Sudan and South Sudan hold talks following conflict in disputed border region
(4 April 2012)
Officials from Sudan and South Sudan met on Monday 2 April 2012 in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa following the outbreak of conflict in border town of Teshwin, near the Sudanese town of Heglig, where it is believed the South Sudanese army had launched an attack in late March. South Sudan’s Information Minister Barnaba stated that the attack had been in response to the bombing of border areas in South Sudanese territory by Sudanese Armed Forces. Meanwhile, the government of Sudan stated that their troops were responding to attacks on their positions by rebel groups supported by the south. The area is situated within one of the disputed border regions between the two countries, and contains disputed oil-fields. The fighting seen last week is believed to be the worst since South Sudan officially seceded from Sudan in 2011. It is reported the talks were held to address immediate security concerns and reducing the current conflict, rather than other post-secession issues. Both sides stated that they were not seeking a return to war.
It is reported that South Sudan has stated that it now controls Teshwin, where a Sudanese military base is located, claiming Sudan had previously occupied this area. The government of Sudan has argued that the actions of South Sudan have resulted in an infringement of its territory. The Washington Times reports that 75 Sudanese troops were killed in the recent fighting, with 100 wounded, while two South Sudanese troops were killed and 19 wounded. A UN report has stated that approximately 400 people were displaced by the conflict in the Heglig region so far. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon requested an immediate end to hostilities and called for the implementation of agreements on security, border monitoring, and the disputed Abyei region that had already been reached by the two sides. The UN Security Council believes fighting in the disputed border regions could result in the resumption of war. Meanwhile US President Obama spoke with the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit, urging restraint of the southern military and to avoid unilateral actions.
The recent fighting emerged just days after it was announced that the two sides had concluded a new agreement concerning border issues on 13 March. Part of the new agreement included provisions for demarcation of the Sudan-South Sudan boundary. Under the new agreement, the two sides will create a Joint Demarcation Committee and a Joint Technical Team within 60 days of signing the agreement. Once established these two bodies have just three months to complete demarcation of the Sudan-South Sudan boundary, a nearly impossible time scale, although there is provision for possibly extending the deadline. The agreement indicates that demarcation will be guided by the recommendations reached by a joint technical committee that was set up under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to recover the boundary between Sudan’s northern and southern provinces at independence in 1956. This committee was dissolved following South Sudanese independence last July and five sections of the boundary remain actively in dispute. Border talks are being mediated by an African Union team led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki. A presidential summit between to the two countries was due to be held on 3 April in the southern capital of Juba where the new agreement was to be signed. However, this was cancelled following the outbreak of fighting.
Sources: ‘Sudan and South Sudan resume talks in Ethiopian capital’, Richard Cochrane, IHS Global Insight, 3 April 2012; ‘Ban urges leaders of Sudan and South Sudan to meet to end border clashes’, All Africa News, 3 April 2012; ‘Obama calls for restraint as violence grows along border: African nations feared headed for all-out war’, Ashish Kumar Sen, The Washington Times, 3 April 2012; ‘Sudan and South Sudan hold talks in Addis Ababa’, BBC News, 2 April 2012; Agreement between the Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan on the Demarcation of the Boundary, 13 March 2012 (African Union).