Is War in Southern Sudan Inevitable?

Five months ago, Southern Sudan overwhelmingly voted to secede from Sudan. But will bloodshed cut short the July 9 Independence Day celebrations?

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That agreement collapsed in 1983, when Southern troops mutinied after Khartoum abrogated the terms of the previous agreement. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement was reached in 2005, after 22 years of war in which an estimated 2 million people died and 4 million more were displaced. Besides a referendum, the pact provided a six-year window of cooperation, including a split of the oil revenues, but it did not resolve the question of borders.

"The CPA accomplished a great deal, but it didn't solve everything," Chester Crocker, a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs during the Reagan administration, told The Root. "You can ask if it was a good idea for there to be a six-year transition. A lot of issues remain unresolved. The two sides agreed to kick the can down the road for six years."

Crocker, who declined an offer from the George W. Bush administration to become a special envoy to Sudan, says the recent military skirmishes between the North and South are just another form of negotiation. "In the case of Sudan, the language of negotiation is political and military; it's becoming a turf war," he said. "This is becoming the positional bargaining of a very brutal kind -- it's not unusual. It's hard to watch, and it may remind you of 14th-century Europe in its brutality."

This week, President Obama urged both sides to adhere to the CPA, placing most of the onus on Khartoum.

"Both parties," Obama said in a statement, "have a responsibility to end the current violence and allow immediate humanitarian access to desperate people who have been driven from their homes and are now cut off from outside help ... The United States condemns all acts of violence, in particular the Sudanese Armed Forces aerial bombardment of civilians, and harassment and intimidation of U.N. peacekeepers.

"With a ceasefire in Southern Kordofan, alongside the agreement to deploy peacekeepers to Abyei, we can get the peace process back on track," the statement continued. "But without these actions, the road map for better relations with the government of Sudan cannot be carried forward, which will only deepen Sudan's isolation in the international community."

The White House has called upon the rest of the international community -- specifically China and Malaysia, who have considerable economic interests in Sudan's oil industry -- to exert more pressure to resolve the current tensions.

"The U.S. has to try to remind the sides that they need a win-win situation and respect [for] each other's core needs," added Crocker. "War is a no-win situation for both."

But there are limits on what outside intervention can accomplish. The antagonists, both North and South, have a long track record of reconciliation and betrayals.

"The Sudanese have a long history of double-dealing, treachery and backbiting," Crocker said. "The length of time is really quite remarkable. I'm a great believer in human agency. But what you have here is micro politics -- there's a tendency for things to break down into smaller and smaller factions. It's one of Sudan and Africa's great dilemmas."