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Sudan pipeline threat could spark oil war
by Staff Writers
Juba, Sudan (UPI) Jun 24, 2011

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

President Omar al-Bashir's threat to block oil pipelines in southern Sudan, due to become independent July 9, unless it shares its oil wealth with the Khartoum regime has heightened fears of renewed conflict in a country that has rarely known peace since 1955.

That would further destabilize the entire region of East Africa, including troubled Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which with neighboring states are on the cusp of becoming serious oil producers themselves.

The political process, begun under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 that ended a 22-year civil war that began in 1983 -- the consequence on a 1955-72 civil war -- appears to be perilously close to collapse.

This shows all the signs of reigniting the north-south conflict and ending all hope of a peaceful partition of Africa's largest state.

Sudan is the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa, after Angola and Nigeria, with an output of 490,000 barrels per day. Two-thirds of that is exported to China.

That gives Beijing a keen interest in Sudan's future. Bashir, an international pariah because he's wanted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges, is scheduled to start a three-day visit to Beijing Monday.

Whether the Chinese will be able to persuade him to call off his armed forces in the deteriorating crisis in Sudan is unclear. But Beijing has kept close links with Khartoum and maintained friendly ties with the south to protect China's oil investments.

Sudan has proven oil reserves of 6.8 billion barrels. Khartoum had planned to boost production to 600,000 bpd.

The two sides were supposed to work out how to share Sudan's oil revenues under the 2005 peace pact, but they were unable to agree, even though they need each other to export the oil.

Eighty percent of the known reserves are in the south, but the only export outlet is a pipeline that runs through the north to the country's only refinery and to the export terminal at Port Sudan on the Red Sea.

Khartoum has relied on oil revenues to maintain its economy, and the loss of southern oil fields will hit it hard.

That leaves Bashir, who seized power in 1989, exposed to political opponents in the north for allowing to south to break away.

There's a lot at stake for both sides on the oil issue.

Exploration has largely concentrated on the central and south-central regions. But oil industry analysts say there are large undeveloped fields in the desert regions of northwest Sudan, the Blue Nile basin and the Red Sea region in the east.

But there's little prospect of these areas, many of them in the north, being developed if the civil war is rekindled, while related conflicts in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains add to the turmoil.

The Muslim Arab regime in Khartoum and the mainly Christian and animist south agreed "in principle" to demilitarize the disputed border zone of Abyei June 13 during crisis talks in neighboring Ethiopia.

Another oil state, South Kordofan, is gripped by fighting, with more than 60,000 people driven from their homes. Trouble is also flaring in two other oil states, Blue Nile and Unity.

Northern forces overran Abyei, a key oil producing zone claimed by both sides, in an assault launched May 21 in the run-up to the south's secession as an independent state following a January referendum.

But despite the June 13 declaration, fighting has continued. Heavy fighting that broke out June 5 in South Kordofan, a northern state that borders the south, still rages.

South Kordofan has the north's most productive oil fields. But it also has a substantial number of well-armed and seasoned southern fighters from the ethnic Nuba group that Khartoum fears could pose a serious threat to one of the few oil zones it will control after July 9.

The United States announced Thursday it had submitted a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council that would authorize the deployment in Abyei of a brigade-size force -- about 4,200 men -- from Ethiopia, a U.S. ally.

They would operate as U.N. peacekeepers, reinforcing a 10,000-man force already deployed which Khartoum wants out of Sudan by July 9. Poorly equipped, it has failed to prevent the bloodletting so far.

But the U.S. move may be too little, too late.

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