Report: LRA and other armed groups exacerbating tensions along Darfur-S. Sudan border
Recent clashes along the disputed border between South Darfur and Western Bahr el Ghazal in South Sudan have led to large-scale displacement and humanitarian emergency in Raja County, South Sudan. A local government official said this week that the clashes, along with fear of LRA attacks, have left more than 10,000 people without basic services such as food and medical care.
Tensions are running high across the entire border between South Sudan and Sudan as the first anniversary of the South’s independence passes. However, a new report by the Small Arms Survey calls attention to tensions along border between Sudan’s South Darfur State and South Sudan’s Western Bahr el Ghazal State, which have been overshadowed by conflict in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan border areas. The tensions along the South Darfur – Western Bahr el Ghazal border are related to a long-running border dispute in which Sudan claims the North-South border intersects with neighboring Central African Republic’s Haute-Kotto prefecture, while South Sudan says it is located about 77 miles (125km) farther north, in CAR’s Vakaga prefecture. The contested area, known as Kafia Kingi, encompasses some 3,9000 sq miles (10,000 sq km), and is rich in copper, uranium, and gold.
The Sudanese government has sent more troops to this border region in recent months, and they reportedly attacked a South Sudanese military position in May. Sudanese officials accuse their southern neighbor of allowing Darfuri rebel groups intent on overthrowing the Sudanese government, such as the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army-Minni Minnawi (SLA-MM), to set up bases in Western Bahr el Ghazal. Sudan has also cried foul that representatives from the SLA-MM have been granted permission to set up headquarters in Kampala. Uganda is a long-time ally of South Sudan that supported southern rebels during their civil war with the Sudanese government in the 90′s through mid 2000′s.
Ugandan and South Sudanese officials, as well as the SLM-MM, in turn accuse Sudan of resuming its support for the LRA, which the Sudanese government supported as a proxy fighter against Uganda and South Sudan from 1994-2005. Ugandan military officials report that Kony and 100-150 LRA fighters may be hiding out in Darfur. Darfuri rebels opposed to the Khartoum government reportedly clashed with LRA forces in September 2010 and November 2011, heightening fears of a renewed LRA-Sudan alliance.
Defusing tension along the Sudan-South Sudan border requires a comprehensive approach that includes a mutually acceptable border demarcation, political dialogue, and a halt to state support of rebel groups. The LRA remains a small yet important piece of this puzzle. Though its military capacity is limited, LRA attacks or increased Sudanese support to the rebel group could be a spark that escalates the broader border conflict between Sudan and South Sudan, which could exacerbate the existing humanitarian crisis for communities in the region. And if Kony is granted safe haven in South Darfur, President Obama’s LRA strategy – and US military adviser deployment – will be destined to fail in its mission to bring an end to LRA violence.
To prevent this from happening, US officials should push for more robust investigations of reported LRA activity in South Darfur. They should encourage the African Union’s LRA envoy, Francisco Madeira, to request that Sudan allow an AU investigative team to South Darfur to visit areas where LRA forces are reportedly operating. The UN/AU peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) should also investigate LRA activity there. Finally, US officials should make clear to Sudanese officials that there will be significant diplomatic consequences if Sudan gives safe haven or material support to LRA forces.
Photo credits: UNMISS soldiers, Reuters; map, Small Arms Survey report, link above.