Independence Day Jitters

June 30, 2011 | Paula Neudorf

It’s not always easy making sense of the latest news reports flooding from Sudan, Africa’s largest country, where a complex mix of rival tribes, religious factions and regional opponents have been waging war since the 1980s.

The battle to control the country’s vast oil reserves has fueled much of the conflict. In May, as Sudan’s southern region prepared to break away and declare independence, northern forces, led by Arab President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, invaded Abyei, an oil-rich region that both the North and South would like to claim.

In another disputed region, Bashir’s army has been conducting what many fear is a genocide against the Nuba people. The Nuba live in South Kordofan, a region adjacent to Abyei that belongs to Sudan’s North, but many fought alongside the southern secessionists. Thousands of Nuba have disappeared while an estimated half a million have been displaced.

These conflicts may be moving toward a resolution. On June 27, the U.N. announced it would send a 4,200-strong Ethiopian peacekeeping force to Abyei after both sides agreed to withdraw from the region. And a day later, the Sudanese government brokered a ceasefire with the Nuba rebels in South Kordofan and its neighboring state, Blue Nile.

South Sudan is expected to formally declare independence on July 9th, less than 10 days from now. But the new nation will be born in the shadow of these ongoing conflicts.