As talks between the presidents of Sudan and South Sudan are extended for yet another day, the only real readout is a common message of “progress”. But, what does this mean?
A mix of indications from those involved in the talks as well as speculation by those closely observing the discussions shows optimism toward a final agreement on oil sharing and a 14 mile demilitarized buffer zone along the Sudan-South Sudan border. It is even possible that questions of citizenship for Southerners in the North and Northerners in the South and tentative progress on the disputed region of Abyei may be addressed as well.
If all, or at least some, of these issues can be addressed, the summit will be considered a success and looming sanctions threats set by the United Nations (UN) Security Council will be averted. However, one crucial piece of the puzzle will, in all likelihood, remain unresolved: the ongoing humanitarian crisis in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Sudanese armed forces and allied militia continue to bombard civilian areas, all the while denying hundreds of thousands of people access to international humanitarian aid. The UN estimates that some 665,000 people remain internally displaced or severely affected by violence in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, while another 205,000 have fled to refugee camps. Intensified air and ground attacks have led to a spike in the number of refugees arriving and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) warns that tens of thousands more are likely to flee as the rainy season ends and attacks are likely to escalate in the coming weeks.
While an agreement between Sudan and South Sudan over oil and borders will be crucial for the future livelihoods of the people of both nations, any such agreement will remain hollow and fragile as long as the situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile remains unresolved. The UN Security Council should heed the calls of concerned global voices. The consequences referred to by the UN Security Council, including sanctions for parties that obstruct progress, should not be simply laid aside in the wake of a potential Sudan-South Sudan deal. These consequences should instead be brought to bear on those who continue to obstruct humanitarian aid to those facing one of the most dire situations in the world right now.