U.S. Played Key Role in Southern Sudan's Long Journey to Independence

The Sudan Caucus, in partnership with their new Save Darfur allies, also secured over $6 billion in humanitarian aid, between 2005 and 2010, to the war-affected areas in Sudan. According to statistics from the U.S. Official Development Assistance database, Sudan has been the third largest recipient of U.S. aid since 2005, trailing only Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet peace in Darfur, which will remain in Sudan when the country splits, has proven elusive. According to the report Beyond the Pledge, issued by a coalition of non-governmental organizations last week, the government launched at least 80 airstrikes against civilian populations in Darfur between January and April this year. Visiting the region last month, the UN human rights expert for Sudan, Justice Mohamed Chande Othman, complained about limited humanitarian access, noting that some of those displaced by violence had not received food or medical care since January.

The unresolved crisis in Darfur is not the only concern as Sudan partitions. In May, the Sudanese government seized a contested and fertile border area called Abyei. The UN says that over 100,000 people were displaced by the violence. A peace agreement has since been signed, providing for 4,200 Ethiopian peacekeepers to be deployed to Abyei under the UN banner. But the agreement has not yet been implemented, and Abyei's future remains unclear.

Then on June 5, the Sudanese government began bombing Southern Kordofan, an oil-producing state that will remain part of Sudan when South Sudan secedes. Anti-government fighters in the area largely belong to the Nuba, a non-Arab and religiously diverse group who identity as northerners but sided with the southern rebels during the war. President al-Bashir has instructed the Sudanese army to "continue their operations in South Kordofan until they clean the state of rebels." But according to the UN, civilians appear to be bearing the brunt of the operation.

Jehanne Henry, Sudan researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the situation in Southern Kordofan is severe. "Tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes, many have been killed or maimed, and houses and property have been destroyed." The few remaining aid workers in the area, interviewed by phone, say the ordeal brings back memories of the Sudanese government's campaign against the Nuba in the nineties, which led to ten of thousands of deaths.

The violence in Darfur, Abyei, and now Southern Kordofan complicates the Obama administration's strategy of offering to lift Sudan's designation as a state sponsor of terror and normalize diplomatic relations in return for completing the north-south peace agreement and accepting the secession of South Sudan.

U.S. special envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman, said that failure to resolve the situation in Southern Kordofan will make it "impossible" for the U.S. to normalize relations. But Sudan Caucus member Rep. Wolf remains unsatisfied with the administration's response. "All the things that are going on in the Nuba Mountains are the things the White House said they wanted to stop in Libya," said Wolf.

Whatever it would take to resolve Sudan's violence, the U.S. will likely not be able to do it on its own, especially as Khartoum deepens its economic and diplomatic relationship with Beijing. "One country alone does not have enough leverage" says Jehanne Henry, who wants to see a coordinated multilateral approach."[The international community] need a united front to press Sudan to end the killing, destruction, arrests, and other violations -- not just in Southern Kordofan, but also in Darfur."

Experts worry that the violence is a harbinger of instability that could undermine the viability of both nations, leading some to question the legacy of U.S. efforts. But, for today at least, the focus will be on welcoming South Sudan as the world's newest nation.

This story was reported with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Follow @PulitzerCenter on Twitter

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