Sudan, South Sudan war fears loom

2012-04-11 16:22

Juba - Sudan and South Sudan on Wednesday ordered mass civilian mobilisations for defence as their armies battled along their contested border, raising the spectre of a return to all-out war.

A day after Southern troops seized the contested oil-producing Heglig region from Khartoum's army amid heavy artillery bombardments and air strikes, the parliaments in Juba and Khartoum called for preparation for conflict.

South Sudanese Speaker James Wani Igga told parliament: "Khartoum might be meaning a real war... If you don't defend yourself, you will be finished, so you should go and mobilise the people on [the] ground to be ready.

"[It] is an ugly development at the border. We have to be vigilant to all the points as they are attacking us in all corners," said Igga, a deputy chair of the South's ruling party, to loud applause by lawmakers.

Sudan's parliament called for a "mobilisation and alert" of the population, and halted African Union-led talks with Juba over their protracted dispute over oil, border demarcation, contested areas and citizenship issues.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir had already issued a decree forming a high-level committee for mobilisation on March 26, the same day a series of border clashes began, sparking international fears of full blown war.

The committee was tasked with preparing training camps for the paramilitary People's Defence Force, a pro-Khartoum militia which carried out some of the worst attacks during Sudan's 1983-2005 civil war.

Fierce fighting raged on Wednesday as Sudanese war planes bombed contested regions on the border with South Sudan, the second day of violence there.

South Sudanese troops held positions in the disputed Heglig oil field, seized on Tuesday from Khartoum's troops.

Heavy artillery

The clashes follow border fighting that erupted last month between the neighbours, the most serious unrest since Juba's independence last July.

On Tuesday, an AFP correspondent on the South Sudanese frontline heard heavy artillery shelling and multiple air strikes for around an hour, with one bomb dropped by aircraft landing less than a kilometre away.

Large South Sudanese troops movements were seen close to the frontier, with convoys heading up to the front-line near Heglig, an area Juba claims but which makes up a key part of Khartoum's oil production.

Senior officials met in crisis talks last week in the Ethiopian capital, but failed to sign an agreement on security, while negotiations on oil, a key driver of the conflict, are stalled.

In last month's clashes, Southern troops briefly held Heglig before retreating, with Khartoum claiming to have driven them back in a counter-attack.

Khartoum has vowed to react with "all means" against a three-pronged attack it said South Sudanese forces had launched against Sudan's South Kordofan state, including the Heglig oil field.

A statement on Khartoum's official Suna news agency warned of "destruction" in South Sudan.

Khartoum also claimed Southern forces were backed by rebel groups in Sudan, an allegation rejected by the fighters.

Hundreds of thousands of citizens of each nation living in the territory of the other country are also facing uncertain futures after a deadline requiring them to formalise their status expired at the weekend.

Over 370 000 Southerners have returned from Sudan since October 2010, but an estimated 500 000 remain in the north, while tens of thousands of Sudanese are believed to live in the South.

Read more on:    omar al-bashir  |  sudan  |  south sudan  |  war  |  east africa
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