6 January 2014

Southern Africa: Weber - 'President Al-Bashir More Concerned That Oil Flows in South Sudan'

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir arrived in South Sudan's capital Juba on Monday (06.01.14) for a day of talks on the country's three-week-old unrest, as peace negotiations got underway in neighbouring Ethiopia.

President Omar al-Bashir called for an end to three weeks of fighting in South Sudan. He told reporters "We come so that we can bring peace to South Sudan, to our brothers and sisters in South Sudan. Our relationship is very important."

Sudan's Foreign Minister Ali Karti also told reporters that South Sudan had requested talks with Sudan on deploying a joint force to secure oil fields in the south.

Deutsche Welle has been speaking to Dr. Annette Weber of the German Institute for International Security Affairs about the interest of President al-Bashir in neighboring South Sudan.

DW: al-Bashir has been remarkably quiet in recent weeks on the subject of the fighting in South Sudan. Why is this?

Annette Weber: I think for Bashir what really matter is that South Sudan gets back on track because for him the main issues are the oil and the conclusion of the outstanding CPA (Comprehensive Peace Agreement), that are not yet settled. I don't think it is so important for the Northern Sudanese right now that there is crisis in South Sudan, what is important for him (al-Bashir) is that oil flows and the outstanding CPA matters can be solved.

DW: What outstanding matters are you referring to?

The boundaries are not yet set, we have the Abyei issue, and of course we have an ongoing conflict in North Sudan, in South Kordofan and Southern Blue Nile, where Bashir feels that there is support coming from South Sudan. In this sense, he needs a more stable southern side. But for him mainly, it is the Abyei issue and the outstanding matter in the CPA that is of importance.

DW: Is Sudan covertly involved in this conflict - is it trying to influence the course of events behind the scenes?

As far as we know for now and the last three weeks, no. It's really a home-made crisis. But we have of course various history between Khartoum and Riek Machar, who before had a split with the SPLA (Sudanese People Liberation Army) in 1991. He was supported by Khartoum for a decade. What we don't know is if there are now discussions between Khartoum and some of the defectors. As far as the beginning of the crisis, the political core of the crisis, we don't see a lot of involvement of Khartoum. It's really a home-made crisis.

DW: Who would Bashir prefer to see in power in South Sudan?

I think interestingly it is Salva Kiir because he (Omar al-Bashir) gets along well with Salva Kiir. If we go back to his main interest, the oil, I think he (Salva Kiir) would be a pragmatic person. Taking the one who is in control of the oil fields and due to the fact that most of the oil fields are in the Nuer-leaning areas, (they are) potentially more like to be controlled by Riek Machar. So I don't think he would be against Riek Machar. But getting along with Salva Kiir is definitely what we know for now. The pragmatic decision would definitely be those who are in control of the oil.

DW: So oil is the main reason for his visit to Juba. Has the fighting affected Sudan in other ways?

Not yet. The humanitarian crisis might affect because if you look at Upper Nile, Malakal, there might be people crossing and the humanitarian issues might affect Sudan. Potentially, border trade would also be affected, but not in direct encounters. The fighting around Bentiu is not yet affecting the territories of Sudan.

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