- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2011

Southern Sudan’s president on Thursday pledged not to return to war with the north, even as northern troops were reported to be amassing near the border.

Over the weekend, northern Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) troops entered the oil-rich region of Abyei, which straddles the border that will divide a future nation of South Sudan from the north. Both sides have staked a claim to Abyei.

In his first public comments since the trouble erupted, Salva Kiir, the president of South Sudan, said he would not lead the south into another conflict with the north.

“We will not go back to war. It will not happen,” Mr. Kiir said at a news conference in southern Sudan’s capital of Juba.

Western officials also discount the possibility of another civil war.

The north and the south fought a two-decade long war that cost 2 million lives and ended with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

The agreement set out conditions for a referendum on southern independence, which was held in January. Southerners voted overwhelmingly for secession, and a new country is expected to be formed on July 9.

A second referendum, on the fate on Abyei, was not held.

Meanwhile, the Satellite Sentinel Project, which has been monitoring developments in Sudan with the aim of deterring the resumption of a civil war, said northern troops equipped with heavy armor and artillery were likely preparing for deployment to southern areas.

The SAF troops are at the El Obeid Barracks, about 270 miles from Abyei town.

“Based on analysis of available transportation logistics and the formation of the units, SSP has concluded that the forces there are capable of imminent forward movement,” the Satellite Sentinel Project said.

The force includes troop units of at least company size, towable artillery pieces, main battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and Heavy Equipment Transports capable of reaching Sudan’s north-south border or Abyei town in less than a day, it added.

“Unless the Sudan army withdraws from occupied territories and the conflict is deescalated, the new imagery reveals that the government of Sudan is prepared to intensify military operations in Abyei and along the contested border, where most of Sudan’s oil lies,” said John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project.

A southern official told The Washington Times that northern troops already had moved into other parts of the south.

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