When Barack Obama released a video message to Sudan and South Sudan last Sunday, he urged the people of both countries to reject armed conflict and return to negotiations. Obama gravely warned that “heated rhetoric on both sides has raised the risk of war.” With the two countries once again on the brink of a full-scale armed conflict, the President’s message was well-intentioned.
Yida Camp, South Sudan—The Yida refugee camp, just south of the disputed border between the Republic of Sudan and newly-independent South Sudan, rarely feels like the edge of a warzone. Children chase donkeys and bicycle wheels through the streets, and the men spend the day languidly sipping spicy coffee in the camp’s surprisingly busy marketplace. The warzone is in the Nuba Mountains in the region of Southern Kordofan, a fifteen kilometer trek away, through the desert and across the border with the Republic of Sudan. Still, it is difficult to be optimistic here.
Violence has escalated in recent weeks in many places in both (north) Sudan and the newly independent Republic of South Sudan. This is especially true in Blue Nile and South Kordofan—border states that ended up in the North, but are home to large populations that fought with the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and identify with southerners—militarily, politically, and culturally. Many Sudan observers are being asked if renewed war can be avoided in this tortured country.
Despite lingering concerns about the cost and scope of the mission, President Obama’s recent decision to send 100 combat-equipped Special Forces to quell the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA—a group of insurgents marauding around Central Africa—was met with a decent display of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill this past month. Senator Jim Inhofe is on board. So is Obama’s old nemesis, John McCain, albeit with reservations.
The Palestinians are in the process of seeking sovereignty from the United Nations, but in doing so, they are asking for more than what was offered them in any prior negotiation with Israel—including during the talks involving President Clinton and Ehud Barak in 2000 and 2001. Rather than more, it is imperative that the Palestinians get less. It is imperative to world peace that the Palestinians pay a price—even if it’s only a symbolic price—for rejecting the generous Clinton/Barak offer and responding to it with a second intifada in which 4,000 people were killed.
Sudan seems to bring out a perverse diffidence in both the Obama administration and the international community. This is especially clear in their response to a growing body of evidence that atrocities are being committed in South Kordofan, a border state in what is now Northern Sudan. Indeed, the more proof that accumulates about the targeted destruction of the African Nuba people, the less the White House and the U.N. seem inclined either to speak out forcefully or to announce a course of action. U.S.
In a recent op-ed in The Washington Post about the independence of South Sudan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered a conspicuous example of the Obama administration’s policy of equivocation when it comes to the world’s newest nation and the country it split from last weekend.
The independent Republic of South Sudan emerged Saturday from the ravages of half a century of war, deprivation, destruction, and displacement. Its freedom was guaranteed overwhelmingly by a self-determination held last January, and, today, it is impossible to resist the celebratory urges evident in Juba, the new capital. But this birth occurs against an exceedingly grim backdrop that suggests resumed war between Sudan and, now, South Sudan is much closer than diplomats and analysts have allowed themselves to say, or perhaps even think.
Two agreements about the dangerous crises in Sudan were signed in the past few days: one purporting to address the Abyei crisis, the other the massive ethnically targeted violence in South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains. Cause for celebration? Hardly.