South Sudan withdraws forces from oilfield, but tensions prevail
Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir arrived in the southern oilfield town of Heglig, April 23, recently occupied by South Sudanese troops amid fears of all-out war between the two countries.
His arrival in Heglig marks a victory for Sudan, after South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir earlier had ordered his troops to withdraw from the area.
Mr Bashir said South Sudan’s forces were driven out by his army. “No negotiation with those people,” the AFP news agency quoted Mr Bashir as saying of the South Sudanese authorities on his arrival in Heglig. “Our talks with them were with guns and bullets,” he told soldiers.
The past few months have seen sporadic fighting in the oil-rich areas along the two countries’ undemarcated border, prompting fears the violence could escalate into war.
Earlier, Sudan’s parliament approved the mobilization of the armed forces and suspended negotiations with South Sudan after its newly independent neighbour moved its forces into Heglig.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir had already issued a decree forming a high-level committee for mobilization on 26 March.
The speaker of parliament, Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir, called for Sudan to overthrow the South Sudanese government, the AFP news agency reported.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged the leaders of both countries to resume negotiations immediately under the auspices of the African Union High-Level Panel to activate the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism. He reiterated his call on the Government of Sudan to stop the bombing of South Sudanese territory and urged both states to cease their support to each other’s rebel groups.
“This brings us back to the sad days of the civil war with South Sudan,” said Usamah Mohamed Ali, a software engineer, referring to 21-years of conflict which ended with the 2005 signing of a peace accord.
“Families used to hide their sons to keep them away from war and fighting, but at least at that time Sudan was economically well-off, so people could somehow swallow the government discourse of mobilizing young people to war to fight the enemy and achieve stability and welfare in Sudan.” But with a faltering economy and the government’s failure to reach a political solution, Ali believes Sudanese people can no longer buy into this rhetoric.
On April 12, Sudan’s information ministry flew foreign journalists to Talodi, a town in South Kordofan, a border state where government forces have been fighting rebels since June 2011.
Homes and other buildings in the town were burnt out. Officials blamed the damage on an assault by SPLA-N rebels, which Khartoum accuses of being backed by their former comrades now in power in South Sudan. The conflict in South Kordofan’s Nuba Mountains has displaced around 20,000 people across the border into South Sudan and severely disrupting agricultural production.