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Deteriorating diplomatic relations spark fear and uncertainty

Joseph Oduha
Sudan’s threats to close its border with South Sudan have sparked heated public debate in Juba amid fears that the dire humanitarian situation in South Sudan could further deteriorate.
5.04.2016  |  Juba, South Sudan
Two soldiers of the Sudans People Liberation Army - North on the back of a pick up truck in South Kordofan’s Nuba Mountains region, April 24, 2012. (photo: Marc Hofer)
Two soldiers of the Sudans People Liberation Army - North on the back of a pick up truck in South Kordofan’s Nuba Mountains region, April 24, 2012. (photo: Marc Hofer)

Sudan had repeatedly threatened to close the border because of South Sudan’s alleged support for armed rebels. Sudan accuses its southern neighbour of backing conflict parties in its Darfur region, and in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, allegations which have been repeatedly denied by South Sudan.

On Tuesday last week, the Commissioner of Renk County, Stephen Chan Aluong reported that Khartoum has ended cross border movement with South Sudan but there has been no official confirmation neither from Khartoum nor from Juba.

Sudan reopened its frontier with South Sudan in January this year for the first time since 2011.

Experts fear the move could hurt South Sudan’s already fragile economy and many say that the displaced and hungry will be worst hit.

Charles Juma Modi, a senior employee of the state owned Nile Pet Oil Company in Juba, told The Niles that the border closure would aggravate human suffering not only in the war-stricken South Sudan but also for the marginalised people of Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, South Kordofan and Dafur provinces who are fleeing violence in the Sudan by crossing to South Sudan.

Modi said the current political rift between Juba and Khartoum will weigh on South Sudanese people who migrated from Upper Nile and Bahr el Ghazal to Khartoum in search of food. Millions of South Sudanese have been forced to flee following violence which broke out across the country in late 2013, which has killed tens of thousands of people.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) last week said food insecurity has forced about 38,000 South Sudanese citizens from the former Warrap and Northern Bahr el Ghazal states to flee into Sudan’s East and South Darfur areas since January this year.

As violence has prevented people from growing their food, the country has become dependent on imports, meaning a closed border could have a big impact on prices.

“Khartoum is the only source of some goods and commodities and it’s much cheaper than the ones from East Africa,” Modi said. The official expressed concern that Sudan may as well consider closing oil pipelines which transport South Sudan oil to international markets.

South Sudan relies on oil revenue, which makes up around 98 percent of its gross domestic product; both before and after the country attained its independence in 2011.

Clement Lerat, an economist, called on the South Sudanese authorities to quickly react to the threat. “We need our people to be brought back home,” he said.

The Executive Director for African Centre for Transitional Justice Peter Gai Manyuon said the latest argument was part of a long history of accusations of supporting rebel groups moving back and forth between the two countries.

“Whether the border is closed or not, nothing will benefit South Sudanese. The issue of Abyei will always block the relationship and the cooperation agreement that was signed by both countries,” he said.

Nyibol Grace, a South Sudanese celebrity and singer, expressed dismay over the deteriorating diplomatic relations between the two countries.

“I feel that it’s really tragic that Sudan is threatening to close the border with South Sudan because I understand that there were dialogues on how to build key trade corridors and simplifying border crossings between the two countries for the goods and people, therefore this decision will affect it all,” she said.

In 2012, the two countries agreed to use a joint Political Security Mechanism to help them sort out issues of conflict, but this process has been shaken up by the decision to close the border again.

“I urge the government of Sudan to reconsider for the benefit of the two countries,” Grace said.

Joseph Gatkuoth Kutei, said the development posed a huge diplomatic threat as it will stop the countries cooperating on other key outstanding issues such the implementation of the Cooperation Agreement and reaching a deal on oil transit fees, both vital given South Sudan’s reliance on oil money.

“I think the best way for South Sudan government is to prove beyond reasonable doubt that it doesn’t support SPLM-N in any way and by expelling all suspected members of SPLM-N out of it territories,” he said.

South Sudan’s ministry of Foreign Affairs has not issued any official statement on allegations of border closure between the two countries. Political tensions were running high after Juba accused Khartoum of bombing its territories.

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