South Sudan’s president said Friday that his country is not arming rebels in two of Sudan’s border states, from where more than 50,000 refugees have fled fighting in recent months, according to U.N. estimates.
Salva Kiir Mayardit said South Sudan does not want to return to war with Sudan, despite the recent escalation in violence between the two African countries.
“We are not supporting” the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, Mr. Kiir told a small group of reporters in Washington, referring to rebels in Sudan’s border states of Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan.
Mr. Kiir heads the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which he said has distanced itself from rebels in Sudan after the referendum for South Sudan’s independence in January. He said his organization has asked the rebels to change the name of their group.
South Sudan won independence from Sudan on July 9 after two decades of civil war that killed about 2 million people.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s government has accused South Sudan of providing military support to the rebels in the border states.
U.S. officials have taken up the accusations with the South Sudanese. Princeton Lyman, U.S. special envoy to Sudan, said this week that U.S. officials had asked the government of South Sudan not to provide military assistance to the rebels.
“We have urged that the south not provide any military assistance to the SPLM-North fighting in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile,” he said in an interview. “There [are] a lot of accusations of [South Sudanese support for SPLM-North] and we have urged the south, if they are doing so, to desist.”
Mr. Kiir said there is no evidence to support the Khartoum government’s accusations. “It is something that nobody can prove. People are guessing,” he said.
Sudan’s armed forces have blocked all roads leading to the rebels in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, which makes it impossible that the rebels could be receiving any support from the south, Mr. Kiir added.
He said the rebels are armed with equipment that they had seized from Sudan’s armed forces. “If Bashir and his army are not able to defeat [the rebels], they should not blame it on us,” he said.
Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed concern Thursday that the conflict in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile threatens to spill over into South Sudan.
“There is no way to move forward while bombs are falling on villages in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and civilians are starving in the Nuba Mountains,” he said in remarks to the international engagement conference for South Sudan in Washington.
Mr. Kerry accused the Khartoum government of reverting to “its old and destructive habits of responding to political pressures from its marginalized populations with aerial bombardment and the denial of humanitarian access.”
Fighting between the north and south broke out in Jau in South Sudan earlier this month. Southern officials accused Sudanese forces of crossing into the south.
South Sudanese Foreign Minister Nhial Deng Nhial told the British Broadcasting Corp. that his country is on the brink of an all-out war with Sudan.
But South Sudan’s president dismissed such talk.
“We are not going to fight with the north,” Mr. Kiir said. “We have just come out of war, we want service deliveries to our people, that is the most important thing. … We don’t want war with the Republic of Sudan.”
Mr. Kiir was in Washington to attend a two-day international engagement conference this week aimed at wooing investors to his new nation.
South Sudan, which is the size of France, lacks basic amenities and infrastructure, including roads, schools and hospitals.
Besides the security situation, rampant corruption has been a significant deterrent for investors. Mr. Kiir spelled out his vision for his country, which includes good governance, transparency and accountability.
“The Republic of South Sudan is now opened for investors,” he said.