Clinton Says U.S. Working to Prevent Sudan Oil Violence in 2011

September 9, 2010

By Nicole Gaouette

Sept. 9 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. is working to ward off potential violence over Sudan’s oil before a 2011 independence referendum likely divides the north African country, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday.

Sudan’s northern and southern regions now split the proceeds from crude oil pumped in the south. Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the former rebel group that governs Southern Sudan, haven’t agreed on post-referendum arrangements, including how to share the oil wealth.

“If you’re in the North, and all of a sudden you think a line’s going to be drawn and you’re going to lose 80 percent of the oil revenues, you’re not a very enthusiastic participant” in the division of the country, Clinton said at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Clinton suggested the South should make accommodations to the North. “What are the deals that can possibly be made that will limit the potential of violence?” she said.

Southern Sudan’s Jan. 9 independence vote is a key component of a 2005 peace agreement that ended a 21-year civil war between Sudan’s Muslim north and the south, where Christianity and traditional beliefs dominate. The area borders Ethiopia, a major U.S. ally in Africa.

About 2 million people died in the Sudan conflict, and more than 4 million were displaced.

U.S. Activists

Clinton’s suggestion that the South accommodate the North may provoke resistance from the community of U.S. activists who work on behalf of the Christian south, said Stephen Morrison, former director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, in a telephone interview.

Clinton, who worked on Sudanese issues as a senator from New York, said the North must be persuaded to peacefully accept an independent South.

The two regions already co-exist in the national government. President Umar al-Bashir runs Sudan, while the leader of Southern Sudan, Salva Kiir, is vice president.

The South needs “to recognize that unless they want more years of warfare and no chance to build their own new state, they’ve got to make some accommodations with the North as well,” Clinton said.

Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, head of the Government of Southern Sudan Mission in Washington, said the south was ready and willing to have that discussion.

Signal to World

“We would really like to send a signal to the world that we are willing to negotiate with the north and open to any discussion on sharing of oil revenues,” Gatkuoth said in a telephone interview.

“It is not in our interest to see the north failing,” he said. “It should also be in the interests of the north to see us be viable.”

Representatives of Sudan didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Southern Sudan has hurdles to overcome, Morrison said. “The South has done very little to get itself internally organized,” he said. “It seems to think the West and the U.S. in particular is going to rescue them as the situation deteriorates as opposed to making accommodations to the North now.”

Oil fields in Southern Sudan account for most of the nation’s crude output, which, at 490,000 barrels a day, is the third-biggest in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. China is the main buyer of exported Sudanese crude.

Oil Boost

Sudan aims to increase output by 35 percent in 2011 to 650,000 barrels a day, as European and Arab investors show more interest in exploring for crude in Africa’s biggest country, Petroleum Minister Lual Deng said last month.

President Barack Obama will join United Nations Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon and representatives of the African Union, World Bank and other organizations for a Sept. 24 summit meeting on the Southern Sudan referendum in New York, Susan Rice, the U.S. envoy to the world body, said yesterday.

Obama “sees this as a very important vehicle for focusing international attention” on preparations for the referendum and implementation of its results, including decisions on border demarcation, Rice said.

‘Ticking’ Bomb

Clinton described North-South tensions as “a ticking time bomb of enormous consequence” and said the U.S. is trying to begin negotiations “to work out some of those intractable problems.”

The U.S. has increased efforts to bring the two sides together with the help of the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia-based African Union under former South African President Thabo Mbeki, Clinton said. The State Department brought in former Ambassador Princeton Lyman to help Scott Gration, the special envoy to Sudan, negotiate in the lead-up to the referendum.

Clinton said the State Department has also increased its presence in Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, opening a “kind of consulate,” boosting staff and sending a consul general.

“It’s really all hands on deck,” Clinton said.

The commission organizing Southern Sudan’s referendum on independence plans to start registering voters next month, a spokesman for the body said.

–With assistance from Bill Varner at the United Nations and Maram Mazen in Khartoum. Editors: Edward DeMarco, Bob Drummond.