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Sudan blames South for aiding rebels in attack
The tension is rising between the government in Khartoum and the recently independent South Sudan, with both sides blaming each other for sponsoring rebels and torpedoing a long-awaited oil agreement.
Rebels claimed on Monday to have killed 150 soldiers in the Sudanese border province of South Kordofan, in an incident that highlights the ongoing violence in the oil-rich region and escalating tensions between Khartoum and the newly-independent South Sudan.
Khartoum blamed South Sudan’s army for participating in the attack. “The responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of [the South Sudanese government in] Juba. From our point of view their involvement is very clear. All military options are now on the table,” Abdelrahmen Elzouma, a spokesman for Sudan’s ruling NCP party, told FRANCE 24.
Elzouma referred to a non-aggression pact signed by representatives of Khartoum and Juba this month. Any involvement of southern forces would have violated that agreement, but Juba staunchly maintained that it was not sponsoring rebels.
The conflict in Southern Kordofan has pit Sudanese security forces and militias loyal to Khartoum against rebels liked to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N)—a breakaway group of the political party that is in power in Juba.
Southerners have also blamed Khartoum for encouraging rebel groups operating within its territory.
Reacting to Khartoum’s accusations, South Sudanese army spokesman Colonel Phillip Aguer told reporters that southerners were not behind the attack. “The fighting… was purely a clash between coalition of Sudanese rebel groups within Sudanese territory. The SPLA did not in any way take part,” Aguer was quoted by the Sudan Tribune as saying.
But NCP’s Elzouma insisted other southern officials had boasted of their involvement in the rebel strike in other statements to the local press. “Trying to say that this is an internal [Sudanese] conflict is baseless,” Elzouma said by phone from Khartoum.
Rebels claiming responsibility for the attack told the Reuters news agency they had also captured hundreds of machine guns, dozens of heavy artillery and 200 vehicles from the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in Sunday’s offensive. However, independent verification of claims by either rebels or the SAF were almost impossible to verify.
No peace for the border
Despite the peaceful independence of South Sudan in July 2011, a new wave of violence has engulfed the loosely-defined border region between the two Sudans. Fighting erupted in the disputed and oil-rich area of Abyei in May, in Southern Kordofan in June, and the Blue Nile state in September.
The SPLM-N claims it cut ties with the South after independence, but Khartoum says Juba continues to fund the rebels.
According to a Human Rights Watch report published in January, Sudanese soldiers arrested suspected SPLM-N supporters during house-to-house searches in the Southern Kordofan capital town of Kadugli last year. The New York-based rights group also said security forces had looted and burned churches and homes in Kadugli in June.
Fighting between the government and fighters linked to the SPLM-North then spread to the Blue Nile in September, the report said, with bombing by government forces causing “tens of thousands of people to flee to neighbouring Ethiopia and South Sudan.”
The United Nations has warned that there could be a famine in the region unless urgent aid is allowed to enter South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
China as mediator
Tempers also flared on Tuesday over an unresolved dispute. While Juba has accused Khartoum of “confiscating” southern oil, Sudan’s government has slammed the fledgling nation for torpedoing negotiations on oil transit fees.
Sudan Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti, told reporters the African Union held the key to solving the impasse over oil revenue sharing between the two nations. Unsurprisingly, Karti invited China National Petroleum Corp, among other Asian firms, to help mediate.
The disagreements that threaten to draw the SAF and SPLA back into war have served to reinforce China’s position in the region, allowing the Asian giant to emerge as a potential broker between the two sides.
This month Beijing successfully negotiated the release of 29 Chinese workers who were captured in late January by SPLM-N forces. Arnu Ngutulu Lodi, the spokesman for the rebel group, told AFP at the time that his group asked Beijing to use its influence with Khartoum to help badly needed aid to reach the war zone.
China is Sudan's major trading partner, the largest buyer of Sudanese oil and a key military supplier. Despite Sudan’s indictment by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and genocide, China has maintained close ties with Khartoum. It is also the biggest investor of oil facilities in South Sudan.