South Sudanese President Salva Kiir urged U.S. President Barack Obama to pressure Sudan to cease border attacks and return to peace talks, Deputy Information Minister Atem Yaak Atem said.
Kiir spoke to Obama by telephone today for 45 minutes, according to Atem, who said he was present during the conversation. The two presidents discussed clashes along the border with Sudan after fighting broke out between the two countries’ armies on March 26.
“President Kiir asked President Obama to apply pressure on the government of Sudan to resolve the conflict through dialogue,” Atem said by phone today from South Sudan’s capital, Juba.
Sudan’s president, Umar al-Bashir, canceled a meeting with Kiir that was due to take place tomorrow in Juba. Atem said that Kiir told Obama he would be willing to meet al-Bashir at a location and date of the Sudanese president’s choosing.
Sudan accused South Sudan today of “trying to ruin” peace talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, according to the state-run Sudan Media Centre, which cited a statement by Sudan’s negotiating team. The statement accused South Sudan of backing rebels that clashed with Sudanese army in the oil-rich state of Southern Kordofan.
Fighting between Sudanese government forces and the rebels has intensified in the border states of Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan since South Sudan seceded in July, assuming control of three-quarters of the former unified nation’s oil production of 490,000 barrels a day.
Last week’s border clashes prompted expressions of concern from the United Nations Security Council, the U.S., the European Union and the African Union.
About 140,000 refugees have fled Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan to escape the violence, the U.S. State Department said today.
Most have migrated to neighboring South Sudan, as well as to Ethiopia, Catherine Wiesner, deputy assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, said on a conference call with reporters.
“With these numbers, obviously relief agencies are in a race against time,” said Wiesner, who visited South Sudan last week.
The rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North said its fighters killed 21 government soldiers during an ambush of two army convoys in Blue Nile on March 31.
Atem said that during Kiir’s conversation with Obama, the South Sudanese president “denied any role in supporting” the SPLM-N.
The Sudan Media Centre reported an attack today on the oil-rich Heglig area, which it blamed on South Sudanese troops crossing into Sudan.
Kiir told Obama that South Sudan’s army clashed with SAF only when repelling attacks and had not crossed into Sudanese territory, according to Atem.