President Obama on Monday attempted to defuse tensions between Sudan and South Sudan that have ignited international concern that the African neighbors are teetering on the brink of an all-out war.
In a phone conversation with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit, Mr. Obama said the fledgling nation’s military must exercise maximum restraint.
Mr. Obama “expressed concern about the growing tensions between South Sudan and Sudan, especially the violent clashes along their shared border and renewed fighting in Southern Kordofan state,” the White House said.
The president also emphasized the importance of avoiding unilateral actions and asked Mr. Mayardit to ensure that South Sudan’s military is not involved in the fighting along the border or supporting rebels in Southern Kordofan.
Fighting has escalated in the past week between Sudanese and South Sudanese forces in Unity state along the disputed border. Sudan’s armed forces also are fighting southern rebels in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states north of the border.
The conflict in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, which has created 140,000 refugees, also threatens to drag the two nations to war.
Sudan accuses South Sudan of supporting southern rebels in these states in the Nuba Mountains. South Sudan denies the accusations.
Meanwhile, Princeton Lyman, the U.S. special envoy for Sudan, warned that any attack on oil facilities near the border could exacerbate the conflict.
“It’s very important that both sides be extremely careful under the current tensions and fighting at the border, that neither crosses the line of attacking oil installations, because I think that would deepen the conflict very much,” Mr. Lyman said in a conference call with reporters.
A spokesman for South Sudan’s army said Sudanese troops already were targeting oil fields and installations in the oil-rich Heglig region.
“There is no more evidence [of the north’s plans to attack the oil installations] than the fighting itself,” Col. Philip Aguer said in a phone interview.
“We have been abiding by the cease-fire. … It is the government in Khartoum that has declared war.”
An official in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, said his government has no intention of going to war.
“War is not our strategy,” Al-Obeid Murawih, a spokesman for the Sudanese Foreign Ministry, said in a phone interview. “But we will retaliate if there is any force from the outside.
“There is bombardment from both sides - politically and militarily,” he added.