Home | News    Wednesday 28 March 2012

Sudan says no desire for full-fledged war with south despite military escalation

March 27, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – The Sudanese government on Tuesday said that it has no plans to enter the territories of South Sudan despite the military confrontation that occurred on Monday, which is considered the most serious since the country’s partition in July 2011.

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South Sudanese Minister of Information Barnaba Benjamin Marial, right, and Military Spokesman Philip Aguer brief the media on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 in Juba, south Sudan (AP)

The director of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) Mohamed Atta Abbas al-Moula held a press conference detailing Khartoum’s version of events relating to the battles that broke out in South Kordofan between Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and Sudan People Liberation Army (SPLA).

South Sudan president Salva Kiir announced on Monday that SAF launched aerial and ground attacks against areas in Unity State and near the poorly defined borders with South Kordofan state.

Kiir said that they repelled the attack and pursued SAF inside Sudan’s borders and in the process took "full control" of the oil-rich Heglig region. But SPLA spokesperson Philip Aguer later contradicted Kiir’s saying they only captured parts of Heglig.

The South Sudanse leader also said that Heglig belonged to his country laying the ground for a future dispute with the north over its ownership similar to the standoff over Abyei, another oil-producing region.

SAF spokesperson al-Sawarmi Khalid Sa’ad yesterday acknowledged the clashes with the SPLA but also alleged the involvement of Darfur rebels the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in the Heglig attack.

Sa’ad said that SAF "bravely" resisted what he suggested was a surprise attack by SPLA and retreated 10 kilometers north of the international borders but he vehemently denied South Sudan’s claims that they overran Heglig.

The military spokesperson added that SAF was still dealing with remnants of the attacking forces.

OIL FIELDS

On Tuesday, South Sudan accused SAF of targeting oil fields in Unity State with aerial bombardments.

“I have just been informed about the new attacks by the state authorities that Sudanese warplanes have indiscriminately bombed the area this morning” Stephen Dhieu Dau the country’s oil minister, told Sudan Tribune on Tuesday. “The attack is targeting oil fields”, Dau added.

The oil minister further said he received information that Sudanese warplanes were still “flying low” and “hovering” everywhere in strategic areas of the oil wells in the state.

“I am told one of the bombs nearly hit a compound of the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPC), a consortium of oil companies led by China’s CNPC, operating in Unity State”, the minister said.

“They bombed one of the wells in Rubokana town which is not far away from Bentiu town”, Dau said adding that the Sudanese government has been looking for “an excuse” to attack South Sudan’s oil fields.

The senior official said that he does not yet have details on whether there are direct damages to oil facilities but was told that one bomb narrowly missed a camp there.

“At the moment there is no information about damages. The latest information I have is that they [Khartoum] have once again bombed our oil fields. We are still waiting for details of the attack from our field staff members. It will be from their report that we shall be able to tell whether there are damages” Dau said.

Asian oil group the Greater Nile Petroleum Company (GNPOC) - a consortium led by the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) - confirmed its facilities had been hit.

"The warplanes are hovering everywhere ... One bomb actually just missed Unity base camp but anywhere else so far there is no information," GNPOC Vice President, Chom Juaj, told Reuters.

"They bombed the oil field but so far we are still waiting for the report from the field telling us if they are damaged or not," he said.

Sudan’s spy chief, Atta, on Tuesday said that SAF has pushed SPLA deeper into South Sudan.

He strongly denied Juba’s claims that the clashes started after SAF attack on Jau because, according to Atta, it was already occupied by SPLA and northern rebel forces.

The NISS director said Khartoum initially sought to convince Juba to pull it forces out of the areas they attacked inside Sudan. But after additional SAF enforcements were sent, the southern army launched a new assault forcing SAF units to withdraw deeper inside Sudan.

He stressed that never at any point did SPLA enter Heglig and at its best was six kilometers away from the region.

"Until one hour ago troops of the southern army were still ten kilometers on our side of the border. We have now advanced ... and are still expelling them." Some prisoners had been taken, he said.

"We hope this will be no full war," he added. "We have no intentions beyond liberating our [occupied] land. We don’t want to enter southern territory" Atta added.

BASHIR-KIIR SUMMIT

The latest clashes dashed hopes of a new phase in relations between the ex-foes ahead of a planned 3 April meeting between Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir’s and his South Sudanese counterpart Salva Kiir.

