South Sudan said Sudanese planes bombed an oil field in Unity state as a meeting between the two countries’ leaders was canceled following border clashes.
There was no apparent damage to the oil field, Unity state’s information minister, Gideon Gatpan, said today by phone. Al-Sawarami Khaled, a spokesman for Sudan’s army, had his phone switched off when called seeking comment.
Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir called off a planned April 3 meeting with his South Sudanese counterpart, Salva Kiir, Foreign Ministry spokesman al-Obeid Murawih said today by phone from Khartoum, because of the violence. They were due to meet in newly independent South Sudan’s capital, Juba, to sign agreements on protecting the rights of citizens in both countries and on border demarcation.
“I think it’s possible that there is a split in Khartoum,” Jonah Leff, an analyst with the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, said in an emailed response to questions. “However, Bashir was never comfortable with the idea of arriving on Juba soil, so I doubt he thought twice about canceling the trip.”
South Sudan yesterday accused Sudan’s military of bombing its forces in the disputed area of Jaw along the border between Unity state and the north’s Southern Kordofan state. South Sudan’s army spokesman, Philip Aguer, also reported fighting around the oil-rich area of Heglig.
Sudanese army spokesman Khaled yesterday denied his forces attacked Jaw and reported “minor clashes” between the armies.
Bashir Still Welcome
South Sudan’s government spokesman, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, said Sudan has not yet informed the authorities in Juba of its intention to cancel the summit. Bashir was still welcome, he said.
Benjamin told reporters in Juba today that “hawks” within Sudan’s government were responsible for inciting attacks in order to derail the peace process and prevent Bashir from visiting South Sudan to meet with Kiir.
The countries have been embroiled in disputes over oil, borders and citizenship rights since the south gained independence in July, assuming control of three-quarters of the formerly united country’s crude output of 490,000 barrels a day.
The crude is pumped mainly by China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPZ), Malaysia’s Petroliam Nasional Bhd. (PET) and India’s ONGC Videsh Ltd.
Members of al-Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) are probably bitter about losing control of the oil, said Leff.
“I can imagine that a large proportion of the NCP do not want to negotiate over the riches that they once controlled,” he said. “I would expect for them to continue using aggressive means to recapture the borderlands.”
One of the two accords the presidents had agreed to sign would have required the formation of a joint committee and technical team to manage and implement border demarcation.
Pagan Amum, the south’s chief negotiator, told reporters in Juba on March 25 that the meeting could open the way for a deal to resume crude production, which South Sudan halted in late January after accusing Khartoum of stealing its oil.
Khartoum said it confiscated the crude to make up for fees owed by the landlocked south for use of a pipeline and processing facilities in its territory.
Sudan and South Sudan signed a non-aggression pact last month aimed at easing border tensions and stopping support to militia groups on either side of the border. The agreement has failed to prevent border clashes, and both sides claimed rebel militia groups took part in yesterday’s attacks.
“What this latest episode does show is the continued fragility of the North-South relationship, and once more demonstrates that even with formal agreements in place, volatile situations can deteriorate very rapidly,” Aly Verjee, a senior researcher with the Nairobi-based Rift Valley Institute, said in an e-mailed response to questions.
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