Israel’s new ally in Africa, South Sudan captures disputed Heglig oil fields

Update [April 20th, 2012]: Reuters- South Sudan says to withdraw from Heglig within three days

April 12th, 2012

Heglig (also spelled Heglieg) is a small town in South Kordofan state in southern Sudan, near the border with South Sudan. The area was contested during the Sudanese Civil War. In April 2012, the South Sudanese army captured the Heglig oil field from Sudan.[1]

In July 2009, the international organization, Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) redefined the boundaries of Abyei, a county that lies in between Southern Sudan and Northern Sudan. The decision placed the Heglig and Bamboo oilfields in Northern Sudan district of South Kurdufan but the decision though did not specify oil sharing. Based on the decision, the Government of Sudan announced they would not share any oil revenue with the Government of Southern Sudan, as the (PCA) established that Heglig was a part of the North.

Malakal, South Sudan (CNN) — South Sudan forces have captured a disputed oil-rich area along the border with Sudan, escalating tensions between the two longtime rivals and threatening a return to war.

Map of Heglig in North Sudan

Sudan claims the oil fields in the town of Heglig, which account for about half of the nation’s oil production.

A spokesman for South Sudan’s military said Wednesday that his country’s soldiers have been defending the territory from attacks by Sudanese forces for the past two days.

South Sudan’s military now occupies oil fields and other areas of Heglig, according to Philip Aguer, the spokesman.

“That is South Sudan,” he said. “Khartoum has refused to demarcate the border. We know where the border is.”

Sudan also claims ownership of Heglig and lodged complaints with the United Nations Security Council and the African Union on Wednesday, urging them to pressure South Sudan to withdraw troops from its territory.

Sudan’s parliament approved “general mobilization” of the country’s resources to support the military. It also voted to withdraw from negotiations with South Sudan that have been ongoing since the South declared independence last July.

Aguer called the parliamentary decisions “a public relations exercise” and accused Sudan of carrying out attacks even during the peace talks.

South Sudan, Israel’s New Ally

It’s not every day that the leader of a brand-new country makes his maiden foreign voyage to Jerusalem, capital of the most besieged country in the world, but Salva Kiir, president of South Sudan, accompanied by his foreign and defense ministers, did just that in late December. Israel’s President Shimon Peres hailed his visit as a “moving and historic moment.” The visit spurred talk of South Sudan locating its embassy in Jerusalem, making it the only government anywhere in the world to do so. Read more on this…

“There was no negotiation as far as I am concerned,” he said. “The SPLA (South Sudan military) at the border were being bombed even when the politicians were talking.”

Sudan has repeatedly bombed southern territory since independence, including the November attack of a refugee camp in the neighboring nation’s Unity state.

South Sudan fought a two-decade civil war against the government in Khartoum, which led to secession.

When they separated, South Sudan acquired three quarters of Sudan’s oil reserves. The two countries have been locked in negotiations about how much the landlocked South Sudan should pay to use a pipeline and processing facilities in the north.

In late July, South Sudan halted oil production after accusing Sudan of “stealing” $815 million worth of its crude. Sudan said it confiscated the oil to make up for unpaid fees.

The African Union-led negotiations also cover other outstanding issues since secession, including the status of citizens of both countries who find themselves living on either side of the world’s newest international border. The fate of the Abyei region and other disputed border areas are also a point of contention.

Salva Kiir and Shimon Peres with a Menorah, January 2012

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was scheduled to travel to the southern capital of Juba earlier this month to meet with his counterpart Salva Kiir. The presidents were to sign agreements on citizenship and border demarcation, but Khartoum canceled the trip after fighting broke out along the border.

South Sudan’s sovereignty officially broke Africa’s largest nation into two, the result of a referendum last year overwhelmingly approved by voters.

The referendum was part of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war pitting a government dominated by Arab Muslims in the north against black Christians and animists in the south. The war killed about 2 million people.