Tag Archives: Sudan

South Sudan and Sudan Discuss the Matter of Oil

Yesterday, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir held talks in South Sudan’s capital, Juba.  Though Sudanese authorities did not initially provide any detailed information about what topics might be discussed, it quickly became apparent that at least one of the major focuses was the matter of oil.  Most notably, the two reportedly broached the subject of establishing a joint force to secure oil fields threatened by the current crisis.  Nuer rebels have claimed control of many towns in oil producing states in South Sudan since an reported coup attempt in December resulting in a surge of violence.  Sudan also called for a ceasefire and for talks to solve the current impasse, adding that it had no intention of support rebel forces against the government.

Figure 1, South Sudan Crisis Map, as of December 26, 2013, from Congressional Research Service Report R43344, dated December 27th, 2013

Figure 1, South Sudan Crisis Map, as of December 26, 2013, from Congressional Research Service Report R43344, dated December 27th, 2013

Sudan and South Sudan have had a rocky relationship since the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the country’s declaration of independence in 2011, so this meeting between the two leaders and the discussion of Sudanese troops deploying to the country are significant on their own.  One of the major points of contention between the two countries has been the matter of oil, and especially the disputed oil-rich Abyei region.  Efforts continue to develop a means of shipping the oil south, but currently, the only method by which South Sudan can rapidly transport oil out of the country is through pipelines into Sudan.  Fighting that disrupted the flow of oil in 2011 and 2012 eventually led to an agreement between the two nations.  The agreement focused on getting the oil fields back up and running while leaving the border issue unresolved.  The dispute over control of Abyei remains unresolved, but it is clear that Sudan is not interested in another disruption.  Neither are the Chinese.

The meeting between Presidents Kiir and al-Bashir comes as talks organized by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) over a potential ceasefire continue in the Ethopian capital Addis Ababa and fighting across much of South Sudan rages on.  The United Nations has been rushing to bolster the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), which is currently sheltering tens of thousands from the violence and attempting to assist civilians in need.  To cope with the situation UN is seeking to double the size of UNMISS to fourteen thousand personnel and has been shifting resources from the mission in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo to help.  The potential for a humanitarian disaster in the country is great and the actual number of causalities already resulting from the conflict is uncertain.

Detainee Transfers and Another Terrorist Designation

Late yesterday, the US Department of Defense announced the transfer of two detainees held at the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to Sudan.  According to the Department of Defense, the detainees, identified as Noor Uthman Muhammed and Ibrahim Othman Ibrahim Idris, were transferred in coordination with “the Government of Sudan regarding appropriate security measures and to ensure that these transfers are consistent with our humane treatment policy.”  The press release also included the following information regarding Muhammed and Idris:

“On Feb. 18, 2011, Muhammed pleaded guilty in a military commission to offenses under the Military Commissions Act of 2009, and was sentenced to 14 years confinement. In exchange for his guilty plea and Muhammed’s cooperation with prosecutors, the Convening Authority for Military Commissions agreed through a pre-trial agreement to suspend all confinement in excess of 34 months. Following the completion of the unsuspended portion of his sentence as of Dec. 3, 2013, the United States Government has repatriated Muhammed to Sudan.

“Idris was released from Guantanamo in accordance with a court order issued on Oct. 4, 2013, by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Idris has been designated for transfer since 2009 by unanimous consent among all six departments and agencies on the Guantanamo Review Task Force. As directed by the president’s Jan. 22, 2009, executive order, the task force conducted a comprehensive review of Idris’s case, which examined a number of factors, including security issues, in making that designation. In accordance with congressionally mandated reporting requirements, the administration informed Congress of its intent to transfer these individuals.”

In addition, the US Department of State announced yesterday that it had designated the al-Mulathamun Battalion as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).  The announcement described the entity as:

“Originally part of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the al-Mulathamun Battalion became a separate organization in late 2012 after its leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, split from AQIM. In Belmokhtar’s first public statement after the split he threatened to fight against Western interests and announced the creation of the sub-battalion, ‘Those Who Sign in Blood,’ reportedly made up of the organization’s best fighters. Soon after, the sub-battalion claimed responsibility for the January 2013 attack against a gas facility near In-Amenas, Algeria. The four-day siege resulted in the death of at least 38 civilians, including three United States citizens. Seven other Americans escaped the attack.

