Continuing clashes in an oil-rich area of the Sudan-South Sudan border have led to the suspension of a summit aimed at cooling tensions in the region.
Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, on Tuesday suspended an April 3 summit with his southern counterpart following the renewed clashes between the two countries’ armies on the border.
“The government announced that it suspended Bashir’s visit to Juba after the South Sudanese army attacked Heglig,” state radio reported.
Comments by the South’s leader Salva Kiir that his troops had taken the northern oil centre “reflected extreme hatred to Sudan,” the official SUNA news agency quoted Abdullah Ali Massar, the information minister, as saying.
Massar said South Sudan had engaged in “deceptive and misleading acts” when it signed accords with Khartoum at African Union-led talks in Ethiopia, and when last week it invited Bashir to the summit.
South Sudan, however, blamed its northern neighbour for the latest clashes.
“This morning the [Sudanese] air force came and bombed….areas in Unity state,” Kiir said.
“It is a war that has been imposed on us again, but is they [Khartoum] who are looking for it,” he said.
Unity State Minister of Information Gideon Gatpan said Sudan dropped at least three bombs near oil fields in the town of Bentiu. Gatpan said the extent of any damage was not immediately known.
“The information as of late this afternoon coming from security sources inside Unity state was that although most of the aerial bombardment had stopped, there was ongoing fighting on the ground between the Sudanese army and South Sudanese forces, particularly around the Heglig oil field,” Al Jazeera’s Peter Greste reported from Juba, the South Sudanese capital.
“The situation remains very volatile indeed on the ground and politically as well.”
There were also clashes a day earlier in the disputed border town of Jau.
‘Brink of war’
Jonathan Hutson, the communications director with Enough Project, an organisation dedicated to ending genocide and crimes against humanity, said there is a possibility that the conflict escalates into a full-scale war, but that it is not clear “who the aggressor is”.
“But what’s clear if you monitor social media is that voices both from the north [Sudan] and the south [South Sudan], is that ordinary people are asking their governments to step back from the and brink of war and return to peace talks,” he told Al Jazeera.
“What needs to happen is a comprehensive peace deal that addresses all underlying issues. They need to demarcate the border, decide how to share oil revenue, have a ceasefire in South Kordofan and stop the humanitarian blockade of food and medicine to the people of the Nuba mountains. All these issues need to be settled to have a durable peace.”
Ties between the two countries have been tense since South Sudan was carved out of Sudan in July last year as an independent nation.
Al Jazeera’s Greste said oil was at the heart of the issue between the two neighbours.
“There are vast oil reserves along those areas [of fighting],” he said, adding that other issues also at play include land and integrity.
Mohammed Atta al-Moula, the Sudanese national security and intelligence chief, has said, however, that his country does not want a return to all-out war.
“We hope this will be no full war,” said al-Moula. “We have no intentions beyond liberating our [occupied] land.”
The UN Security Council warned that the fighting could escalate into a new war.
“The Security Council call upon the governments of Sudan and South Sudan to exercise maximum restraint and sustain purposeful dialogue in order to address peacefully the issues that are fuelling the mistrust between the two countries,” the 15-nation council said in a statement.
Both countries claim parts of Heglig.The proposed talks between Bashir and Kiir had been aimed at easing tensions that pushed the two countries to the brink of war as recently as early March.