Political Tensions Mount Between Sudans

Apr 28, 2012
Originally published on April 28, 2012 11:22 am

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The discovery of oil can offer a country the promise of wealth, but it often seems to bring suffering. Look at South Sudan. Just last July, after years of violent conflict, largely Christian South Sudan split away from its northern, majority-Muslim neighbor, Sudan. Now, though fighting has eased along the disputed border, political tensions are mounting once again. Each is accusing the other of supporting rebel proxies in the conflict over land in which there is oil. And now, Sudan is launching air strikes against towns and cities in South Sudan, and the threat of war has returned. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton joins us. Thanks so much for being with us.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings.

SIMON: And you're en route to South Sudan, Ofeibea. How did these countries, who used to be one, reached this crisis point?

QUIST-ARCTON: Many people will tell you that it's unfinished business; crucial issues, borders, where to demarcate the borders along this stretch which is the oil-producing region for both nations, and then the oil itself - how the revenues, which, of course, accrued mostly to Sudan before the independence of South Sudan, how is that to be shared out, because two-thirds of the oil in the region is located in South Sudan. So, there has been a problem about how to export the oil. South Sudan is a landlocked country and has to export the crude oil through pipelines running through the north. It says that Sudan is trying to bankrupt South Sudan by asking for so much money for transit fees. That has been an issue. South Sudan has actually stopped producing oil since January, saying that these issues must be ironed out. It was a political issue initially, and then the fighting.

SIMON: Is there any practical effort to resolve these issues?

QUIST-ARCTON: Oh, frantic efforts all over the world - from the White House to the U.N. Security Council to the African Union; you name it. Everybody is saying to the two Sudans, please exercise restraint. You've been at war for the past 50-odd years. But I have to tell you that the talk from both capitals and from both presidents is fighting talk. The tempo is just extraordinary. You have President Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, calling the leaders in South Sudan insects who must be exterminated. And you have the South's president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, who has been in China this week, saying that Sudan has declared war on it.

SIMON: You mentioned outside interest. Help us understand the role of China.

QUIST-ARCTON: A hugely important role. China, Malaysia and India, they're the ones to benefit from most of the oil in this disputed region. And China, as you know, doesn't usually like to get involved in any sort of political mediation. But it realizes that unless there is peace between the two Sudans, there's going to be trouble getting that oil out, which, of course, helps China's economy as it gets a fifth of its crude oil imports from this region. So, China is talking softly but even China has said, stop, stop the hostilities, go back to dialogue. There can be a political resolution to this problem.

SIMON: Ofeibea, do you see a way out of this within the next few weeks or something longer term?

QUIST-ARCTON: I think it's going to take longer than that, Scott. But there has to be a solution. They have to live in peace, otherwise it's going to be war forever, and obviously that's not feasible.

SIMON: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, speaking with us on her way to South Sudan. Thanks so much, Ofeibea.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.