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South Sudan accuses Khartoum of forcibly conscripting southerners

December 21, 2011 (KHARTOUM) – A new diplomatic crisis has erupted between Sudan and South Sudan after Juba accused Khartoum of forcing southern university students to join its army.

The Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) on Wednesday summoned the Sudanese charge de’ affaires in Juba and protested what it described as aggressions against southern Sudanese citizens and properties of GoSS in Khartoum.

According to the official spokesman of Sudan’s foreign ministry Al-Ubayd Adam Muroah, Juba complained of “harassments” suffered by southern citizens in Khartoum and demanded that Khartoum provides clarifications on the issue.

Muroah said that their representative in Juba had promised to investigate the matter with the competent authorities in Khartoum.

The move follows reports on alleged forced conscription of southern Sudanese in Khartoum by militia groups. According to sources cited by the BBC, young South Sudanese men have been snatched from universities, the streets and even their homes by armed gangs.

In a statement carried on Wednesday by the News Agency of South Sudan (NASS), South Sudan’s minister of information Barnaba Marial Benjamin accused the Sudanese government of recruiting South Sudanese university students into its army.

Benjamin condemned the alleged recruitment as “an irresponsible exercise” and stressed that southern students are in Khartoum “for studies and not for military purposes”

The BBC’s report said that southern sources in Khartoum accused the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA), a southern rebel group, of carrying out the abductions and forced conscription. They also said they believe the government is at least condoning the conscription.

The southern minister said that his country would not retaliate against north Sudanese citizens or their properties in the South, citing pledges by his president Salva Kiir that the South remains committed to peace with neighbors.

Millions of southern Sudanese have had to leave Sudan this year after their region won full independence in July this year, but many remained. According to UNHCR, there are 700,000 South Sudanese still living in the north.

Relations between Sudan and South Sudan have been fragile due to the continued absence of an agreement on transit fees to export southern oil through Sudan and mutual accusations of supporting rebel groups on both sides of the tense borders.