The world’s newest country turns one in July, but it may fight its first war before then.
Not yet a year old, South Sudan is in the midst of a fiery confrontation with Sudan, its longtime rival and former other half, which threatens to thrust the two countries into a full-fledged war. On Tuesday, for the second day in a row, Sudanese warplanes dispatched by the government in Khartoum bombed villages and oil fields in and around the South Sudanese town of Bentiu, about 40 miles over the border.
With the threat of war now greater than it has been since South Sudan broke away in July 2011, I caught up with Nyagoa Nyuon, one of the young South Sudanese profiled in Newsweek International’s cover story last July, who had returned to South Sudan from the United States to help rebuild. Nyuon is now living in Nairobi, Kenya, on maternity leave from her job with the South Sudan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but she follows news of the growing conflict closely. Her first child, a son named Jermund Nakel, was born in February.
Nyuon says she was surprised to see tensions with Sudan escalate the way they have, despite a long history of violence. “I was worried about the borders issue and the tribalism in South Sudan, but I was optimistic,” says Nyuon. “I thought things would work out–we got this far.” But the last few days have left her questioning whether South Sudan will be a place she can raise a family, and she acknowledges how fortunate she is to have a choice, unlike many mothers there. Nyuon has plans to return to the capital, Juba, at the end of June–“everyone at work knows I just want to be there”–to join her husband and introduce their son to the rest of the family, just in time for the one-year anniversary of independence.
But nine months into Sudan and South Sudan’s separation, that event is looking far less rosy than last year’s.
After months of tense talks about post-split arrangements between the two countries–the most explosive of which revolve around the contested border and oil, which is mostly found in South Sudan but processed and exported through Sudan–relations deteriorated into direct combat over Heglig, a major oil site claimed by both countries but long controlled by Khartoum. The South Sudan army took control of Heglig on April 10, after briefly holding it in late March. But amid a torrent of international criticism for what was at worst a violation of international law and at best a seemingly intentionally provocative move, South Sudan announced last Friday that its soldiers would withdraw. Whether the reported advance of Sudanese troops factored into the decision remains an open question. Whatever the motive, by late last week it seemed the military standoff might abate.
Source: The Daily Beast | Laura Heaton