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Kenya, Uganda risk entering Sudan conflict

By Haggai Matsiko

As the dispute between Sudan and South Sudan over oil transportation dues deteriorates into full-fledged war, The Independent reports of an intense rhetoric that could see Kenya and Uganda sucked in.

Following separation, most of the oil fields fell in South Sudan’s territory but Sudan remains the owner of refineries and pipelines and the South’s oil is exported through the north.  For that, Khartoum claims Juba owes it up to US$3.8 billion in transportation, refinery and port fees but the South says it owes Khartoum US$2.6 billion.

Sudan wants to be paid US$32 per barrel transported but Juba wants to pay US$1 per barrel. Brent crude for June delivery was hovering at around US$120 per barrel.   In an effort to ease the standoff, the African Union has proposed a cost of US$25 per barrel.

Meanwhile, Khartoum has resorted to bombarding various towns in the south and the south has retaliated with occupation of the oil—producing Heglig region, sparking fears that the conflict might escalate.

There are mixed reports on what is happening in Heglig with Sudanese officials saying that they are in control of the region and South Sudan insisting that they the ones in control.

The African Union has called the occupation “illegal”, and the US and UN have condemned both offensives. While the South maintains that it occupied Heglig because of Sudan’s continued aerial bombardments on its territory, Khartoum insists that the South’s move is an act of aggression and a call to have the guns drawn.

Juba claims that the Thabo Mbeki led African Union High Level Implementation Panel favours Khartoum, The East African reported.  Juba reportedly prefers the Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) takes over the talks. And a group of officials from Juba were in Nairobi to co-opt it into salvaging the situation.

Juba and Khartoum had in March agreed to sign the agreement on April 3 that would have also allowed a consensus on oil revenue sharing that has been a contentious issue since December when Khartoum seized Juba’s oil as compensation for alleged unpaid transportation fees.

Sudan this month declared all South Sudanese living in the north foreigners—they can nolonger use Sudanese passports—and President Omar al-Bashir has cancelled the signing of an agreement on non-aggression and citizenship because of the Heglig clashes.

As war looms, there are calls for the region’s powers to rein in al-Bashir who is increasingly being seen as a rogue leader following his indictment by the ICC over war crimes and now his aerial bombardments on South Sudanese territory.

President Yoweri Museveni has so far remained quiet about the escalation to full-fledged war between the two Sudans but anxiety remains.

Assurances by the Army and Defence Spokesman, Col. Felix Kulayigye, that Uganda will not be sucked into the conflict have failed to quell fears.

Shortly before unleashing aerial attacks on the South’s territory, Sudan had blamed Juba and Kampala for backing rebels in Darfur.

Sudan President Omar Bashir’s advisor, Mustafa Osman Ismail, warned that Khartoum would not standby idly while Kampala and Juba continued backing rebels in Darfur.

It was the latest flare up in hostility that experts trace to Uganda’s history of supporting the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army then under the late John Garang that led to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and enabled the cessation from the north.

Khartoum has in turn backed Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group over the years.

Reports indicate that South Sudan officials have also been courting Nairobi to intervene on its side. Mombasa is the South Sudan’s main conduit of arms with some of the arms supplies docking at Mombasa supposedly for Kenya only to end up in South Sudan.

With Nairobi pursuing its biggest infrastructure project, the billion dollar Lamu Port and Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET), experts say Kenya will likely be on Juba’s side.

Senior UPDF officials, and military experts like Uganda’s former Army commander have quoted a spillover of a war between Juba and Khartoum as one of the main reason why President Yoweri Museveni has been spending billions of dollars on arms and fighter jets.

In 2011 Uganda spent a staggering $750 on six SU-MK ex-Russian jets, ballooning the country’s military expenditure to US$1.02 billion far above the US$735 million for Kenya which has been the region’s biggest military spender.

Uganda’s advanced combat aircraft have raised Uganda’s squadrons a notch above those in the East and Central Africa regions but Khartoum is reputed to have one of the strongest armies in Africa.

It has over the years hired Russia and China to up its air force’s tech and some reports indicate that it assembles fighter jets.

Data from SIPRI shows that while Sudan purchased about 1000 jets between 2000 and 2011, South Sudan purchased just 61 in 2011.

The Sudanese Air Force hardware includes Mil Mi-24 attack helicopters, MiG-29 fighters, Su-25 close air support aircraft, Chengdu J-7 fighters, Q-5 ‘Fantan’ ground attack aircraft, and Antonov medium—some of which are being used in the aerial bombardments.

South Sudan’s airforce was only formulated on 24 June 2008. In September 2010 Bloomberg News reported that the airforce had received a fleet of nine Mi-17V-5 transport helicopters and one Mi-172 variant, purchased for $75 million from Russia’s Kazan Helicopters.

Most of arms supplies to South Sudan have been scantly reported and come through mainly Kenya.  On Sept 25, 2008 a large shipment of weapons including 33 Russian-built T-72 main battle tanks from Ukraine supposedly belonging to Kenya were hijacked by Somali pirates. They would later be located in southern Sudan.

An Arms Survey conducted by Switzerland’s Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, reported that satellite imagery confirmed that the tanks were currently deployed at military headquarters in southern Sudan.

Reports indicate that the hijacked vessel, the MV Faina, also carried heavy artillery, 23 ZPU-anti-aircraft guns and 812 tons of ammunition when it was seized in the Gulf of Aden. It is believed to be one of four arms shipments to Sudan from Ukraine.

This is not comparable to Sudan that runs fully fledged arms industry that potentially produces tanks and anti-tanks.

Just in January this year, Sudanese defense minister, General Abdul Rahim Mohamed Hussien, declared that Sudan participated in Dubai’s Airshow with two drone warplanes.

He also added that that his country was in plans to start producing heavy weapons. Hussien, added that Sudan was no longer depending on the outside world to provide small arms to the military.

With an over 100,000-strong force, Sudan ranks among the top 5 Africa armies, far ahead of South Sudan’s fledgling army.

Sudan’s military expenditure is also one of the highest in Africa.

Research and Market, notes that Sudanese defense expenditure stood at US$3.308bn in 2010 and was expected to rise to US$3.923bn in 2011. This is 22.2% of GDP of its GDP.

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