South Sudan Is Pulling Out of Heglig Oil Field
South Sudanese troops on Friday began a pullout of the Heglig area in a move that was meant to avert a new war between Sudan and the newly created state, South Sudan, which has claimed the right over the oil-rich territory in spite of the ruling of the Permanent Arbitrary Commission that said that the zone pertains to South Kordofan, which is a Sudanese province.
South Sudanese Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin has said that the troops were still withdrawn on Saturday and that it would take three days to pullout completely. He added that the decision to withdraw was made in response to the demand of the United Nations and African Union, whose member South Sudan is.
Sudanese army boasted that it has “liberated” the area which had been occupied by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the army of South Sudan, while Salva Kiir, president of South Sudan announced a “orderly withdrawal in accordance to the demand of the international community.”
In a videotaped message to the people of the two countries, American president Barack Obama said that the fighting had to stop and that the two presidents must have the courage to return to the negotiation table and find a negotiated solution to the problems between the two countries.
To that purpose, the American president demanded that the Sudanese bombardments stop and that South Sudan put an end to its support of the armed groups inside Sudan and to incursions across the common border. South Sudan denies that it was helping armed forces in Sudan.
The United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon urged that the negotiated be resumed immediately under the authority of the African Union envoy Thabo Mbeki, former president of South Sudan.
South Sudan claims that Heglig is its territory, in spite of the ruling of the international community, and that Sudan is using it in order to stage attacks on the Unity state, a federal territory of South Sudan.
The South Sudanese authorities said earlier in the week that they would pull out of Heglig only if the Sudanese pull their armies out of Abyei region, also rich in oil, and accept United Nations peacekeepers at the border areas.
On Friday, the South Sudanese Ambassador to the United Nations said that his country was pulling out because it wanted to avoid the return to war and urged that negotiations be resumed as soon as possible, warning that otherwise the instability could continue and new conflicts could break out.
Sudanese Ambassador to the U.N. said his country would not aggress South Sudan and would not cross into South Sudanese territory. He added that he hoped South Sudan had learnt its lesson and would not repeat such incursions.
The words of the ambassador are different from what the parliament and president of Sudan have uttered earlier in the week. On Monday the Sudanese parliament speaker said that the liberation of Heglig was going to be only the first step toward a campaign against Sudan People’s Liberation Army, and added that South Sudan was a threat to Sudan.
The parliament did not express what kind of actions it would take against the South but called the new state its “enemy,” causing the South Sudanese Information Minister to call the decision “ludicrous.”
The Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir threatened to liberate South Sudan from its SPLA army and to teach a “final lesson by force.” He added that whoever extended their hands on Sudanese land would have their hands cut off.
He went on to repeat what the parliament had said before him that the liberation of Heglig was only a first step toward dealing with the South Sudanese military. He said, during a rally in North Kordofan, that either the Sudanese army entered Juba or the South Sudanese army would enter Khartoum. He referred to the SPLA members as “insects.” International media said that his words were no less than a declaration of war.
Sudan and South Sudan separated last year, in July, after 20 years of civil war, two million people dead, and a referendum that had a 90 percent turnout, in which the population of the South voted in favor of separating.
On that occasion, the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, was very cooperative with the South Sudanese authorities, warning however that problems may emerge after the separation in two states.
Sudan and South Sudan agreed to share the rich resources of oil, which fell by 75 percent under the South Sudanese jurisdiction. South Sudan agreed to pay a fee to Sudan, which retained the pipelines system which transports the oil through Sudanese territory toward the ports where it is being shipped to the beneficiary.
The agreement did not last long, because the South soon accused Sudan of using tie-in pipes to steal the oil and that the fees were immense, making it impossible for Juba to make a profit out of oil production. Consequently, the South refused to deliver more oil earlier this year.
It was then that the skirmishes at the border began, given that there are areas which have not been delimited properly from the beginning. Thus, the Abyei region has yet to determine to which of the states it belongs, and Heglig area is being disputed by both states.
The occupation of Heglig seems to be a serious blow to the Sudanese economy, considering that it was one of the last oil fields of the country, and its occupation by the South could be construed as a threat to national Sudanese economy.
Another issue in debate remained the status of the South Sudanese population in Sudan. The citizenship of the South Sudanese people in Sudan expired two weeks ago, and many people who were trying to go to South Sudan found themselves stranded in the check points of the Khartoum airport because they were considered foreigners and had no passports, given that Juba had not opened the embassy in the Sudanese capital.11