|Pagan Amum, right, South Sudan’s chief negotiator says his country does not want hostilities to escalate [AFP]
Talks aimed at resolving days of border clashes between Sudan and South Sudan have been delayed as the two sides pledged not to allow the conflict to escalate into a full-blown war.
Thursday’s talks, to be held under the auspices of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, were delayed because chief mediator Thabo Mbeki had not yet arrived.
He is now due to arrive on Saturday, Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Vall reported from Khartoum.
“Delegations from the two countries are already in Addis Ababa, waiting for the start of those talks,” Vall said.
Pagan Amum, South Sudan’s chief negotiator, told the AFP news agency by telephone that the aim of the talks was to “pursue peace” and prevent an escalation of hostilities into “fully fledged war”.
Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, told an Arab League summit on Thursday that Khartoum wants good relations with the newly independent South.
“We are committed to go forward in resolving these pending issues with our southern neighbours, through understanding, to reach good relations,” Bashir told the gathering in Baghdad, which opened with a call for peace from UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
“The enemies of peace were pushing South Sudan to attack,” Bashir said. South Sudan contends that the latest clashes were initiated by Sudanese forces.
Both sides have accused each other of starting the fighting near the Heglig oilfield, the worse violence since South Sudan declared independence from Khartoum last July, after decades of civil war.
South Sudan said northern bombers and troops had struck first on Monday, moving into Unity State before Southern troops fought back and took the Heglig oil field, parts of which are claimed by both countries.
Sudan later recaptured the field.
A Sudanese army spokesman told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that the situation was calm on the front where fighting had been occurring, and a Sudanese foreign ministry spokesman said that the country would not bomb South Sudanese positions.
“We are not going to make any sort of shelling or any sort of bombing in South Sudanese territory,” ministry spokesman Al-Obeid Meruh told the AFP news agency. “We are not for the war now and we are not going to widen the war area.”
Colonel Phillip Aguer, a South Sudanese military spokesman, said that the country’s troops had “disengaged and withdrawn” from the contested area.
Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri, in Juba, the South Sudanese capital, reported that things were calm at Heglig on Thursday.
“Sudanese have shown journalists what they say are military vehicles belonging to the South. We’ve spoken to the South Sudanese government, and they say that although things have become calmer, they’re concerned about tensions in that area, but they do not want any confrontation right now,” she said.
Majak Agot, the South Sudanese defence minister who will be taking part in the talks in Addis Ababa, said:
“We’ve issued orders to redeploy our forces and disengage from the clashes with the Sudanese armed forces, because fighting is neither our policy nor our strategy in resolving issues, including the disputed areas.”
The AU and the UN Security Council have called for an end to the violence. Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said Khartoum bore the responsibility for the renewed hostilities.
The European Union (EU) also joined in a call for an end to clashes between the neighbouring nations.
“Recent cross-border attacks and continued aerial bombing represent a dangerous escalation of an already tense situation,” a statement from the office of Catherine Ashton, foreign policy chief for the EU, said.