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Obama asks Kiir to distance South Sudan from South Kordofan conflict

April 2, 2012 (NAIROBI) – The President of the United States, Barack Obama, has urged his South Sudanese counterpart, Salva Kiir Mayardit, to ensure that Juba is not involved in supporting insurgency in Sudan’s border state of South Kordofan.

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Barack Obama meets with the South Sudan president, Salva Kiir Mayardit. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

South Sudan stands accused by Khartoum of supporting rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N), which has been fighting Sudanese government forces in South Kordofan and Blue Nile since last year.

But Juba denies supporting the rebels who fought as part of South Sudan’s main rebel group - now the country’s official army - during the second Sudanese civil war, which ended in 2005 with a peace deal that paved the way for the secession of South Sudan in July last year.

A press release issued by the White House revealed that Obama spoke with Kiir on Monday and talked about developments in relations between Sudan and South Sudan.

The release said that Obama expressed concern about the growing tensions between the two neighbors, “especially the violent clashes along their shared border and renewed fighting in Southern Kordofan State.”

Last week, Sudan and South Sudan plunged into a cycle of military confrontations that started when the southern army known as SPLA attacked Sudan’s oil-rich town of Heglig on Monday. Kiir claimed the attack was provoked by the Sudanese army (SAF).

The clashes followed an unusual period of diplomatic calm during which the two countries initialed two agreements on nationality and borders as part of wider negotiations on a host of post-secession issues.

In the wake of fighting in Heglig, Khartoum called off a summit planned to be held on 3 April between the Sudanese President Omer Al-Bashir and Kiir in Juba.

In their conversation, Obama asked Kiir to ensure that South Sudan’s military “exercises maximum restraint and is not involved in or supporting fighting along the border, particularly in Southern Kordofan,” the release said.

This is not the first time South Sudan receives such request. On 28 March, a spokesman for the US state department urged South Sudan to stop arming Sudanese rebels.

"We are urging both parties to cease all military activity along the border, because it is a flashpoint that could become even more dangerous and escalate out of control," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

The White House said that Obama had also urged Kiir to “build on the recent achievements” of nationality and citizenship agreements, expressing hope that Al-Bashir and Kiir will meet soon at a summit.

Obama also “emphasized the importance of South Sudan and Sudan reaching an agreement on oil”, the release added.

Oil lies at the heart of current tension between Khartoum and Juba. Months of negotiations between the two sides failed to hammer out a deal on a fair charge to transport South Sudan’s oil via Sudan.

The dispute escalated in January when Khartoum began confiscating southern oil in lieu of what it alleges are unpaid fees. In response, South Sudan shut down oil production and moved to explore options of another transit route.