NAIROBI, Kenya — South Sudan‘s president said its northern neighbor has “declared war” on the world’s newest nation, just hours after Sudanese jets dropped eight bombs onto South Sudan on Tuesday.
President Salva Kiir‘s comments, made during a trip to China, signal a rise in rhetoric between the rival nations who had spent decades at war with each other. Neither side has officially declared war.
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Sudan and South Sudan have been drawing closer to a full-scale war in recent weeks over the unresolved issues of oil revenues and their disputed border. The violence has drawn alarm and condemnation from the international community, including from U.S. President Barack Obama.
South Sudan seceded from Sudan last year as a result of a 2005 peace treaty that ended decades of war that killed 2 million people.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir gave a fiery speech last week in which he said there will be no negotiations with the “poisonous insects” who are challenging Sudan’s claim to disputed territory near the nations’ shared border.
Kiir, the southern president, arrived in China late Monday for a five-day visit to lobby for economic and diplomatic support. China’s energy needs make it deeply vested in the future of the two Sudans, and Beijing is uniquely positioned to exert influence in the conflict given its deep trade ties to the resource-rich south and decades-long diplomatic ties with Sudan’s government in the north.
Kiir told Chinese President Hu Jintao the visit comes at a “a very critical moment for the Republic of South Sudan because our neighbor in Khartoum has declared war on the Republic of South Sudan.”
South Sudan’s military spokesman Col. Philip Aguer said that Sudanese Antonovs dropped eight bombs overnight Monday between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. in Panakuac, where he said there had been ground fighting on Monday. Aguer said he could not offer a death toll from the attack because of a poor communication link with the remote area.
On Monday, Sudanese warplanes bombed a market and an oil field in South Sudan, killing at least two people after Sudanese ground forces reportedly crossed into South Sudan with tanks and artillery.
Talks over oil revenue and the border broke down this month after attacks started between the two countries, with South Sudan invading the oil-rich border town of Heglig, which Sudan claims it controls.
Following international pressure, South Sudan announced that it has withdrawn all its troops from Heglig but Sudan claimed its troops forced them out.
Al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, has vowed to press ahead with his military campaign until all southern troops or affiliated forces are chased out of the north.
He also said he would never allow South Sudanese oil to pass through Sudan “even if they give us half the proceeds.”
Landlocked South Sudan stopped pumping oil through Sudan in January, accusing the government in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, of stealing hundred millions of dollars of oil revenue. Sudan responded by bombing the South’s oil fields.
South Sudan government spokesman Barnaba Marial Benjamin said earlier this month that Chinese and American investors want to build oil refineries in the South in the next six to seven months.
Benjamin said the refineries will help South Sudan process fuel for local consumption. South Sudan will also build a pipeline to the Kenyan coast and another to Djibouti through Ethiopia to be able to export its oil, he said. He said both projects were meant to make South Sudan independent of Sudan’s fuel infrastructure and processing plants.
Kiir on Tuesday told Hu that he came to China because of the “great relationship” South Sudan has with China, calling it one of his country’s “economic and strategic partners.”
Both sides have tried to win Beijing’s favor, but China has been careful to cultivate ties with each nation. Like others in the international community, China has repeatedly urged the two sides to return to negotiations.
The White House repeated its earlier condemnation of the Sudanese incursion and called for both sides to stop fighting and hold peace talks.
“Sudan must immediately halt the aerial and artillery bombardment against South Sudan by the Sudan armed forces,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday to reporters traveling with Obama to North Carolina. “Both governments must agree to an immediate unconditional cessation of hostilities and recommit to negotiations,”
He repeated Obama’s warning to both sides that “there is no military solution” to their differences.