Find a Security Clearance Job!


Sudan - Libya Relations

Relations between Sudan and Libya deteriorated in the early 1970s and reached a low in October 1981, when Libya began a policy of cross-border raids into western Sudan. After the 1985 coup in Sudan, the military government resumed diplomatic relations with Libya, as part of a policy of improving relations with neighboring and Arab states. In early 1990, Libya and the Sudan announced that they would seek "unity," but this unity was not implemented.

Nothing came of the integration agreement between Sudan and Libya abruptly announced in early March 1990, proposing to combine the two countries' political, economic, military, and social systems within four years, though it did culminate in a steady warming trend in the RCC's relationship with Tripoli. A recurring phenomenon to lure Colonel Qadhafi's favor, the unity package largely regurgitated old ideas incorporated in an aborted unity plan mooted in 1988. Despite ornate rhetoric, multiple official visits, and a conference devoted to promoting unity, few Sudanese seriously believed it would succeed. Thus, confident that unity will unglue before it materialized, public opposition to integration was limited, though senior army officers reportedly voiced dissatisfaction. Ridicule was the more common reaction. Aware of the derision, the Government of Sudan tried to portray the accord as a step toward pan-Arab unity, a more palatable if equally unlikely notion. The unity scheme, so long as it was unrealized also had its supporters. Many Sudanese accepted Libyan aid as an absolute necessity and well worth hollow rhetoric and quixotic unity schemes. Sudanese mostly looked upon Libyans as dunderheads and Qadhafi as eccentric but not a real threat to Sudan. "Milk them while you can" was a popular sentiment.

To be sure, Sudanese security authorities, mindful of Libyan mischief, generally tried to keep close tabs on Libyan activities and movements in and near Khartoum. The 1990 abolition of visas for Libyans (and subsequently all Arabs) complicated their job, though security officers at the airport reportedly were paying special attention to Libyan visitors when they passed through normal immigration and customs procedures. Cynics reckoned there was little left to sabotage in Sudan. Lackluster Libyan-backed revolutionary committees in Sudan, recognized as a "political party" before the coup, disbanded with the abolition of parties, and, according to several Sudanese, remained inactive. Libyans appeared to be focusing instead on linking their popular organizations with Sudan's locally-based, and increasingly active Peoples' Committees and Popular Defense Forces. As for Libyan transgressions in Darfur, while some Sudanese professed to be troubled by the affront to Sudan's sovereignty, in the 1990s the majority seemed content to turn a blind eye to events in a remote area.

Libya's main economic attraction in the 1990s was cheap oil but Sudan had little of value to offer in return. Deprived of regular supplies from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, due to nonpayment and RCC politics, Sudan had to rely almost completely on Libyan oil before its own resources were developed. The deal for Libyan oil required Sudan to pay only for interest on the purchase with the principal to be paid in kind with future Sudanese oil production. Despite well-publicized agreements with Libya, shipments of Libyan oil were erratic. Libya's promised 50,000 metric tons of oil per month to Sadiq's government and the RCC did not always arrive. Following the March 1990 integration accord, Libya pledged to double its Sudanese oil shipments to 100,000 metric tons for both April and May.

Sudan's balance of trade with Libya was entirely negative according to government figures. For the first six months of 1989, Libya received no Sudanese exports while Sudan imported 269,712,000 pounds (US$ 22,500,000) of petroleum products from Libya. Libya has focused instead on obtaining political dividends from trade. This was dramatically reflected in the 1989 Khartoum trade fair when Libya's booth was confined to anti-american slogans and photographs of alleged casualties from u.s. Bombing of tripoli. (The U.S. Pulled out when the Government of Sudan failed to act on American protests.) In December 1989, Sudan and Libya approved a US$ 50 million commercial protocol pledging the export of Sudanese goats, oil seeds, perfume and textiles in return for oil, fertilizers and cement. As with the Egyptian protocol, the accord was more important for its political dimensions rather than as a guide to actual trade. A bilateral protocol in agricultural cooperation was signed in February 1990 aimed at Libyan bankrolling cereal and meat production facilities. Libyan agricultural assistance also had more political than economic significance; a Libyan agricultural development scheme in Darfur was widely viewed as a front for arms smuggling and other nonagricultural activities.

By 1990, Libya, once a backer of the SPLA, was now Sudan's most dependable military supplier. The substantial supply relationship existed either based on secret pacts as alleged by the SPLA or, more likely, based on informal arrangements concluded by Sadiq al-Mahdi's minions and subsequently renewed by the RCC. A formal military protocol signed by the Government of Sudan shortly after President Nimeiri's ouster was not open-ended and referred only to a specific list of items. By whatever rationale, the Libyans loaned or donated millions of dollars of military provisions ranging from ammunition to MiG-23 fighter aircraft. Dollar figures were difficult to estimate, but there was little doubt this aid was a crucial factor in propping up the Sudanese army in its conflict with the SPLA.

