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Sudanese president does not exclude possibility of war with Juba

February 3, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – The Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir highlighted the unprecedented level of tension with the newly established state of South Sudan by saying that war is now a possibility.

Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir

"The climate now is closer to a climate of war than one of peace," Bashir said in a two-hour interview on Blue Nile TV.

Bashir acknowledged that such a war would be one of attrition and pose a drain on Sudan’s resources but will have a bigger impact on South Sudan.

“We will not resort to the choice of war unless it is forced on us and we will not initiate the option of war because war is attrition for us and them [...] it will be a war of attrition hitting them before us” he said.

The remarks come as military sources revealed last week to Sudan Tribune that 700 officers within the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) warned Bashir and his defense minister Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Hussein against rushing to war with South Sudan citing challenges facing the army.

In South Kordofan and Blue Nile States, along the contested border with South Sudan, the regime has for several months been at war with ethnic minority insurgents who fought alongside the former rebels now ruling in Juba.

The dispute between the two countries currently centers on sharing the fruits of oil produced in the landlocked South Sudan but can only be exported through the pipelines and refineries running in the territories of Sudan.

Sudan decided late last year to start confiscating part of the oil pumped by South Sudan as payment in kind to satisfy financial arrears. This prompted Juba to retaliate by shutting down oil production.

All negotiations aimed at reaching an agreement on how much fee should the south pay per barrel of oil have collapsed. The most recent attempt was made by Ethiopian president Meles Zenawi last week along with other African leaders in Addis Ababa.

Bashir today recounted mediation efforts that Zenawi has undertaken to bridge differences between him and South Sudan president Salva Kiir. He claimed that the latter initially informed Zenawi that he will sign a framework agreement, put together by the African Union (AU) mediation team, before backpedaling later.

According to Bashir, Kiir presented “incapacitating” demands in Addis Ababa including conceding ownership of Abyei and five other border regions before he can sign the accord.

Because of this the Sudanese president asserted that South Sudan “have not signed and will not sign”.

He further said that officials in Juba are insensitive to the needs of their own people saying that South Sudan is suffering from famine. Bashir also accused South Sudan officials of stashing part of the oil money into their own personal bank accounts.

Bashir, who came to power in a bloodless coup in 1989, said that South Sudan officials are hanging their bets on shutting the oil to strangle his regime economically and cause its downfall.

“Their calculations was that if Sudan loses oil for two months then that will be sufficient for toppling the government,” he said.

But the Sudanese president said that while 2012 will be a difficult year for the economy but that growing gold exports, cotton and sugar should compensate for the loss of the south’s oil since last July’s country’s breakup. He also revealed that “friendly” countries are also providing help.

The Sudanese pound recently sank on the black market to five pounds to the dollar, but Bashir said the government wants that raised to three pounds.

‘NO GUARDIANSHIP’

Asked about memos submitted by large number yet unknown members of the National Congress Party (NCP) calling for reforms, Bashir called it “valueless”.

The memos that have emerged in December called for an overhaul of state policies including fighting corruption, establishment of a citizenship-based state and banning the combination of party positions with government ones.

A visibly tense Bashir said that the number of those behind the memos is negligible compared to the total NCP membership which he said exceeds 5 million.

He accused some unnamed circles within the NCP of seeking to act as guardians of the party.

“There is no guardianship on the NCP from the memo signers or those who claim that they are the people who can pull or untie strings [in the party]” Bashir said.

He said that some within the NCP think that if they are not consulted in decisions then they would come out to say that the party is not democratic. Bashir also warned that those who are proved to be affiliated with the reform memos can be held accountable.

The NCP chief said that decision making occurs through the general convention which elects its top officials and the party bodies.

(ST)