in recent times, the pitch of the fighting has grown more extreme.
Amanda Hsiao, field researcher for the Enough Project, based in South Sudan, said the violence has taken on a new dimension.
“The latest attacks in December saw 6,000 to numbers as high as 12,000 youth organized, highly sophisticated, well-armed, moving down to the Murle areas,” Hsiao said. “This is something new and this is a very serious threat to the government’s authority.”
The introduction of heavy weapons, which made their way into the hands of Jonglei militias during Sudan’s civil war, has raised the casualty and death toll from recent cattle raids into the thousands.
Past efforts at disarmament have only complicated matters, said Hsiao.
“These communities are holding on to their guns because that is their means of defense. So in order for them to be convinced of letting go of their only form of defense and in order for them not to be vulnerable after a disarmament campaign the government has to be able to provide security afterward.”
The other crucial element to securing the peace in Jonglei is bringing the warring factions together for negotiations.
That job has fallen on the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC) which, with the government’s support, began mediation efforts following an attack by the Murle against the Lou Nuer in August of last year. The SCC had been training members of each tribe in the art of negotiation so that they would be prepared for a join conference. However, the two sides could not agree on a venue. The talks finally fell apart with the Lou Nuer attack in December.
Bu the council is working on a new plan, said Reverend Mark Akec, the acting general secretary of the SCC.
“We will continue to carry out reconciliation among the communities because that is the role of the church,” said Akec. “Although they fight themselves, we are still telling them please live as brothers, be peacemakers.”
Akec added the new strategy involves short and long-term solutions, including establishing pastors and other watchmen in Jonglei to gather information and to serve as an early warning system for future attacks. And he said there are plans to provide more work opportunities for the youth, to incorporate women in the community in the peace process and to empower local church leaders.
But asked when the council expects the actual peace talks between the different tribes to resume, Akec said they are waiting for the funding.
“Now we are still working on our plans, to raise funding and all those things to enable us to do the work. Because if we are not getting any funding from the international community and our partners, NGO’s, we can not do anything. So we are working now on a plan then we will send it out to the partners, so we are waiting for their response and as soon as we get their response we will start the work,” said Akec.
While the council is optimistic that peace talks will work, renewed violence may be on its way.
Last week, the Lou Nuer militia, which calls itself the White Army, announced plans to surround Murle communities, ostensibly to prevent them from launching any attacks of their own.
Humanitarian agencies have been rushing food and aid to Jonglei in the past few weeks to assist some 120,000 people affected by the violence.
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