Despite the jubilation that followed South Sudan's largely peaceful vote for independence in January, relations with northern Sudan have since deteriorated. In May, just weeks ahead of South Sudan's July 9 independence day, the Sudanese army occupied the contested Abyei border region. In response, the United Nations Security Council authorized a peacekeeping mission, UNIFSA, to monitor the border and protect civilians there.
On Aug. 4, four Ethiopian peacekeepers deployed with UNIFSA were killed after their vehicle struck a landmine in Abyei. Three of the soldiers reportedly died from their injuries after a United Nations medical evacuation helicopter was delayed three hours by threats that the Sudanese government would shoot it down.
Sudan has denied interfering with the rescue, but the incident fits a longstanding pattern of behavior in which the government of President Omar al-Bashir has deliberately curtailed the effectiveness of U.N. peacekeepers throughout the country. By yielding to the Sudanese threats, the U.N. has shown not only Khartoum but all would-be spoilers that it can be cowed.