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Wed Dec 07 20:15:51 CAT 2016

The UN and AU must act swiftly to save South Sudan

The Editor, The Times Newspaper | 2012-04-25 01:20:53.0
South Sudan President Mayardit speaks with Chinese President Hu during their meeting in Beijing
South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit April 24, 2012. REUTERS/Kazuhiro Ibuki/Pool (CHINA - Tags: POLITICS)
Image by: POOL / KYODO NEWS

The Times Editorial: Africa, and the international community, celebrated on July 9 last year when the world's newest nation, South Sudan, was born out of the ashes of two decades of civil war that killed millions of people.

South Africa took special pride in this achievement. Former president Thabo Mbeki had played a significant role in getting the warring factions in the north and south to agree to a lasting, peaceful solution that gave rise to the creation of the new republic.

Today, barely nine months since South Sudan achieved statehood, the country and its powerful northern neighbour are at each other's throats.

Weeks of skirmishes in the oil-rich border region have escalated to the point where a full-blown war is a real possibility.

This week, Sudan launched a series of deadly air raids on South Sudan - a reprisal for the South's seizure earlier this month of the Heglig oil field on the frontier.

The raids - which Khartoum denies ordering - came despite the South pledging on Friday to withdraw from the disputed oilfield, as demanded by the UN Security Council.

The Heglig field is hugely important to both countries - it used to produce about half of Sudan's total oil output.

Oil is also at the centre of a simmering dispute over how much the landlocked South should pay Sudan in transit fees.

The disputes have disrupted oil production, severely affecting the economies of both countries.

But other issues are muddying the waters, including the position of the border, the ownership of key territories and the presence on the volatile frontier of heavily armed rebels that officials appear to have little control over.

Adding to this lethal mix is the increasingly militant rhetoric being employed by both President Omar al-Bashir and his counterpart in South Sudan, President Salva Kiir.

The United Nations and the African Union need to step in urgently to ensure that the miracle of South Sudan is not stillborn.

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