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Sudan's Oil War: Deadlines Before Development

Since gaining independence in July, Middle East and North African experts have expressed concerns that border conflicts and disputes over the sharing of oil revenue could threaten a very fragile peace deal between the two Sudanese governments. South Sudan last week said it wasn't going to produce any more oil because the government in the north was suspected of pilfering. Talks ended Friday without an agreement between two Sudanese governments that accuse one another of stoking ethnic conflict in the border regions. A comprehensive peace agreement reached in 2005 gave South Sudan the right to break away from the north, though fragility since July raises suspicions that geopolitical architects are placing deadlines before development.

The comprehensive peace deal was reached with Washington's help in 2005. It ended one of the bloodiest civil wars in human history, though roughly seven years later, problems remain in the troubled Sudanese region.  U.N. peace makers have sounded the famine alarm and ethnic conflict continues to take the lives of countless civilians.  Princeton Lyman, the U.S. special envoy for Sudan, told reporters this week he was "very concerned" about the humanitarian situation in the region.

South Sudan gets almost all of its revenue from oil. The country, when it broke away from the north, gained control of around 70 percent of the oil reserves in the region, though a landlocked South Sudan now depends on export routes through Sudan. South Sudan said it was talking with its neighbors about building a new oil pipeline to the east, though it's unlikely that would come online anytime soon. Meanwhile, African leaders have been unable to broker an agreement on oil between the two rival governments, taking bilateral ties between the two Sudans down to new post-independence lows.

In Iraq, the latest example of U.S. efforts to reshape a region, the government still lacks some of the legal mechanisms needed to govern the country's energy sector effectively after more than 8 years of war. That's not meant as direct criticism of U.S. endeavors in the Middle East and North Africa, but it warrants mention that oil was an underlying, and unresolved, security issue when South Sudan gained independence in July.

Lyman, during his press conference earlier this week, acknowledged that some of the outstanding issues in the region were "set aside" during the campaign for independence but were now "coming to the surface."  Would a delay in holding last year's referendum have resolved anything? Who knows, but both sides to the conflict are now, once again, warning of war.

By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com

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  • Fred Banks on January 29 2012 said:
    Interesting. I taught at a UN establishment in Dakar a few centuries ago, and a couple of my students were from the Sudan. Very intelligent and very conscientious students, as were all except a couple of my students.

    But the people running that institute were ignorant, and instead of concentrating on expanding it and providing the best possible training, they concentrated on their careers and ideologies. That was the story at that institute, and probably all over that part of the world, and so when the oil is consumed or nearly consumed, you are going to see something like the present war multiplied by ten.

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