Austin Bay
Remember Darfur, site of the genocide in Western Sudan? Two years ago, in August 2009, the then-United Nations peacekeeping force commander claimed the war in Darfur had "effectively ended." He argued that major attacks had declined to the point that he thought the war would soon be over.

This month, September 2011, the U.N. issued a press statement that said attacks had declined 70 percent since late 2008.

Which, given the continued bloodletting, is an awkward way of saying that the war really isn't over. And it isn't. The Sudanese government -- meaning the Islamist Sudanese government seated in Khartoum, for there is now a separate South Sudan -- still occasionally employs heavily armed militias as proxy forces to attack, kill and disperse Darfuri civilians. Sudan's air force still launches air raids on rebel forces in Darfur and indiscriminately drop bombs in holdout rebel villages.

There are two reasons attacks have declined. The first is that the northern Sudanese government has driven several hundred thousand pro-rebel Darfuris from their land. They are now either dead or in refugee camps.

The second reason: The northern government is now engaged in several other wars against Sudanese civilians or former Sudanese civilians. In May, about six weeks before South Sudan became independent, Sudan attacked and occupied the Abyei area, a disputed border zone between the two nations. Over 100,000 people fled south to escape the northern attack. After U.N. sponsored negotiations, both sides agreed to let Ethiopia deploy a peacekeeping force in Abyei. Ethiopia, which borders both Sudans, does not want to see the north-south confrontation expand into a wider regional war.

The Abyei dispute involves complex land issues between the Dinka Ngok tribal group and a tribe of Muslim pastoralists, the Misseriya. The big story for the two Sudans is oil, however. Independence left South Sudan with the bulk of the nations' proven oil reserves. The northerners resent that.

The southerners have their own resentments. The north is charging the south extremely high per-barrel oil pipeline transportation fees. At the moment, the only way South Sudan can export its oil is through Sudan's pipeline system and its seaport, Port Sudan. The attack on Abyei sent the not-subtle-at-all message that the north will use force to take control of the oil fields if it chooses, and it will charge the south whatever transport fees it wants. Mafia extortionists send the same message to a small-business owner when thugs break a window then say next time they'll use a firebomb.


Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
 
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