South Sudan embraces old enemy Sudan, now rocked by protests

Published 25.01.2019 00:07

Embattled Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is receiving words of support from some unlikely places as he faces deadly protests calling for him to step down.

South Sudan won independence from Sudan in 2011 following decades of brutal fighting marked by the mass abduction and enslavement of children, scorched earth ethnic cleansing and famines. Yet now the former arch-enemies describe themselves as the best of friends, bound together by a desperate need for oil revenues and peace to allow them to flow.

"When your interest is so intertwined, you are like a conjoined twin," South Sudan's oil minister, Ezekiel Lul Gatkuoth, told Reuters in the capital of Juba. "For us, the solution is not to remove Bashir, the solution is to improve the economy."

On Monday, Gatkuoth and his Sudanese counterpart jumped over a slaughtered cow, part of a traditional ceremony of welcome marking the start of increased production at Unity Oilfield near the two nations' joint border, where less than a decade ago they fought tank battles against each other. Some buildings were still pockmarked with bullet holes, and a large dark stain marked a place where a pipeline had been hit.

The north-south rapprochement comes as violent protests ripple across Sudan, demanding an end to soaring prices and Bashir's 30-year rule. But although South Sudan spent decades fighting Bashir, the idea that he might fall worries many of his former foes.

South Sudan has just emerged from its own five-year civil war. Some from the south fear chaos in the north could derail their own peace deal, which Sudan helped broker and guarantee. In return for peace, Sudan gets money. Landlocked South Sudan has most of the oil, but Sudan has the pipeline and port it needs to export it. Sudan receives roughly $9-$11 for each barrel of South Sudan's oil that flows through its pipeline. The arrangement marks an abrupt departure from years of animosity.

South Sudan's civil war broke out two years after independence and has been punctuated by atrocities, famine and failed peace deals. But the latest agreement, signed in September, is largely holding. That's partly because Khartoum persuaded South Sudanese rebels it had previously backed to sign.

East Africa needed the civil war to end. More than a million South Sudanese refugees have fled to Uganda, and more than 850,000 live in Sudan. Bashir moved the peace talks from Ethiopia to Khartoum, then midwifed an agreement that called for demobilizing, retraining and integrating fighters from all sides.

Now, for the first time, South Sudan's leaders trust the north: They know Bashir needs their oil. Sudan even helped fix the south's broken wells, said oil minister Gatkuoth.

"Before, Sudan sought to take advantage of our vulnerabilities," said Majak D'Agoot, who was deputy head of Sudan's intelligence service before independence and then served as South Sudan's deputy defense minister. "But we are now on an equal footing."

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