By Juliet Abango
South Sudan News
Juba — July 6, 2013 … Having failed miserably in his latest diplomatic mission to Khartoum to restore and sustain oil exports from South Sudan via the Sudanese pipeline – South Sudan Vice-President Riek Machar is raising the ante in his criticism of South Sudan President Salva Kiir.
At the very same time Sudan not only rebuffed Machar’s conciliatory approach, but reiterated its own assertiveness by attacking and bombing civilian-refugee targets inside South Sudan – Machar finds its expedient to tell the international media that he can, and should, be a better president of South Sudan.
On June 8, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir suddenly announced the stopping of oil experts by South Sudan irrespective of international and bilateral agreements. Bashir was motivated by higher regional and global strategic considerations demanded by Iran.
The stopping of oil exports would have caused a tremendous setback to the economic recovery and development programs of South Sudan by depriving Juba of its most important source of hard currency income. Because the stopping of oil exports constituted a flagrant violation of numerous international agreements, as well as internationally recognized bilateral agreements, Khartoum hesitated for a few days about the pace of implementation of Bashir’s order. However, on June 21, Khartoum reiterated its principled decision to stop South Sudan’s oil exports.
In an effort to capitalize on this hesitation and alleviate the horrendous impact of the oil stoppage on South Sudan, on June 30, President Kiir dispatched his Vice-President Machar to Khartoum in order to convince Sudanese leadership to reconsider their decision. Machar led a high level delegation that included five ministers. Their objective was to launch a comprehensive dialogue in order to restore bilateral relations and cooperation. However, Machar sought to monopolize the negotiations and determine their outcome through his own meetings with his counterpart Ali Osman Taha and subsequently also President Omar al-Bashir.
Instead of hard bargaining and marshaling international law and agreements to push Khartoum to the corner – Machar was forthcoming, conciliatory and compromising. He permitted negotiations to slide to uncharted territories and expressed eagerness to compromise in order to reach a deal at all cost.
Significantly, the lengthy discussions between Riek Machar and Ali Osman Taha went beyond addressing proper modalities for the full implementation of bilateral cooperation agreements to including reaching an understanding about the long-term relations between the two countries. In a subsequent meeting with a Sudanese opposition leader, Machar hinted at some regret about the break-up of Sudan. “If we did not survive as one country, we should now survive as two neighboring sisterly countries,” Machar said. Little wonder that official Khartoum hailed Machar’s visit and senior Sudanese officials told Arab diplomats they were ready for dialogue with Juba if the government is run by Machar.
Ultimately, Khartoum permits the export of only the oil already in the pipeline. South Sudan’s ability to pump and export more oil a few weeks from now is in doubt. Machar failed in the main task of his mission – to restore his country’s long-term oil exports.
Khartoum noted Machar’s weakness and lack of resolve – and interpreted it as reflecting similar insecurity in official Juba. Therefore, to increase pressure on Juba and assert Khartoum’s dominance – on July 3, the Sudanese military launched several cross-border ground and air attacks into South Sudan’s Upper Nile and Unity States. Several people, mostly civilians, were killed and wounded. First, a Sudanese fighter-bomber jet bombed the Jau area of Unity State. The jet targeted refugees fleeing the conflict in Sudan’s Nuba, South Kordofan State, to the Yida refugee camp in South Sudan’s Unity State. Both fighter-bomber jets and the ubiquitous Antonov transports (converted into bombers) launched a few bombing raids against civilian target inside South Sudan associated with helping and sheltering refugees from Sudan (rather than the “normal” civilian targets in South Kordofan just north of the border).
Meanwhile, small units of the 17th Division of the Sudan Armed Forces in Senar attacked civilian targets in the Gong-bar area, northeast of Renk County, Upper Nile State. The Sudanese forces crossed deep into South Sudanese territory before being confronted and repulsed by the South Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) units that rushed to the area. Sudanese army units also struck an SPLA position in the Jau area of Unity State – not far from the bombed area.
The Sudanese army also attacked SPLA positions south of Lake Jau in Unity State. All the Sudanese incursions were repulsed by local SPLA units. Significantly, on instruction from Juba, the SPLA forces did not conduct hot pursuit into Sudanese territory.
Although the Sudanese military incursions and bombings failed to achieve their military objectives – they did achieve their political goals. Khartoum aptly demonstrated that it is willing and capable of destabilizing and flaring-up the sensitive border area should Juba refuse to succumb to Khartoum’s diktats. This is hardly the “new era of friendly cooperation” Machar claimed to have negotiated and attained while in Khartoum only a few days beforehand.
Rather than accept responsibility for the fiasco he had wrought – Machar went on the political offensive against President Kiir. On the eve of the second anniversary of South Sudan, Machar told the UK paper The Guardian of his – Machar’s – conviction that Kiir has to be toppled and be replaced by himself – Machar.
Simon Tisdall wrote that Machar is urging Kiir “to stand down” and “vowing to replace him before or after elections due by 2015.” Tisdall observed that Machar “threatens to ignite a power struggle that South Sudan” to the point of raising “fears of a new descent into violence only eight years after the end of Africa’s longest civil war.”
While Machar insisted in his interview with The Guardian’s Tisdall that the toppling of Kiir should be accomplished through political-administrative measures at the SPLM’s leadership – Machar’s allies and confidants in London and Juba portray a different picture. According to these allies and confidants – Machar’s ascent to power is so important as to warrant intentional harming of the vital national interests of South Sudan. Simply put, the national interests should be sacrificed on the altar of expediting Machal’s own rise to power. Machar’s allies and confidants explain that “a renewed oil cutoff could bring South Sudan to its knees, triggering a wider governmental collapse” which Machar “can capitalize on to force Kiir out and then rise to power.”
This observation of Machar’s plans by his own allies and confidants sheds a new and significant light on Machar’s own conduct of the negotiations with Ali Osman Taha and Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum.