KHARTOUM/JUBA/WASHINGTON: Sudan’s parliament branded South Sudan an “enemy” Monday and demanded the army swiftly recapture a disputed oil-producing region, as escalating border tensions brought the former civil war foes closer to another full-blown conflict.South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan in July, seized the disputed Heglig oil field last Tuesday, prompting its northern neighbor to vow to recapture the area by “all means.”
The oil field 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 succession.
Addressing Sudan’s parliament, speaker Ahmad Ibrahim al-Tahir accused the South’s ruling party – the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – 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 then went on to adopt a resolution describing the SPLM government as “an enemy,” but it did not spell out the full effects of the decision.
South Sudan’s Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin called the decision “ludicrous.”
“How can they call us an enemy?” he said. South Sudan insists Heglig is rightfully part of the South and says it will not withdraw its troops unless the United Nations deploys a neutral force to monitor a cease-fire.
It accused Khartoum Sunday of reducing the oil facility “to rubble” in an airstrike, an accusation denied by Sudan.
“If any damage has occurred in Heglig it may have been on the part of the army of South Sudan,” Sudan’s Information Minister Abdallah Ali Masar said.
Both sides regularly make conflicting claims and limited access to the remote region makes it difficult to independently verify their statements.
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 border, division of national debt and the status of citizens in each other’s territory.
South Sudan’s military spokesman Philip Aguer said the South’s armed forces had brought 14 prisoners of war to Juba Sunday, the first to arrive in the South’s capital since the fighting in Heglig began.
He said Sudan’s army had also shelled a location in the west of South Sudan’s Upper Nile state Sunday. “The army is trying to open other fronts,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kouider Zerrouk, a United Nations spokesman, said a U.N. camp in the Mayom area of South Sudan’s Unity state had been hit during aerial bombardment of the area Sunday.
Zerrouk said no one was wounded at the camp, known as a “county support base,” but a radio room was damaged. Sudan’s military spokesman and Foreign Ministry spokesman were not immediately available to comment.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice described the bombing 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 Monday.
The United States also urged the two countries to halt rising hostilities and resume talks. The State Department said its special envoy on Sudan, Princeton Lyman, met in Juba with the South’s President Salva Kiir as the United States presses the young U.S.-backed nation to withdraw from Heglig.
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.
“It is better to give the money to the army to defend our country,” senior deputy Joy Kwaje told reporters after deputies approved a resolution to support the armed forces and a general mobilization of the military.