- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The president of South Sudan on Tuesday accused Sudan of declaring war on his country after fighter jets dropped more than half a dozen bombs overnight in a border area.

A spokesman for the Sudanese government in Khartoum, however, claimed the north was acting in self-defense and denied that Sudan had bombed the South.

U.S. officials condemned the aerial bombardments and supported assertions made by southern officials that these attacks occurred inside South Sudan.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Sudan must immediately halt the aerial and artillery bombardments.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called the bombardments “reprehensible” and said civilians were targeted.

“They are causing casualties all over the place, and they are obviously gross violations of international law, and we continue to call for an immediate cessation,” she said.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, on a visit to China, told President Hu Jintao that “Khartoum has declared war” on the world’s newest nation.

South Sudan became independent from Sudan on July 9 last year. Since then, the two neighbors have had a tense relationship exacerbated by a failure to define a common border and by a dispute about the distribution of the South’s oil.

Clashes between the armies of Sudan and South Sudan this month have brought the two countries to the brink of an all-out war.

South Sudanese troops this month seized control of the oil-rich Heglig region, north of the disputed border. Western officials accused the South of escalating tensions.

South Sudanese officials said their actions were justified and that Sudanese troops were using Heglig as a base to attack targets in the South.

On Friday, Mr. Kiir bowed to international pressure and announced that his troops would withdraw from Heglig within 72 hours.

Sudanese President Omar Bashir claimed victory and called his neighbors in the South “insects.”

In a visit to the border region Monday, he vowed not to negotiate with South Sudan “because they don’t understand anything but the language of the gun and ammunition.”

A spokesman for the Sudanese Foreign Ministry in Khartoum said his country had no intention of starting a war with South Sudan and denied that Sudanese armed forces had bombarded territory in the South.

“If they are talking about aerial bombardments, that is not right,” Alobeid Murawih said in a phone interview.

“It is not true that we have declared war against South Sudan,” he added. “We are still defending ourselves and taking necessary measures to push foreign troops out of our country and deal with the rebels from South Sudan.”

Mr. Murawih said the Sudanese armed forces are in full control of Heglig after a battle in which more than 1,000 soldiers from the South were killed.

South Sudanese officials refuted such claims.

“We withdrew from Heglig because we didn’t want to see a return to war with Sudan,” said Agnes Oswaha, South Sudan’s top diplomat at the United Nations. “Our decision was an act of peace.”

Both Sudan and South Sudan claim Heglig.

In 2009, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, an international organization based in The Hague, determined that Heglig was not part of the disputed border area of Abyei.

“It is a common misperception that The Hague decision said Heglig is part of the north,” said Jonathan Temin, director of the Sudan program at the United States Institute of Peace.

“Heglig is subject to the north-south border demarcation process,” he added.

South Sudanese officials, who refer to Heglig as Panthou, say it belongs to the South and that Sudan staked its claim to the region only after oil was discovered there in the 1980s.

A State Department official declined to say whether the Obama administration recognizes Heglig as disputed territory.

“The United States recognizes that Sudan and South Sudan have not finalized the number and size of disputed areas along their shared border,” said the official, who spoke on background.

“There is a mechanism to resolve these disputes through negotiations through the African Union High-level Implementation Panel processes.”

In Beijing, Mr. Kiir sought to win Chinese investment in an oil pipeline that would allow South Sudan to end its dependence on infrastructure in Sudan.

In January, South Sudan stopped the flow of oil from its oil fields to refineries in Sudan after a dispute about payments to Khartoum. This decision deprived South Sudan of 98 percent of its revenue; Sudan lost 95 percent.

China wields considerable clout in Khartoum and Juba, the South’s capital. Chinese companies, along with those from India and Malaysia, dominate the oil and petrochemicals sector in Sudan and South Sudan.

The Obama administration has been working closely with Beijing to try to prevent a full-fledged war between Sudan and South Sudan.

China has investments throughout the area and also benefits from stability,” Ms. Nuland said. “So we have been working to enlist Beijing and to work together on a common message.”

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