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Rivals in Sudan sliding toward war

April 19, 2012 | 10:20 am


Sudan
Sudan's president threatened Thursday to teach rival South Sudan "a final lesson by force" as fighting continued to rage in the contested border area between the two countries. 

A full-scale war would probably be ruinous for both countries. Aside from the devastating civilian toll, it would seriously damage the oil sector that both countries depend on.

After South Sudan seized Heglig, Sudan’s most important oil-producing area, last week, the ugly brinkmanship that for months has marked their dispute over oil revenues and the border escalated dramatically.

Diplomacy has been unable to rein in either side. Analysts warn that unless the two parties are forced back to the negotiating table and a compromise is found, the chances of the two neighbors co-existing peacefully may be lost, for years, even decades.

After 22 years of civil war that killed an estimated 2 million people, the two sides signed a peace deal in 2005, leading to South Sudan's peaceful secession in July. But some of the most intractable differences between the two sides were unresolved.

But since losing Heglig, the Sudanese parliament has branded South Sudan as an enemy that must be defeated. Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir has called South Sudan’s military “insects.”

A day after vowing to “liberate” South Sudan, Bashir came still closer to declaring war Thursday at a rally in the border region of North Kordofan.

“These people don't understand, and we will give them the final lesson by force," news reports quoted him as saying at a rally in El Obeid, North Kordofan. “We will not give them an inch of our country, and whoever extends his hand over Sudan, we will cut it.”

A South Sudanese military official claimed Thursday to have driven back four attacks by Sudan’s army in the past 24 hours, the Associated Press reported.

In Juba, the South Sudanese capital, many feared that war was all but inevitable. Volunteers collected food, soap and other supplies to support the soldiers holding Heglig.

One volunteer, William Gatkouth, 26, said South Sudan was defending its sovereignty. “We are not going to back off and we are also sending a message to our soldiers that it will be against our future if they pull out of Heglig.”

The U.N. Security Council has demanded that South Sudan withdraw from Heglig, and it may impose sanctions on both sides. The U.S. generally supports South Sudan, but it has condemned its seizure of Heglig, as well as Sudan’s bomb attacks in South Sudan.

China, the major investor in Sudan’s oil fields, has also called for a halt to fighting, and for both sides to show calm and restraint. 

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-- David Lukan, Alsanosi Ahmed and Robyn Dixon, reporting from Khartoum, Sudan; Juba, South Sudan;  and Johannesburg, South Africa

Photo: A Sudanese man donates blood in support of troops Thursday at a makeshift clinic opened at the presidential place in Khartoum, Sudan. Credit: EPA

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