ADDIS ABABA/JUBA/KHARTOUM /WASHINGTON: The U.S. is asking China to use its influence with Sudan’s president to press for an end to rising violence that threatens a landmark peace deal and South Sudan’s plans to declare independence next month, as fresh clashes between Northern and Southern armies erupted Friday on the country’s tense border.
The State Department said Thursday it wants China to urge Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to abide by the terms of the 2005 peace agreement that ended Sudan’s two-decade North-South civil war and led to a secession vote by the South.
Bashir is to visit China later this month amid a surge in fighting around disputed border areas that has raised fears of a renewed war.
The United Nations confirmed that there had been an exchange of heavy artillery fire coming from the direction of the Kiir, or Bahr al-Arab river, which runs through the Abyei region Thursday, where similar clashes reportedly took place Wednesday.
“This morning we received a report that the SAF [Sudanese Armed Forces – Northern army] were trying to move southward into Warrap state,” in South Sudan, Philip Aguer, the spokesman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army of the South, told AFP.
“There was fighting between Abyei and Agok [45 kilometers south] … But our forces repelled them and drove them back toward Abyei,” he said, adding that the Northern army had deployed all along the North-South border.
Northern troops overran the contested Abyei region on May 21, in response to an attack on a convoy of SAF troops and U.N. peacekeepers, in which at least 22 Northern troops were killed and which was blamed on the South.
The move prompted around 113,000 people, mostly pro-Southern Dinka Ngok farmers, to flee to the South, according to the latest U.N. estimates.
Aguer said Friday that five SAF soldiers had been killed and seven SPLA troops wounded in the fighting that broke out two days ago, near the river, but the SAF spokesman denied the Northern army’s involvement in any clashes with Southern troops.
“The SPLA has to find out who is fighting them South of the Bahr al-Arab,” said Sawarmi Khaled Saad.
Abyei is the most sensitive and intractable of a raft of issues that the two future states are struggling to resolve ahead of the South’s formal declaration of independence from the North on July 9.
But very little progress appears to have been made on these issues, despite Sudan’s two presidents agreeing “in principle” earlier this week to withdraw Sudanese troops from Abyei and deploy Ethiopian peacekeepers.
President Barack Obama met Thursday with his special envoy to Sudan, two days after recording an audio message to the Sudanese people, appealing for calm.
Meanwhile the United Nations is sending peacekeeper reinforcements to South Kordofan and has turned its main base there into a safe haven for refugees, U.N. officials said Thursday.
Over 120 Bangladeshi troops will lead reinforcements sent to Kadugli, the state’s main city where Khartoum government troops are battling forces loyal to Southern Sudan which is on the verge of forming a breakaway nation.
France’s U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said a Security Council meeting had been told how Kadugli Cathedral had been razed and other churches burned during fighting and that the area around the main base of the U.N. mission, UNMIS, has become a “focus” of the fighting.
A U.N. peacekeeping spokesman said the company of Bangladesh troops had been sent to Kadugli and that the area around the U.N. compound had become a safe haven to protect civilians.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy told the Security Council that up to 6,000 people were camped out around the base. The United Nations estimates that 60,000 have been displaced by the fighting in South Kordofan alone, including about 70 percent of the population of Kadugli.
The Security Council is to get a briefing Monday from former South African President Thabo Mbeki and U.N. envoy Haile Menkerios on attempts to seal a peace deal between the North and South governments.