Clashes between Sudan and South Sudan soared in the past week after South Sudan declared the disputed Heglig oil region is under its control. The move is just the latest as fears rise of a return to war and rights group are warning of deteriorating humanitarian conditions.
South Sudan split from the government in the north in July, officially breaking Africa's largest nation into two, the result of a referendum last year overwhelmingly approved by voters.
The referendum was part of a 2005 peace deal that ended the civil war that pit a government dominated by Arab Muslims in the north against black Christians and animists in the south.
CNN's Nima Elbagir weighs in on what's behind the tensions and what the response has been from the international community. (Edited transcript below)
Q: What's behind the increased tensions and border clashes?
In very simple terms, it all comes down to oil. If the north's economy hadn't been so badly damaged by the south's secession - and with it, taking 90 percent of the area's oil - there wouldn't have been so much rancor. To further compound the issue, the south promptly turned off the pipeline to the north. ... Putting all the economic issues aside, you also have issues that weren't dealt with when independence first happened: There is no internationally recognized defined border between the two countries and most of the oil is along that border. So all of this back-and-forth is happening in that contested area. Now we're seeing tens of thousands of refugees living in situations that the United Nations says is too dangerous for many [aid agencies] to get into.
Q: Why weren't these issues addressed at the time of South Sudan's independence, less than a year ago?
At the time, the separation felt like a divorce in name only. The Heglig region is part of that disputed area but it was never really a disputed area that the south seriously claimed. It was part of the broader Abyei region. For the south to go after Heglig, which provides almost 60-70 percent of the remaining oil the north has, it's really escalating this. One diplomat at the African Union I spoke with said, for him, it was like we're all standing and watching an increasingly high stakes game of chicken, where both sides are waiting for the other to blink and are willing to push each other to further risky maneuvers to try to win this.
Q: How do the resources of each country compare?
That's one of the big issues. It's the south's infrastructure, what little there is, that's suffering now. A third of the South Sudanese population is already dependent on food aid and then you have more than 100,000 refugees that are coming in – that puts more tension on that fragile infrastructure. And at the moment, all we're hearing from the international community are statements of condemnation. But there haven't been any serious movements to try to resolve this.
Q: Is there any support from the African Union?
The AU has condemned [the violence] as has the U.N. and the Security Council. ... Condemnation after condemnation. This has been ratcheting up for months, and no one, especially with the Syria situation being so serious at the moment, seems to be giving it the attention that it needs and deserves.