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There have been sporadic clashes in Abyei since the CPA was formally accepted by both sides in 2005. The latest round saw 22 northern soldiers killed in a clash with southern troops last Thursday, which Khartoum used as the excuse to launch its weekend attack. But an indication that Sudanese President Omer Hassan Al-Bashir, who is under indictment by the International Criminal Court for genocide in Darfur, intends to hold on to Abyei is that he abolished Abyei region’s administrative council immediately after the invasion.
Al-Bashir is also showing his contempt for international opinion regarding his latest aggression when his vice-president and foreign minister cancelled meetings with a visiting United Nations Security Council delegation. Sudan’s state minister also confirmed the UN mission in Sudan (UNMIS) will have to leave Sudan on July 9, the South’s independence day and the end of the transitional period. The UN had wanted to extend its mission beyond that date, because Abyei’s situation and border demarcation require special attention. A lack of UN personnel will also assist al-Bashir in manipulating the referendum on Abyei that he will probably hold after his forces have chased enough Dinka away.
There are several reasons for al-Bashir risking war with southern Sudan and defying world opinion by seizing Abyei. One is oil. Eighty percent of Sudan’s oil reserves are located in the south. Abyei is not only an oil-producing area, it also has an important oil pipeline running through it to a Red Sea port, which altogether makes it a valuable territory. And by depriving GOSS of Abyei, he probably hopes to help weaken the new country, so that it becomes a failed state which must rejoin the North or at least remain under his control.
Another reason is a new war with the South will allow al-Bashir and his governing National Congress Party (NCP) to justify a continuation of their iron-fisted rule of northern Sudan and avoid a repetition of events in Tunisia and Egypt. A new conflict will also heal or patch over any divisions in the ruling party. Some NCP members would like to see the government launch a program of political reforms, but the government has refused so far.
Obama was hoping to entice al-Bashir to live up to the CPA by offering to drop Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. This would see a lifting of sanctions against Sudan, which have been in place since Osama bin Laden resided there in the 1990s.
But in the case of al-Bashir, a leopard cannot change its spots, much like Gaddafi in Libya and the Palestinian government. He will never renounce jihad and terrorism and respect human rights despite any claims to the contrary. Bin Laden’s death gives a good insight into his government’s unsuitability for rejoining the community of nations. The speaker of the national Sudanese legislature praised the dead al-Qaeda leader as a mujahid (holy warrior), while some parliamentary members interjected with shouts of “martyr.” The speaker also called the US-led War on Terror “genocide against Muslims.”
In 2008, Obama criticised the Bush administration for supposedly making an “unseemly deal” with the Khartoum government in order to help the UN mission in Darfur and for not holding it accountable for a “failure to implement key elements” of the CPA.
“Washington must respond to the ongoing genocide and the failure to implement the CPA with consistency and strong consequences,” Obama said back then.
In regard to Abyei, the world is now waiting to see what Obama’s “strong consequences” are and how quickly and consistently he will apply them. Hopefully, America’s first black president has not ruled out using military force against a government of a country where black slaves captured in jihad are still bought and sold.
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