Yesterday, the Sudanese 2nd Vice-President, al-Haj Adam Yusuf, announced that the summit has been called off following the attack and that no negotiations will resume without an improvement in the security situation.

But South Sudan’s minister of information, Barnaba Marial Benjamin Bil, said that Juba has not received a formal message informing them of the cancellation.

“We still expect president Bashir to attend the summit because we have not until this moment received an official communication cancelling the visit as per initial plan”, Marial told reporters on Tuesday. The minister explained that the invitation was extended to Sudanese president with “clear intention” to strike a deal that would normalise relations in a manner that would benefit both sides.

Marial denied that the invitation was an "ill thought plan or trick” to arrest Bashir once he arrives. He accused voices in the Sudanese government of misconstruing the move and mounting a campaign against it with “war like tones” intended to “distort” the purpose for which the invitation was made.

“We remain committed to the purpose of inviting the Sudanese president. We are for peace although it seems there voices agitating against in Khartoum by trying to derail the process,” he said before adding that the country would not accept to be dragged into war with Sudan.

"Our president has said it clear time and again that we will not accept return the two countries into a senseless war. We will not accept be dragged into a conflict with Sudan”, the minister said.

INTERNATIONAL REACTION

On Tuesday the UK’s permanent representative to the UN, Mark Lyall-Grant, which holds that rotating presidency of the UN Security Council (UNSC), read a statement on behalf of the council saying that the body’s members are “deeply alarmed” by the military clashes.

The clashes “threaten to precipitate a resumption of conflict between the two countries, worsen the humanitarian situation, and lead to further civilian casualties.”

The UNSC Council called upon both governments to exercise maximum restraint and sustain purposeful dialogue in order to address peacefully the issues that are fueling the mistrust between the two countries, citing oil resources, violence in the border region, citizenship, and the disputed Abyei region.

The UNSC members called on the two countries to respect the letter and spirit of their February 10 Memorandum of Understanding on Non-Aggression and Cooperation, which urged both countries to utilize the upcoming session of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism to defuse tensions along the border.

Meanwhile, the White House on Tuesday also said it was alarmed by the fighting in the Sudanese state of South Kordofan and along a disputed area of the border between Sudan and South Sudan.

Both sides, it added in a statement, must exert the greatest restraint in this situation.

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton separately said Washington, which helped to broker the 2005 peace deal which ended Sudan’s long civil war, held Khartoum primarily responsible for the latest hostilities, in which the two neighbours have traded accusations of attacks on either side of their contested border.

"We think that the weight of responsibility rests with Khartoum because the use of heavy weaponry, bombing runs by planes and the like, are certainly evidence of disproportionate force on the part of the government in Khartoum," she said.

Clinton said that the US wants the Bashir-Kiir summit to go as planned.

"We want to see that summit held, and we want to see both sides work together to end the violence," Clinton said, calling it "deeply distressing."

The top US diplomat said the two sides — bound inextricably by their intertwined oil industries — should focus on finding a solution to their deteriorating economies.

"There is a win-win outcome here. South Sudan has oil. Sudan has the infrastructure and the transportation networks to get the oil to market," Clinton added.

In Paris, the French foreign ministry said that France "is extremely concerned" by the fighting and called for an "immediate end".

"We strongly encourage the two countries to settle their disputes through agreements on the basis of good neighborliness and mutual respect, in particular the respect for each other s territorial integrity" said the statement.

"The implementation of the previous agreements on the establishment of a demilitarized and internationally monitored border area, as well as the demarcation of undisputed border areas, must be continued on an urgent basis in order to achieve a political settlement of the current tensions. There must be full cooperation with the United Nations to that end," the French foreign ministry said.

"The meeting scheduled to take place shortly between the presidents of the two States, following the visit to Khartoum by a high-level delegation from South Sudan on March 23, should be able to go ahead despite the recent clashes. It will be a sign of the willingness of each party to resolve the current tensions".

China also echoed sentiments expressed by Washington and Paris.

"We call on southern and northern Sudan to remain calm and restrained, keep tensions from escalating further, and remain committed to properly resolving their differences through negotiations" said Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Spokesman Hong Lei.

The two countries have been at loggerheads since the South became independent under a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war.

Oil, the lifeline of both economies, is at the heart of the feud. Landlocked South Sudan took most of known reserves when it became independent but needs to export its oil through Sudan. Juba shut down its output of 350,000 barrels a day after Khartoum started taking oil to compensate for what it calls unpaid transit fees.

(ST)