A full-scale war between Sudan and South Sudan is looking increasingly likely. A dispute over oil resources has torn the two African countries apart and existing peace agreements have done little to end the violence.

"South Sudan is not interested in going to war, but it is ready to defend its territories because it started a long time ago - before Heglig. Heglig was just a flashpoint because the government of Sudan has been bombing oil fields in South Sudan for a quite a long time and even refugee camps. "

- Samsom Wassara, a political science professor at the University of Juba

The Africa Union has given Sudan and South Sudan two weeks to implement a plan to avoid war and wants both countries to remove their troops from the disputed Abyei region. Failing to do so, it says, could lead to drastic measures.

The fighting along the border has created thousands of refugees who are now fleeing Sudan's Nuba Mountains and heading for South Sudan. But there they face starvation and a lack of the most basic necessities.

Relations between the two Sudans have deteriorated suddenly over recent weeks.

In February, both countries signed a non-aggression pact, but they still disagree over oil export fees.

On March 13, they reached an agreement on border demarcation and on granting people of both countries the freedom to move between the two nations, as well as to reside, work and own property there.

But on April 10, South Sudan seized Heglig, an oil-producing region that belongs to Sudan. This prompted politicians in Khartoum to brand South Sudan an enemy and to call for the area's swift recapture.

Last Friday, South Sudan withdrew its troops from Heglig, and the Sudanese defence minister announced the liberation of the town.

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Three days later, officials in South Sudan said Sudan attacked the country with jets and ground troops.

On April 23, Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan, insisted that a military approach to the dispute was necessary, arguing that the South only understands "the language of the gun and ammunition". 

These incidents have grabbed the world’s headlines, particularly because the two countries, who were until last year one nation, are still closely connected.

Although 360,000 people have returned to South Sudan since October 2010, there are almost 700,000 people of South Sudanese origin still in Sudan, and around 80,000 Sudanese live in the South.

When South Sudan finally seceded, it took three quarters of what was the united country's oil output. About 80 per cent of the untapped oil deposits are in South Sudan. Oil generates 98 per cent of its revenues.

"In the case of Sudan and South Sudan oil has become a curse rather than a blessing and therefore the two countries failed to agree on an equation acceptable to both sides so that they can mutually benefit from the income and the rewards that oil brings."

- Safwat Fanos, a political analyst

In January, South Sudan shut down all of its oil fields in a dispute over the fees that Sudan demands to deliver the oil through its pipelines.

This led to Sudan threatening to cut off food supplies to South Sudan, which could potentially leave people there starving. South Sudan gets 70 per cent of its essential supplies from Sudan including commodities such as wheat, sorghum and millet.As thousands of people flee the fighting, we ask: Can there ever be peace between the two Sudans? What price do people on both sides have to pay and what is the rest of the world doing about it?

Inside Story, with presenter Folly Bah Thibault, discusses with guests: Safwat Fanos, a political analyst and the head of the political science department at the University of Khartoum; Douglas Johnson, the author of The Root Causes of Sudan's Civil Wars; and Samsom Wassara, a professor of political science at the University of Juba.

"In the long-term of course they can [live peacefully side by side] because there is no conflict that is being motivated by the peoples of either country ... what we have is a motivation from the governments. On the side of South Sudan, they are trying to consolidate the gains that they got in the CPA and in independence. In Khartoum, they are trying to claw back some of the things that they lost, for instance in Abyei, in the Nuba Mountains and in Blue Nile. I sense a tonne of desperation coming out of Khartoum because the military situation has not been in their favour ...."

Douglas Johnson, the author of The Root Causes of Sudan's Civil Wars



  • Their shared border, which is still not clearly marked.
  • The status of the "Three Areas" - Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile – which account for most of the oil output.
  • The status of all three areas was left undecided in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement [CPA].
  • Sudan and South Sudan had agreed in principle that the African Union could monitor the border but no agreement on security was officially reached.
  • Both sides accuse the other of supporting the rebel group the Sudan People's Liberation Movement North in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
  • There have also been disagreements over the division of oil revenues. After the split, South Sudan ended up with most of the oil fields, but it has to export the oil using pipelines through ports in Sudan.
  • The issue of citizenship also remains unresolved. Both sides reject dual citizenship and Sudan has said that people from South Sudan will not be given citizenship rights or jobs in the country.

Source: Al Jazeera