An Act of War Between Sudan and South Sudan

Some disturbing developments along the frontier of the world’s newest country.  It would appear that the Sudanese air force violated South Sudan’s airspace and bombed a refugee camp near the border.  At least 12 people were killed in the attack, which occurred at the Yida refugee camp south of the border.

Refugees have been streaming across the border in recent weeks as the Sudanese government has stepped up efforts against militias and ethnic groups that historically aligned with the south, but still live north of the border.Peter Orr of Refugees International recently returned from the region and sends us this dispatch:

Last week, Khartoum made accusations that South Sudan has been funneling support for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-North) through Unity State, and it now appears that those accusations were meant to set the stage for this very attack.

The camp Khartoum targeted is populated by refugees from the Nuba Mountains, who began fleeing to Yida in July to escape fighting and aerial bombardments by Khartoum. During my travels in South Sudan in September and October, the site grew significantly, with about 200 people arriving each day. In the last three weeks, the number of arrivals has grown to 500 – and sometimes as many as 700 – people per day, with many of the refugees weak from their travels and showing signs of malnutrition.

Since September, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has been began preparing to move the Nuba refugees from Yida camp, due to its proximity to the border and its inaccessibility. The plan was to move the refugees to a site more than 50 miles from the border with the North, in the hope that security and access to the camp would improve.

The very remoteness of the Yida camp, and the onset of the rainy season, kept this relocation from happening in time. But no logistical problems could possibly excuse the SAF’s attack today on a refugee site, and it should be widely condemned.

The larger implications of this bombing are frightening. Given its heightened rhetoric – and now, its aggressive tactics –  one has to wonder whether Khartoum is actually eager to resume its war with the southern Sudanese. And now that the independent Republic of South Sudan has been established, does this mean a brewing interstate war in one of Africa’s most volatile neighborhoods?

Indeed, it was only yesterday that South Sudanese President Salva Kiir told reporters, “Tomorrow, when Bashir invades South Sudan, then he will say yes, he took the action to revenge what was being done to him…They want to engage South Sudan in wars, meaningless wars.” A war between the South and North – whether over oil installations or territory (or as Kiir alleges, for no reason at all) – would be disastrous for both countries and must be avoided at all costs.”