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South Sudan achieved independence on 9 July 2011. However, many potentially combustible issues between it and the North remained unresolved, including the status of Abyei, border demarcation, debt liability, citizenship/residency arrangements and oil revenue sharing. Since the end of November 2011, the issue of oil revenue sharing has come to a head, plunging relations between the ‘two Sudans’ into deep crisis. South Sudan has halted all oil output, a move which many observers believe could be economically ‘suicidal’. However, this has simultaneously denied desperately needed revenues from oil transit fees to Sudan.

The two Sudans have also been drawn back into violent conflict in the ‘Three Areas’ of Abyei, the Blue Nile and South Kordofan – known to many northern critics of the ruling National Congress Party as the ‘New South’. There is currently a tense stand-off in disputed Abyei. Meanwhile, the levels of violence and humanitarian crisis in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan have steadily escalated over recent months, as rebels with strong links to the South and the Sudanese Armed Forces have clashed, causing mounting international concern. During this month, as their forces fought in the Heglig oil-fields, the largest on the northern side of the border, some were speculating that the two countries might be on the verge of returning to ‘all-out war’. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has committed Sudan to pursuing the “language of the gun”. Southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir has claimed the North has effectively “declared war”. The truth is that the two countries have again been at war, both directly and indirectly through proxies, for over a year now.

There is much debate about which Sudan can better survive the current ‘oil crisis’ – and for how long. Domestic discontent with the Khartoum Government simmers just beneath the surface, with many predicting that a mounting economic crisis will topple it sooner rather than later. While much more popular, the Government of South Sudan is also struggling to reduce inter-communal conflict and build bridges with those who feel excluded from, or never joined, the liberation struggle. Most southern Sudanese appear to support their government’s drastic policy over oil, but the vast majority are yet to experience significant material benefits from independence and will surely not be prepared to wait indefinitely.

Concerted international pressure may lead to a ceasefire in the next few days. But it will be a major challenge to make it hold. On 25 April, the African Union gave the two Sudans 48 hours to halt hostilities. In recent weeks, there have been discussions within the UN Security Council about imposing sanctions on both North and South to pressurize them to end the violence. A US-drafted resolution is reportedly in circulation.

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