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S Sudan not at war with Sudan – minister

2012-04-19 16:41

Juba - South Sudan is not at war with Khartoum despite Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's vow to teach its rival neighbour "a lesson by force", a minister said on Thursday.

"The Republic of South Sudan is not in the state of war, nor is it interested in war with Sudan," but in peaceful relations and two viable states, South Sudan's Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told reporters.

"The Republic of South Sudan considers Sudan as a neighbour and friendly nation, not an enemy."

Bashir has upped war rhetoric in the wake of clashes that erupted last month with Juba's seizure of the disputed Heglig oilfield on 10 April, and escalated last week with waves of aerial bombardment hitting the South.

Sudan's parliament has voted to declare Juba an "enemy" and Bashir has called the Southern government "insects".

"The resolution of Sudan's national assembly declaring the Republic of South Sudan as an enemy is unfortunate, and amounts to a declaration of war," Benjamin added.

Southern troops are entrenched in positions around the contested oil field, which provided half of Sudan's crude before its loss, a huge blow to Khartoum's already faltering economy.

AFP reporters who have visited the battle zone say dead bodies and destroyed tanks are strewn around.

Sudan has vowed to recapture the area, while the South has said it will pull out only after Khartoum withdraws from the neighbouring disputed Abyei region.

In addition, the South has said it wants international monitors along the volatile border, including in Heglig - which the South calls Panthou - suggestions dismissed by Khartoum.

South Sudan "is committed to peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues, including Panthou [Heglig] and other disputed areas", Benjamin said.

The United Nations, the United States and the European Union have criticised the South's occupation of Heglig but have equally denounced Sudan's air strikes against the South.

There are widespread fears that the fighting will spread.

It is already the worst violence since South Sudan won independence in July after a 1983-2005 civil war in which some two million people died.