The African Union on Wednesday urged South Sudan to withdraw its troops from the Heglig oilfield inside neighboring Sudan and expressed concerns over the ongoing border conflict between the two nations.
In a statement, the AU urged both nations to resolve their differences on border-related matters and other outstanding issues "in a peaceful way in accordance with the overriding principle of establishing two viable states in Sudan and South Sudan".
The AU also called "upon both parties to exercise utmost restraint and to respect the territorial integrity of the other state," and added, "In particular, the African Union notes with alarm the occupation of Heglig by the armed forces of the Republic of South Sudan, and calls for their immediate and unconditional withdrawal."
Southern troops had seized the oil-rich Heglig border region from the Sudanese army on Tuesday amidst heavy fighting along their shared border. Sudan has since pledged to use "all legitimate means" to recapture the oil field and warned of "destruction" in the south.
In response to the ongoing border clashes, Sudan withdrew from negotiations with the South and lodged separate complaints about South Sudan's "aggression" with the United Nations as well as the AU. Khartoum also said it would mobilize its army to send a befitting reply to South Sudan's aggressive actions, which it said was a direct violation of international laws.
Border clashes between Sudan and South Sudan erupted late last month, marking the biggest confrontation between the two sides after South Sudan seceded from Sudan last July. Fighting still continues, raising fears it might escalate into a full-fledged war. The fighting has also cast doubts on the future of talks being facilitated by the AU High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to resolve outstanding post-secession issues.
The latest developments come just over a year after the South voted overwhelmingly in favor of separation from the North in a January 2011 referendum. This decision was in line with a 2005 peace agreement ending 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. Since then, the border region between the two countries has witnessed frequent clashes between several former southern rebel groups and forces loyal to the North Sudanese government in Khartoum. Both nation's accuse each other of supporting rebels in their territory.
South Sudan gained control of nearly 75 percent of Sudan's oil production with a daily output of around 500,000 barrels when they declared independence. But 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 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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