JUBA, South Sudan (AP) – The Arab League said Thursday it would hold an emergency meeting over the increasing violence between Sudan and South Sudan. The south reported new skirmishes even as Sudan’s president increased his threats of war toward the south.
Sudan President Omar al-Bashir said the recent violence has “revived the spirit of jihad” in Sudan. South Sudan said it had repulsed four attacks from Sudan over a 24-hour period as fighting on the border showed no signs of slowing.
Acting on a request by Sudan, the Arab League scheduled an emergency meeting of foreign ministers in Cairo next week to discuss the violence, Deputy Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed bin Helli said. The league earlier called on South Sudan to withdraw from the oil-rich Heglig area that southern troops invaded and took over last week.
Despite the threats from Sudan, a southern government spokesman said South Sudan was only defending its territory and considers Sudan a “friendly nation.”
South Sudan military spokesman Col. Philip Aguer said three of the attacks were on Wednesday and one was on Thursday. He did not give a death toll.
South Sudan broke away from Sudan last year after a self-determination vote for independence. That vote was guaranteed in a mediated end to decades of civil war between the two sides. But the sides never fully agreed where their shared border lay, nor did they reach agreement on how to share oil wealth that is pumped from the border region.
Instead, the two countries have seen a sharp increase in violence in recent weeks, especially around the oil-producing town of Heglig. Both sides claim Heglig as their own. It lies in a region where the border was never clearly defined.
Aguer said southern troops repulsed one attack by Sudanese troops near Heglig on Wednesday and two attacks in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state. One was repulsed in Western Bahr el Ghazal state early Thursday, he said.
Sudan President Omar al-Bashir on Wednesday threatened to topple the South Sudan government after accusing the south of trying to take down his Khartoum-based government.
Al-Bashir continued his hardline rhetoric on Thursday in an address to a “popular defense” brigade headed to the Heglig area. The ceremony was held in al-Obeid, in northern Kordofan.
“Sudan will cut off the hand that harms it,” said al-Bashir, a career army officer who fought against the southern army, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, during the 1983-2005 civil war. Al-Bashir seized power in a 1989 military coup.
The capture of Heglig by the South Sudanese “has revived the spirit of jihad and martyrdom among the Sudanese people,” he told the brigade’s 2,300 men, according to the official Sudan News Agency.
In Khartoum, the pro-government Sudanese Media Center said late Wednesday that fighting broke out between the two nations in the Al-Meram area in South Kordofan, with northern troops driving away what it called “remaining elements” of the SPLA. It said northern troops chased away SPLA fighters who fled across the border into South Sudan.
It said the fighting left an unspecified number of dead and wounded among the SPLA forces but gave no precise figures.
South Sudan government spokesman Barnaba Marial Benjamin said South Sudan does not consider itself at war with Sudan, but he said the south is defending territory it believes it owns based on borders outlined in 1956 by British colonialists.
“Up to now we have not crossed even an inch into Sudan,” Benjamin said. He added: “The Republic of South Sudan considers the Republic of Sudan to be a neighbor and a friendly nation.”
Benjamin said that southern forces would withdraw from Heglig if the African Unionguarantees a cessation of hostilities, an agreement on border demarcation, and the withdrawal of Sudanese forces from the nearby border region of Abyei, with Ethiopian troops moving in as peacekeepers.
Benjamin said that al-Bashir is carrying out “genocide” against Sudanese people in the Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions of Sudan. He said al-Bashir’s words Wednesday were a warning that he would like to do the same in South Sudan.
“Can they quote one war fought by the Republic of Sudan fought with any foreign country? They have always used their military artillery to kill the innocent people of Sudan as well as South Sudan,” Benjamin said.
The International Crisis Group said in a new analysis on Thursday that Sudan and South Sudan are “teetering on the brink of all-out war from which neither would benefit.” It said an immediate cease-fire is needed, then solutions to the unresolved post-referendum issues.
“Increasingly angry rhetoric, support for each other’s rebels, poor command and control, and brinkmanship, risk escalating limited and contained conflict into a full-scale confrontation,” the group said. “Diplomatic pressure to cease hostilities and return to negotiations must be exerted on both governments by the region and the United Nations Security Council, as well as such partners as the U.S., China and key Gulf states.”
The U.S. played a large role in brokering the 2005 peace accord between the two sides. China is a big player in the two countries’ oil industry.
Sudan president Omar Hassan Al-Bashir threatens South with war over oil field
KHARTOUM/JUBA — Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir all but declared war against his newly independent neighbour on Thursday, vowing to teach South Sudan a “final lesson by force” after it occupied a disputed oil field.
