On Monday, December 4th, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) reportedly crossed the international border with South Sudan and captured the border town of Jau. Since the 4th, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the southern army, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), have fought for control of the border town. This is the first time since Southern independence that the two armies have fought against each other, a precedent that does not bode well for peaceful relations between these former enemies. The town of Jau is located on the disputed border of Sudan and South Sudan although it is most commonly reported to be in South Sudan’s territory. However, Khartoum has claimed that the town is in Sudan’s South Kordofan state.
The occupation of Jau is the latest in a series of provocative attacks Sudan has launched against its newly independent neighbor. On November 10th, Sudanese Antonov planes dropped five bombs on a refugee camp in Yida, reportedly killing 12 people. UN humanitarian workers were in the area delivering aid and witnessed the attack, as did BBC News reporter, James Copnall. South Sudan also claimed that SAF troops disguised as southern rebels attacked a military base in Keuk on November 12th. Sudan’s attacks on it sovereign neighbor constitute violations of international laws protecting sovereignty and ought to receive international condemnation. Unfortunately, press coverage of the attacks has been scanty, and the international community has been slow to condemn Sudan’s blatant disregard for South Sudan’s national sovereignty.
Sudan has also repeatedly accused South Sudan of supporting rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, going so far as to file two formal complaints with the UN Security Council on the matter. In early November, Sudanese President Omer El-Bashir demanded South Sudan to stop supporting the rebels, warning that Sudan was ready to return to war if they continued.
Yet, a report by the Small Arms Survey seems to suggest that Sudan has been supporting southern rebel groups fighting to overturn the new government of South Sudan. Weapons captured from the South Sudan Liberation Army led by George Athor and another rebel group led by Peter Gadet, show that a majority of their weapons are Chinese-made weapons likely shipped from Sudan. Members of southern militias that accepted amnesty offered by the South Sudan’s government allegedly said that they received training from Sudan. Even more telling, was the capture of a Sudan Airways helicopter by South Sudanese security forces that had been delivering weapons to George Athor’s rebels. South Sudan returned the helicopter to Sudan on October 31st as a sign of good faith.
Up until the attack on Jau on December 4th, South Sudan has practiced restraint in its reactions to Sudan’s aggression. Following the occupation of Jau, however, South Sudan launched a counter-offensive to retake the town and pitched battles between the two armies have been ongoing. As of December 6th, UN personnel were still unable to confirm reports of the battles over Jau. The sudden escalation of the situation, especially Sudan’s assertion that the land belongs to them, may indicate Sudan is breaking with the conditions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the two nations may be returning to war. If the international community is to prevent a sustained border war between the two nations they must act far more quickly and decisively to de-escalate the situation and isolate Sudan.