With input from Juba, Khartoum, and London resources. South Sudan Vice-President Riek Machar has begun escalating his attacks against Pres. Salva Kiir in order to divert attention from the total failure of his latest diplomatic mission to Khartoum to restore and sustain oil exports from South Sudan via the Sudanese pipeline to the Red Sea.
At the same time that Sudan not only rebuffed Machar’s conciliatory approach (in defiance of one of Sudan’s major backers, the People’s Republic of China), it reiterated its own assertiveness by attacking and bombing civilian-refugee targets inside South Sudan. Machar, attempting to deflect blame for his negotiating failure, began telling the international media that he could, and should, be a better President of South Sudan than the elected incumbent, Salva Kiir.
He also has stepped up use of his support base of Nuer tribesmen and other colleagues, particularly those in the diaspora around the world, to attack any reporting which gives a neutral or pro-Kiir portrayal of events in South Sudan.
On June 8, 2013, Sudan’s Pres, Omar al-Bashir suddenly announced the unilateral interruption of oil exports from landlocked South Sudan, irrespective of international and bilateral agreements to allow transit of the oil. Bashir was motivated by higher regional and global strategic considerations demanded by Iran. Stopping oil exports would cause 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, 2013, Khartoum reiterated its decision to stop the flow of South Sudan’s oil exports through the pipeline across Sudan.
In an effort to capitalize on this hesitation and alleviate the damaging impact of the oil stoppage on South Sudan, on June 30, 2013, Pres. Kiir dispatched Vice-President Machar to Khartoum to convince the Sudanese leadership to reconsider their decision. Machar led a high-level delegation which included five ministers. Their objective was to launch a comprehensive dialogue to restore bilateral relations and cooperation. However, Machar sought to monopolize the negotiations and determine their outcome through his own meetings with his counterpart, Sudanese Vice-Pres. Ali Osman Taha, and subsequently also Pres. Omar al-Bashir.
Instead of hard bargaining, and marshaling international law and agreements to push Khartoum to the corner, Machar became conciliatory and compromising toward Khartoum. He permitted negotiations to slide into uncharted territories, and expressed eagerness to compromise in order to reach a deal at any cost.
Significantly, the lengthy discussions between Riek Machar and Ali Osman Taha went beyond addressing proper modalities for the full implementation of existing bilateral cooperation agreements, and went further to attempt to reach 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 was run by Machar.
Ultimately, Khartoum agreed to permit 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. Thus, Machar failed in the main task of his mission: to restore his country’s long-term oil exports.
Indeed, 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 to assert Khartoum’s dominance, the Sudanese military on July 3, 2013, launched several cross-border ground and air attacks into South Sudan’s Upper Nile and Unity states.
Several people, mostly civilians, were killed or wounded. First, a Sudanese Air Force aircraft 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 inside South Sudan against civilian targets 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, north-east of Renk County, Upper Nile State. The Sudanese forces crossed deep into South Sudan territory before being confronted and repulsed by the [South] Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) units which 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.
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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 amply demonstrated that it was 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” which Machar claimed to have negotiated and attained while in Khartoum only a few days before.
Rather than accept responsibility for the fiasco he had wrought, Machar went on the political offensive against Pres. 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 had to be toppled and be replaced by himself: Machar. Simon Tisdall wrote that Machar was urging Kiir “to stand down” and “vowing to replace him before or after elections due by 2015”.
Significantly, the failures of governance which Machar attributed to Kiir were actually Machar’s own. These are issues which were the responsibility of the Office of the Vice-President until mid-April 2013, when Kiir withdrew some of Machar’s powers. For example, Machar told Tisdall that Kiir had failed “to build strong institutions” even though Machar was originally entrusted with building those institutions, leading executive clusters and managing commissions. Thus, Machar failed and was responsible for those institutions continuing to be weak. But this did not diminish Machar’s determination to seize power as a would-be savior.
Tisdall observed that Machar “threatens to ignite a power struggle [in] 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 portrayed a different picture.
According to these allies and confidants, Machar’s ascent to power was 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 Machar’s own rise to power. Machar’s allies and confidants explained 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 significant light on Machar’s own conduct of the negotiations with Ali Osman Taha and Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum. The question is certainly raised as to whether Machar may have deliberately failed in his “negotiations” with Khartoum in order to weaken the Government of South Sudan, and his own President, Salva Kiir, so that he could seize power.
By. GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Staff.