Sudan says talks off as border fighting with S. Sudan worsens

Khartoum mobilized its military after Sudan's attack Monday and South Sudan's counterattack Tuesday. The fighting could threaten the region's oil production, a Sudanese official predicts.

By , Correspondent

Sudan is mobilizing its military and breaking off negotiations with South Sudan after a new round of fighting over oil fields along the disputed Sudan-South Sudan border. The fighting threatens both the fragile peace that has lasted since the two nations separated and the flow of the region's rich oil resources to buyers abroad.

According to the Sudan Tribune, Sudan recalled its negotiating team Tuesday from talks with South Sudan and declared a general mobilization of its military. The talks, which were sponsored by the African Union and held in Ethiopia, were meant to resolve various outstanding issues from the South's independence, including disputes over the border and oil fields, last July after a long civil war.

The break comes as each side accuses the other of attacks on its territory. South Sudan's information minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, said that four people, including one child, were injured on Monday and Tuesday when Sudanese fighter jets bombed Abiemnom, a village 25 miles south of the border, reports BBC News. Al Jazeera adds that Mr. Benjamin also said that two Sudanese brigades accompanied by "mujaheddin and other militias" also took part in the attack.

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South Sudanese military spokesman Philip Aguer said that Southern forces repulsed the attack on Tuesday, driving the Northern troops back to the Heglig area, a disputed, oil-rich area along the border. But Northern officials say that the South went further, attacking and capturing the North's oil fields within Heglig, prompting its mobilization and diplomatic break. Southern officials did not confirm whether they had captured the Heglig fields.

Although there have been sporadic border clashes since South Sudan's independence last year, the situation has worsened in recent weeks. In a guest blog for the Monitor in late March, Alex Thurston noted that the violence originally appeared to be tied to the talks as a kind of negotiating tactic. But Mr. Thurston added that using violence in such a manner is dangerous. "Violence can escalate beyond what tactical planners anticipated," he wrote. "And it is costly, in lives, money, and time. Finally, in this case, it does not appear to be working – violence does not seem to have brought a settlement closer."

At the heart of the conflict is oil. When South Sudan split from its northern neighbor, it instantly became one of Africa's most oil-rich nations. But even with its newfound oil wealth – 98 percent of South Sudan's revenue is from oil – it remains dependent on the North, with which it still shares revenues and infrastructure. While most of the oil lies on the southern side of the border, the only pipelines to the ocean, where the oil can be shipped to buyers abroad, travel through the North. 

Rahamatalla Mohamed Osman, Sudan's undersecretary of foreign affairs, predicted Wednesday that the fighting would halt oil production in the region, reports Reuters. "...These oil fields will be affected, definitely, and at least there will not be production. If there is a conflict in the area, this is the least," he told reporters.

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