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EU Concerned Over Sudan-South Sudan Border Clashes

3/29/2012 3:16 AM ET

European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton has voiced her concerns over the ongoing clashes between the Armies of Sudan and South Sudan along their disputed border, and urged them to end hostilities as soon as possible.

"The High Representative is gravely concerned about the military clashes in the border region between Sudan and South Sudan. Recent cross-border attacks and continued aerial bombing represent a dangerous escalation of an already tense situation. Further cross-border military activity could result in a wider military confrontation," she said in a statement issued by her office on Wednesday.

Ashton called on both nations to exercise maximum restraint, cease military operations in the border area and respect the commitments they had made in a February agreement reached on non-aggression and cooperation. She also reiterated EU's strong commitment "to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sudan and South Sudan and to the principle of two viable States."

Ashton urged both nations to resume negotiations on outstanding post-secession issues, proceed with the planned summit between their Presidents and "make use of the forthcoming meeting of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism in Addis Ababa [Ethiopian capital] to defuse tensions."

Her remarks came after border clashes between Sudan and South Sudan erupted on Monday, making the biggest confrontation between the two sides after South Sudan seceded from Sudan last July. Fighting still continued, raising fears that it might escalate into a full-fledged war.

The clashes had forced Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to put off his planned visit to the South. He was originally scheduled to hold a summit with his Southern counterpart Salva Kiir in South Sudan next week. Also, the fighting has cast doubts on the future of talks being facilitated by the AU High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) in Addis Ababa to resolve outstanding post-secession issues.

The latest developments come just over a year after South Sudanese voted overwhelmingly in favor of separation from the North in a January, 2011 referendum. It was in line with a 2005 peace agreement that ended 22 years of civil war between the Arab North and the Christian and animist South.

Despite the many unresolved issues linked to citizenship and splitting up of natural resources with the North, South Sudan became the world's newest independent nation on July 9. The border region between the two countries still witnesses frequent clashes between several former southern rebel groups and forces loyal to the North Sudanese government in Khartoum.

At the time of declaring independence, South Sudan gained control of nearly 75 percent of Sudan's oil production with a daily output of around 500,000 barrels. China is the leading destination for Sudanese oil exports.

South Sudanese oil reaches its overseas destinations through pipelines in North Sudan. The two nations are yet to settle disputes over oil transit fees. Both countries are heavily dependent on oil revenues.

South Sudan alleges that Sudan is seizing its oil, meant for export, during transit through its territory to a northern port. Sudan proposed a transit fee of $36 a barrel against South Sudan's offer of about $1. The country has reportedly accused Sudan of stealing oil worth $815 million.

by RTT Staff Writer

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