Since the 1989 coup, Libya dispatched twice weekly to Sudan an Il-76 transport plane laden with supplies, believed exclusively for military use. In addition, Libya provided training, advisors and pilots, though Libya's direct involvement with the military in Sudan was denied by the Government of Sudan. Libyan military, however, were periodically seen at Khartoum hotels and military facilities. Libya's involvement in bombing raids was proven when the SPLA produced a Libyan pilot after downing a MiG aircraft in 1989. The Government of Sudan still denied it. Libyan pilots seemed to operate autonomously, with the tacit backing of the Sudanese military brass.

Labor migration and commerce between Sudan and Libya have long been features of livelihoods in Darfur. Libya is Darfurs closest neighbor that offers significant labor opportunities to migrants. Although separated by more than 1,000 miles of the Sahara, there have been close economic, social, and political links between Libya and Darfur for at least two hundred years.

Although conflict had been brewing for a decade or more, the most recent insurgency started in early 2003. The Darfur conflict affected migration patterns from Darfur and remittance flows in the opposite direction. Official estimates of Darfurian migrant workers in Libya were unavailable but were estimated to be between 150,000 and 250,000. The closure of the national border between Sudan and Libya in May 2003, largely a result of insecurity in Darfur, stopped the traffic of migrant workers between northern Darfur and southern Libya (which prevented the onward travel to Sudan of several thousand migrants in Kufra), and curtailed the well-established trade routes, communications, and remittance flows.

By 2008 Libya was deeply frustrated with its inability to deliver a sustainable peace between Chad and Sudan. Despite abortive UN/AU-led Darfur talks in Libya in October 2007 and the stillborn October 2007 Libya-brokered Chad cease-fire, Libya remained actively involved in Chad-Sudan mediation efforts (it played a key role in re-establishing Chad-Sudan diplomatic relations in July 2008). But Libya recognized it cannot broker peace unilaterally. Libya viewed skeptically calls for an international observer force on the Chad-Sudan border under the March 2008 Dakar Accord and refered instead to the February 2006 Tripoli Accords (which also called for joint military observation of the Chad-Sudan border) and the October 2007 Sirte process as the platforms for a viable peace process.

Libya mediated between the governments in N'Djamena and Khartoum and secured an exchange of ambassadors between the two capitals in 2008. Their support for rebel groups seemed to have waned in 2008. The regime was upset that Qatar had diminished what Libya viewed as its influence in Darfur and al-Qadhafi appeared to be shifting from practical diplomacy (and the cash that comes with it) to lambasting the West and Israel for causing the trouble between the Fur and Khartoum. Libya's position on Darfur changed once al-Qadhafi became Chairman of the African Union. Previously they enjoyed sanctuary in Tripoli but were forbidden from talking to the press. The biggest shift was Libya's support of Doha as a venue for discussions. After quietly dismissing Qatari intervention from November 2008 to late February, Libyan officials began urging Sudan Liberation Army/Unity (SLA/U) to engage in the Doha process in early March 2009.

By 2014 the civil war in Libya had been transformed into a proxy war, which pitted Islamist forces supported by Qatar, Sudan and Turkey, against more secular forces supported by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt [and probably the United States]. Field commander Ashraf El Hasi accused Khartoum of supporting the Libyan militias, and using the airports of Sirte, Tripoli, and Masrata to supply weapons to the militants. El Hasi said in September 2014 that Sudan attempted to enter a convoy of vehicles carrying Yemeni fighters into Libya. He stated that the convoy was detected at the border town of El Kufra. He reported that a convoy of vehicles loaded with militiamen crossed the Libyan-Sudanese border at El Kufra in support of the Libyan Islamist insurgents.

On 06 September 2014, Libyan authorities announced the grounding of a Sudanese military aeroplane at El Kufra airport, "laden with weapons bound for rebels". They claimed that the transport aircraft was heading for Tripoli's Mitiga airport, then under the control of a Islamist militia group. Sudan described the incident as a misunderstanding. The week before, the Sudanese military attach in Tripoli was declared persona non grata, after he had been accused of supporting Libyan militia groups.

The presidents of Egypt and Sudan agreed 19 October 2014 to support the Libyan military in its fight against armed militias in the country following two-days of talks in Cairo. Egypt's Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and his Sudanese counterpart Omar al-Bashir agreed to co-ordinate efforts to achieve stability in Libya through supporting state institutions, in particular the army. The chaos in Libya is one of Egypt's main foreign policy concerns, following cross-border attacks by fighters who control parts of the country's east, including oil-rich Benghazi. Libya's new government accused Sudan of arming "terrorist groups" operating on its soil, a charge Khartoum denied.

Join the mailing list