South Sudan accused Bashir of planning “genocide” and said it would fight to protect its people.
Mounting violence since Sudan split into two countries last year has raised the prospect of two sovereign African states waging war against each other openly for the first time since Ethiopia fought newly-independent Eritrea in 1998-2000.
Both are poor countries — South Sudan is one of the poorest in the world — and the dispute between them has already halted nearly all the oil production that underpins both economies.
Appearing in a medal-spangled military uniform at a large rally, Bashir danced side-to-side, waved his walking stick in the air and made blistering threats against the leadership of the South, which seceded last year after decades of civil war.
“These people don’t understand, and we will give them the final lesson by force,” the burly military ruler told the rally in El-Obeid, capital of the North Kordofan state. “We will not give them an inch of our country, and whoever extends his hand on Sudan, we will cut it off.”
China, a major investor in the oil industry in both countries, expressed “serious concern” about the increase of tensions and called on both sides to stop fighting, “maintain calm and exercise maximum restraint”.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said South Sudan’s seizure of the oil field was an “illegal act” and called on both countries to stop fighting.
South Sudan separated from the rest of Sudan with Bashir’s blessing last July under the terms of a 2005 peace deal. But since then violence has steadily escalated, fuelled by territorial disputes, ethnic animosity and quarrels over oil.
Last week, South Sudan seized Heglig, a disputed oilfield near the border between the two countries, claiming it as its rightful territory and saying it would only withdraw if the United Nations deployed a neutral force there.
Sudan’s armed forces spokesman Al-Sawarmi Khalid said by phone the army was now fighting “inside Heglig.”
South Sudan’s army (SPLA) said it had repulsed a large attack on Heglig on Wednesday evening, stopping Sudan’s forces about 28 kilometres from the territory.
“The SPLA maintained its position,” spokesman Philip Aguer said. He also accused Sudan of launching another attack in the border regions of South Sudan’s Western Bahr al-Ghazal state.
In a sign of the conflict widening, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) — considered the most militarily potent of the rebel factions in Sudan’s western Darfur region — claimed it had launched an assault on the al-Kharsana oil region near Heglig.
“We are surrounding the Sudanese army in the main military base in al-Kharsana,” JEM spokesman Gibreel Adam Bilal said by phone. Heglig is hundreds of kilometres away from JEM’s bases in Darfur but the group has fought in the Kordofan region in the past.
The Sudanese army spokesman, Khalid, denied JEM’s statement, saying there was no fighting in the al-Kharsana area.
Limited access for independent journalists to Sudan’s remote conflict zones makes it difficult to confirm the often contradictory claims issued by all sides.
African states have often waged war on each other’s territory, but it is extremely rare for them to talk openly of fighting against government forces of sovereign neighbours.
Bashir’s address to the rally on Thursday followed a fiery speech to party supporters on Wednesday, when he vowed to “liberate” South Sudan from its ruling party, which he repeatedly referred to as “insects”, in a play on its Arabic name.
South Sudan’s Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin responded on Thursday with outrage.
“Mr. President, we are no insects and if you are launching your genocide activities to the Republic of South Sudan to kill the people of South Sudan . . . we can assure you we will protect the lives of our citizens.”
However, he also said South Sudan was willing to resume talks immediately on all outstanding issues.
“The Republic of South Sudan is not in a state of war, nor is it interested in war with Sudan,” he said.
In both speeches, Bashir vowed to retake the Heglig oilfield, which he said was part of Sudan’s Kordofan region. But he also said that alone would not end the conflict.
“Heglig is not the end, but the beginning,” he said in Thursday’s speech.
Global powers have voiced alarm at the escalation of violence and urged the two to stop fighting and return to talks.
“China has worked hard to ameliorate the problems between the two Sudans, and we will continue to work with the international community at mediation efforts,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a daily news briefing in Beijing.
Some 2 million people died in Sudan’s civil war, fought for all but a few years from 1955 to 2005 over disputes of ideology, ethnicity and religion.
The countries remain at odds over issues including the border, how much the landlocked South should pay to transport its oil through Sudan and the division of national debt.
Both countries accuse each other of waging proxy war through militia operating on each other’s territory.
Sudan’s military — with an air force, tanks and artillery — is far better equipped than the former guerrilla fighters who make up the South Sudan army. In addition to the civil war in the south, Sudan has also fought long-simmering rebellions in Darfur and its South Kordofan and Blue Nile border states.
Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague for alleged war crimes in connection with the Darfur conflict, charges he rejects as political.
The south has tens of thousands of fighters under arms, with decades of experience in guerrilla conflict.