Sudanese military aircraft bombed an oil field in neighboring South Sudan on Tuesday, causing an escalation in border violence that derailed an April presidential summit between the two nations.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Obama administration was “alarmed” by the conflict. He called on Sudanese President Omar Bashir and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit to meet as planned in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, on April 3.
However, Gen. Bashir responded to the latest clashes by scrapping his plans to travel to Juba.
Sudanese and South Sudanese officials blame each other for recent cross-border violence that led to Tuesday’s bombing around the oil-rich Heglig region that both sides claim.
“Sudanese military airplanes are still bombing around Heglig and fighting has reached [12 miles] from Bentiu,” said Col. Philip Aguer, a spokesman for South Sudan’s army.
Bentiu is the capital of South Sudan’s Unity State, which abuts the border with Sudan.
South Sudan broke away from Sudan last year, but the two nations still have disputes over the border and oil revenue.
The latest violence erupted after Sudanese Defense Minister Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein visited Sudanese troops along the border on Sunday, Col. Aguer said in a phone interview.
Following the visit, a Sudanese Armed Forces battalion moved closer to the border. On Monday, troops from both sides clashed in the disputed border town of Jau, he said.
“We are responding to aggression from Sudan,” Col. Aguer added.
Sudanese officials say South Sudan provoked the attack.
Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha, in an address on state television on Monday night, said the South Sudanese army had “targeted our oil and our army.”
South Sudan repeatedly makes false allegations against Sudan, said Seifeldin Omer Yasin, a spokesman for the Sudanese Embassy in Washington.
“What is factual, however, is the aggression against Sudan, one that South Sudan has openly admitted to,” he said.
“It is therefore the duty of the Sudan Armed Forces to respond to this blatant and unwarranted provocation.”
South Sudanese officials say hard-liners within Gen. Bashir’s government and the Sudanese Armed Forces want to scuttle efforts to make peace between the neighbors.
South Sudan became an independent nation on July 9 after a majority of southerners voted in a referendum in favor of secession from Sudan.
A two-decade civil war between the Arab Muslims of the north and the black Christians and animists of the south claimed about 2 million lives and ended in a 2005 peace deal.
“The intention of this group of hard-liners was to foil President Bashir’s visit to Juba, and it looks like they have succeeded,” said Col. Aguer.
The two presidents were expected to sign two agreements reached earlier this month in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. The first was on the status of southerners living in Sudan and northerners living in South Sudan. The second was on the demarcation of borders.
In his statement, Mr. Carney also expressed concern about the fighting between Sudanese Armed Forces and southern rebels in Sudan’s border state of Southern Kordofan.
He urged rebels in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states to exercise restraint and help restore peace. Sudan accuses the south of aiding the rebels. The government in Juba denies these allegations.
The United Nations estimates that more than half a million people have been forced to flee or been severely affected by the fighting in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan.
“Only through direct contact and negotiations over fundamental issues of security and border management in Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Abyei can Sudan and South Sudan avoid further fighting, achieve vitally needed economic cooperation, and coexist in peace,” Mr. Carney said.
South Sudanese officials said their invitation to Gen. Bashir to visit Juba still stands, and Mr. Yasin, the Sudanese Embassy spokesman, did not rule out the possibility of a presidential trip in the future