Days before South Sudan becomes the newest state in the world, it is being born into a virtual state of war with the part of Sudan it is leaving behind. The war, however, remains unrecognized, undeclared and fought by proxy. If its escalation is not prevented, it will become the world’s deadliest.
The previous North-South war between 1983 and 2005 claimed over two million lives. The Khartoum regime’s tactics included aerial bombing, helicopter gunship attacks, localized ethnic cleansing, support for Southern Sudanese militias, occasional military occupation of strategic towns, denial of humanitarian aid and draconian repression of civil society.
Sudan today faces all that and more. Today’s list must be expanded to Darfur, where government attacks and aid denials have recently increased. The militias the regime supports in the South, border areas and Darfur all resemble Frankenstein monsters, created to wreak havoc but with little control exercised by their creators in Khartoum. Rape is more of a signature tool of war than previously. And the North is embargoing commercial traffic to the South in advance of the latter’s independence.
Why would the regime in Khartoum decide to escalate right before the South’s independence? There are tactical and strategic reasons. Tactically, the regime is bullying for a better negotiating position on where borders will be drawn and how oil revenues will be shared, with billions of dollars at stake. Regime officials are probing, attempting to ascertain whether deploying a total strategy aimed at setting the South, border areas, and Darfur on fire will draw any reaction beyond rhetorical concern from the international community.
Strategically, the regime is doing what it does best: ruling by arson. Setting fires in a dozen different places creates deep local divisions and causes massive ethnic-based displacement, making for a textbook case of divide and conquer. Khartoum’s leaders are crushing internal opposition as effectively as Syria, North Korea and Iran, and preparing to comprehensively undermine the new state of South Sudan, with no international consequence.
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Photo: SPLA traveling with their belongings on the road south of Abyei. (Enough/Tim Freccia)