Sudan and South Sudan are still supporting rebels in each other’s country as they prepare for a fresh round of talks this week over disputes that brought the two neighbors to the brink of war earlier this year.
The relationship between South Sudan and the United States, in particular, has become strained by reports of the south’s support for the rebels despite repeated American objections.
Sudan’s military is fighting the rebels, known as the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), in the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced in the year-old conflict, and the border region faces a humanitarian crisis.
Dozens of Sundanese troops and five rebels died in weekend fighting in South Kordofan. The SPLM-N said its fighters killed 61 soldiers.
The rebels are a vestige of an earlier rebellion led by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, which for 22 years fought a civil war against government forces that left more than 2 million dead. That conflict ended with a peace deal in 2005 and the independence of South Sudan on July 9 last year. Yet peace has been elusive between the African neighbors.
The Obama administration wants the Sudanese government to sign on to an African Union proposal that would demilitarize the border and facilitate monitoring of support from South Sudan for the rebels.
“If the government of Sudan would agree to the [African Union] map for demilitarization of the border, much of any such support to the SPLM-N from South Sudan could be monitored and reported to an investigative committee,” said Princeton Lyman, the U.S. special envoy for the two countries.
“It is hard to understand why they would not want to do so, if they feel that support to the SPLM-N from South Sudan endangers their security,” he added.
Sudan’s government opposed the AU plan because the document includes a map that puts a 14-mile area of disputed territory within South Sudan’s borders, said Al-Obeid Murawih, a spokesman for the Sudanese Foreign Ministry in a phone interview from the capital, Khartoum.
He said Sudan would accept the AU plan if the map is corrected.
“We are open to any solutions,” he added.
Talks between Sudan and South Sudan are scheduled in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Thursday. The rebel group fighting in South Kordofan and Blue Nile also will participate.
Support for the rebels has turned into a prickly issue between U.S. officials and their South Sudanese counterparts.
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir has insisted that his government cut off all ties to the group after his country became independent. The rebels get their arms from Sudanese forces they defeat in battle, he said on a visit to Washington in December.
Yet months after Mr. Kiir made these assertions, Western activists returning from the region said there was ample evidence of links between South Sudan’s army and the rebels.