South Sudan said Sudan attacked its troops four times in the past 24 hours, including an offensive against forces occupying the disputed oil-rich border area of Heglig.
Soldiers from the two countries also clashed twice in the South Sudanese border state of Northern Bahr el-Ghazal and once in Western Bahr el-Ghazal, the south’s military spokesman, Philip Aguer, told reporters today in the capital, Juba.
Fighting between Sudan and its newly independent neighbor has itensified since April 10 when southern forces occupied Heglig. Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir told a rally today that his army would retake the area in what he said would be “the decisive battle.”
South Sudan occupied Heglig on April 10 to stop Sudan’s military from continuing to launch ground and air attacks from the area, Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told reporters in Juba. Southern forces are ready to withdraw provided that international monitors are sent to Heglig and Khartoum agrees to international arbitration to determine which country owns the area, he said.
Sudanese Army spokesman al-Sawarami Khaled didn’t answer calls seeking comment.
A vote by Sudan’s parliament on April 16 declaring the government of South Sudan an “enemy” amounted “to a declaration of war,” Benjamin told reporters in Juba. “The Republic of South Sudan is not in a state of war nor is it interested in war with Sudan.”
While both countries claim Heglig, Sudan has administered its oil fields since the south seceded in July, assuming control of about three-quarters of the formerly united country’s production of 490,000 barrels a day.
Since southern forces occupied the area, oil production of 40,000 barrels a day has been shut down, out of Sudan’s total output of 115,000 barrels a day, the Sudanese ambassador to Kenya, Kamal Ismail Saeed, said in Nairobi yesterday.
Benjamin said South Sudan would be willing to discuss sharing revenue from the Heglig fields if the governments agree to go to arbitration.
“Yes, we can talk about oil in that place,” he said. “Our interest is not oil, our interest is that the land is ours.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Jared Ferrie in Juba, South Sudan at firstname.lastname@example.org