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Activists Urge Stronger US Policy Toward Two Sudans

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While negotiations stall between the two Sudans on many issues that threaten their coexistence, activists and analysts are urging a stronger U.S. policy.  The U.S. government was instrumental in bringing about the creation of South Sudan in July, but since then it has been facing criticism for not doing enough to help. 

Disputes over payments have led to a shutdown of oil production from landlocked South Sudan through Sudan’s oil pipelines and facilities.

Sudan has warned it will strip the citizenship of an estimated 700,000 people who the government considers southerners.

Large parts of the Sudan-South Sudan border have yet to be defined.

A referendum which was supposed to take place to determine the status of the disputed Abyei region has been postponed indefinitely.

For many U.S.-based activists and analysts, though, the biggest problem is the ongoing violence on both sides of the border, committed by ethnic militias, security forces and former rebels.

Republican Congressman Frank Wolf recently wrote a letter in which he alerted President Barack Obama to a video highlighting alleged atrocities perpetrated by Sudan’s security forces against civilians in the Nuba mountains.  The Sudanese military has also launched attacks against suspected rebels and sympathizers in the Blue Nile region.  

Sudanese artist and activist Elshafei Mohamed staged a two-day hunger strike last year outside the White House to alert U.S. authorities to the situation. He feels frustrated by the U.S. government response.

“They are not acting and people now, they are suffering," said Mohamed.  "People there are dying.  I am not sure why they are waiting.  I hear a lot of things but when I compare them to what is going on, on the ground, it is really a big issue.  It is not about talking.”

Eric Reeves, a Sudan expert at Smith College, says the United States should boost South Sudan’s military to deal with both internal and cross-border violence.

“If we are going to have security, anything like secure borders, if we are going to provide security for these restive regions where there are long-standing ethnic tensions, we have to increase the transport capacity and the communications capacity in ways that the Obama administration have not prioritized,” he said.

Amir Idris, a Sudan expert at Fordham University, says U.S. diplomats spent so much time helping South Sudan become a country after decades of conflict, that it would be a shame for the post-independence phase to unravel so quickly.

“It seems to me if there are no solutions to these problems, South Sudan will not be able to embark on a successful economic development and, at the same time, these kinds of conflicts, these proxy conflicts, may spread in South Sudan and also destabilize the south and make the process of building the nation and the state a very complicated process,” said Idris.

Analysts say, with the current uncertainties, both governments have been cracking down on internal dissent, restraining the work of journalists and human rights activists in the south, while arresting hundreds of protesters in the north.

In recent statements, U.S. officials have urged the two countries to increase efforts in finding a solution to a dispute over oil transit fees.  They have also called on the government of Sudan to open up humanitarian access to conflict areas in the states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, saying there was a risk of famine.

In the 2013 proposed budget he sent to Congress, President Obama included the possibility of debt cancellation for Sudan, as well as large amounts of aid for South Sudan, if the two countries make progress both internally and with each other.

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