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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

War looms as Khartoum parliament brands Juba an ‘enemy’

Sudan’s parliament branded South Sudan an “enemy” on Monday and called for a swift recapture of a disputed oil-producing region, as rising border tensions pushed the old civil war foes closer to another full-blown conflict. The United States, meanwhile, condemned the bombing of a U.N. base in the south.

South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan last July, seized the contested Heglig oilfield last Tuesday, prompting its northern neighbor to vow to recapture the area by “all means.”

The oilfield is vital to Sudan’s economy, producing about half of the 115,000 barrel-per-day output that remained in its control after South Sudan’s secession, according to Reuters.

Addressing the Khartoum parliament, speaker Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir accused the South’s ruling party -- the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) -- of posing a security threat to the north.

“We declare that we will confront the SPLM until we end its rule of the South, and will work to gather our resources to realize this aim,” he said. “We are in a battle that does not finish with the recovery of Heglig, but with an end to the danger that comes from South Sudan.”

The assembly went on to adopt a resolution describing the SPLM government as “an enemy,” but it did not spell out the full implications of the decision.

Fresh airstrikes

The unanimous parliamentary vote on Monday came as South Sudan in turn accused Khartoum of fresh airstrikes that killed 10 civilians and also hit a United Nations peacekeeping camp.

Sudan denied having any links to the bombing of the U.N. compound, an attack condemned by the United States on the seventh day of the most severe border fighting since South Sudan separated last July.

“Sudan’s army didn’t have any link with what’s going on in Unity state in South Sudan,” army spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad was quoted as saying by the official SUNA news agency.

“The army is defending its land after aggression from South Sudanese troops and doesn’t take any responsibility for what’s going on outside Sudanese territory.”

U.N. mission spokesman Kouider Zerrouk confirmed the attack on the peacekeepers’ camp but said there were no casualties and it was unlikely the U.N. was targeted, as the Antonov aircraft used by Sudan are notoriously inaccurate, according to AFP.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice described the bombing which hit the U.N. camp as “particularly condemnable and deplorable.”

“This is obviously a subject of grave concern as is the South’s continued presence in Heglig and a myriad of violent confrontations in and around the border area and deep into both countries territory,” she told reporters on Monday, according to Reuters.

“We strongly condemn the bombing by the Sudan armed forces of the U.N. mission in South Sudan,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington.

The State Department earlier condemned U.S.-allied South Sudan for seizing Sudan’s oil hub of Heglig.

Fighting over Heglig

Fighting broke out last month between the rival armies of Khartoum and Juba around Sudan’s main oilfield, called Heglig.

The clashes escalated last week with waves of aerial bombardment hitting the South, whose troops on Tuesday seized Heglig from Khartoum’s army.

Although South Sudan disputes that Heglig belongs to Sudan, the area is not among the roughly 20 percent of the border officially contested.

In the Southern capital Juba, Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said the vote by Sudan’s parliament was “unfortunate.”

“We have never been their enemy -- our position is that we don’t consider them as our enemy,” he told reporters.

Meanwhile aid workers said the fighting is worsening an already grim humanitarian situation.

In South Sudan’s Yida refugee camp -- one of several along the border -- around 400 refugees are arriving every day, up from an average of 50 a day last week, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) aid agency said.

Those refugees are fleeing civil war and hunger in the Nuba mountains of Sudan’s South Kordofan state, an area close to where Sudan and South Sudan have been fighting.

In South Kordofan, Sudan has for months been battling ethnic insurgents formerly allied with the rebels now ruling in South Sudan.

Violence escalates

Nineteen South Sudanese soldiers have been killed since Tuesday, while 240 Sudanese troops have lost their lives, Juba’s army said in figures impossible to verify.

“It’s a war,” a foreign diplomat said, but there is a logistical imbalance between the combatants since South Sudan has no warplanes, meaning “they are obliged to respond on the ground.”

Questions are being raised in Khartoum over how easily Southern forces managed to seize Sudan’s main oilfield, worsening an economy mired in crisis.

The Sudanese military is already severely stretched, in the face of the major insurgency in South Kordofan, a smaller uprising in Blue Nile, and ongoing fighting in the war-ravaged Darfur region.

China said on Monday that South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir will visit from April 23 to 28 for talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Beijing is an ally of the Sudanese government and the largest buyer of South Sudan’s oil. Last week it called on both sides to enact a ceasefire and return to the diplomacy table.

Other world powers have also called for restraint and voiced deep concern at the escalating violence.

Khartoum seeks the South’s unconditional withdrawal from Heglig.

But Juba has said it will not pull back unless Khartoum removes its troops from the contested Abyei region nearby, among other conditions.

In Juba, South Sudan’s parliament decided to raise military spending and bolster the army by cutting salaries of all deputies by 10 percent for three months.

The clashes have all but killed hopes the two can reach an agreement soon on disputed issues such as demarcation of their 1,800-km (1,200-mile) border, division of national debt and the status of citizens in each other's territory.

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