“In May 2013, the al-Mulathamun Battalion cooperated with the E.O. 13224-designated Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) in twin suicide bombings in Niger, which killed at least 20 people. In August 2013, the al-Mulathamun Battalion and MUJAO announced that the two organizations would merge under the name ‘al-Murabitoun.’ The newly formed al-Murabitoun extremist group constitutes the greatest near-term threat to U.S. and Western interests in the Sahel.”

The Department of State announcement added that given this history, both “Those Who Sign in Blood” and “al-Murabitoun” were treated as aliases for the purposes of the FTO designation, and that the same sanctions would be applied to activities conducted under these names.  Sanctions against FTOs include a prohibition against knowingly providing, or attempting or conspiring to provide, material support or resources to, or engaging in transactions with the designated FTO and the freezing of assets.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing AQIM areas of influence in Mali, Algeria, and Libya, as of 22 February 2013

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing AQIM areas of influence in Mali, Algeria, and Libya, as of 22 February 2013

The designation of the al-Mulathamun Battalion as an FTO represents a shift in the US government perception and response to the group and AQIM broadly.  Previously, official correspondence had described their activities as being largely criminal in nature, focusing more on activities like hostage taking for ransom than anti-government terrorism.  Belmokhtar had, for instance, gained the moniker “Mr. Marlboro” as a result of his cigarette smuggling, seen as hardly the focus of a hardened terrorist.  The US now describes up and coming AQIM as one of the most dangerous of Al Qaeda’s regional affiliates and has offered rewards for the capture of individuals like Belmokhtar.

Peacekeeping Forces Across Africa Expand, Extend Mandates

France’s Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said today that the country would send an additional one thousand troops to Central African Republic, which the UN warns is rapidly descending into chaos.  As in Mali, the stated aim of this force, which roughly triples the size of French force deployed to CAR, is to immediately improve the security situation before the planned deployment of an African-led force to the country in six months.  Currently, just over four hundred French troops are deployed to CAR, along with African peacekeapers assigned to the African-led International Support Mission in the CAR (MISCA).  The UN expects to transition MISCA into a UN-led force, with a strength of six thousand military personnel and almost two thousand police personnel, next year.  This is again similar to the model used in Mali, where an African-led force transitioned to a UN-led force this summer.

Map of Central Africa Republic

Map of Central African Republic

France’s established position in Africa, including its permanent basing of military forces there, has led it to take a leading role in a number of interventions on the continent recently, most notably its operation in Mali, which began in January with significant US support.  In Mali, however, the French have had to delay their planned withdrawal as the security situation remains tense and as it becomes unclear whether the UN-mandated force will be able to fully assume responsibility for the peacekeeping operation there.  It is possible that the French might experience similar difficulties extricating themselves from CAR.  These difficulties in rapidly deploying regional forces for such contingencies, along with the various security threats on the continent, are likely what prompted France’s chief of their defense staff, Admiral Edouard Guillaud, to suggest that it might be time to allow French forces on the continent greater latitude in their operations.

Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011.  The disputed Abyei region is shown shaded grey.

Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011. The disputed Abyei region is shown shaded grey.

In addition to the decisions regarding peacekeeping in CAR, the UN Security Council also urged greater efforts against the Lord’s Resistance Army, also operating in the region, and extended the mandate of peacekeepers on the Sudan-South Sudan border.  With regards to the LRA, the UNSC urged more support for the UN Regional Strategy against the group, which includes direct action, support for regional security forces, and addressing of the broader humanitarian situation in areas where the LRA operate.  The US has been significantly involved in this effort as well.  In Abyei, an oil-rich region disputed by Sudan and South Sudan, the mandate of UN peacekeepers has now been extended until May of 2014.  The mission had already been extended for six months in May of this year, at which time the size of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) was also enlarged to just over one thousand personnel.