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IBRU: Centre for Borders Research

Boundary news

Boundary news Headlines

South Sudan faces rebel crisis

(10 January 2014)

Bentiu, a strategically important town situated in South Sudan’s northern Unity State, is currently under rebel force control.

It is reported that approximately 1,000 people have been killed and 230,000 displaced from their homes since December 15th when hostilities commenced. The oil rich area came under rebel siege when President Salva Kiir reportedly accused Riek Machar, the former Vice President, of plotting a tactical coup. Machar strongly denies the claims.

President Kiir descends from South Sudan’s largest ethnic group, the Dinka, while Machar is of the Nuer, producing an ethnic dynamic to the conflict and intensifying historic tribal divisions. Representatives of the South Sudanese government and the rebels met on Tuesday 7th January 2014 on Ethiopian neutral territory, but to date are not to have been successful.

Alexander Rondos, European Union Special Representative for the Horn of Africa, commented, “The International Community is ready to move, the neighbours are ready to help, but they have got to come to an arrangement real fast on the ceasefire”.

China, the largest investor in South Sudan’s oil industry also urges an immediate ceasefire. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated that Beijing was “deeply concerned” by the current situation, which has forced approximately one-fifth of oil production to be halted. He further commented, “First, we call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and violence”. Chinese state-owned oil giants National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) and Sinopec are heavily involved in South Sudan. 

The region’s oil fields have become a key source of hostility between Sudan and South Sudan, with Bentiu is the capital of oil production in Unity State. Both countries are greatly dependent on their oil proceeds, accounting for 98% of South Sudan’s budget as their main foreign exchange earner. BP estimates that South Sudan contains Sub-Saharan Africa’s third largest oil reserve.

The two countries continue to disagree on the distribution of oil wealth as 75% of oil lies in South Sudan, with pipelines such as the Greater Nile Oil Line flowing north into Sudan.

South Sudan acquired independence in July 2011 after seceding from Sudan, but parts of the exact border, approximately 1,250 miles long, remain contested.


“China urges South Sudan ceasefire as peace talks stutter”, Aaron Maasho and Khlaed Abdelaziz, Reuters, 6th January 2014.

“Sudan backs away from statement on South Sudan force”, Tom Perry, Reuters, 7th January 2014.

“Update: South Sudan rejects call to free rebels to help fighting”, Reuters, 7th January 2014.

“South Sudan in ‘wildly unpredictable crisis’”, Andrew Harding, BBC News, 9th January 2014.

“South Sudan’s army advances on rebels in Bentiu and Bor”, BBC News, 9th January 2014.

“Bentiu tense as South Sudan troops advance”, BBC News, 9th January 2014.