South Sudan Withdraws Its Forces From Oil-Rich Heglig Area

South Sudan and Sudan signaled an easing of tension along their disputed border, with the south saying it withdrew its forces from the oil-rich area of Heglig and the north describing the area as “calm.”

“We are within our territory,” South Sudan’s government spokesman, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, said by phone today from Juba, the capital. Al-Sawarami Khaled, spokesman for Sudan’s army in Khartoum, said, “It’s calm now and confrontations have stopped since Monday.”

South Sudan said its troops pursued the Sudan Armed Forces into the Heglig area and accused them of bombing its forces along the border between the south’s Unity state and the north’s Southern Kordofan state.

Clashes between the armies of the former civil war foes along their common border prompted expressions of alarm from the United Nations Security Council, the U.S. and the African Union. The countries have been embroiled in disputes over oil, borders and citizenship rights since the south gained independence in July, assuming control of three-quarters of the formerly united country’s crude output of 490,000 barrels a day.

The crude is pumped mainly by China National Petroleum Corp., Malaysia’s Petroliam Nasional Bhd. and India’s ONGC Videsh Ltd.

Security Council President Mark Lyall-Grant said in a statement yesterday that the body was “deeply alarmed” by the border clashes and urged both sides to “exercise maximum restraint.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the fighting “deeply distressing” and urged both sides to work together to halt the violence.

“We think that the weight of responsibility rests with Khartoum, because the use of heavy weaponry, bombing runs by planes and the like are certainly evidence of disproportionate force on the part of the government in Khartoum,” Clinton told reporters in Washington yesterday.

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