(KHARTOUM) – The Sudanese army on Wednesday repelled an attack by South Sudanese troops in a contested area on the border between the two country, a military spokesperson said in Khartoum and Juba confirmed the fighting.
Sudan and South Sudan have in the recent months escalated accusations of supporting rebel groups on both sides. Sudan’s army (SAF) has been conducting a large-scale campaign against the rebels of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) following the end of the rainy season.
Last Saturday SAF announced the control of Jau, located on the border and claimed by the two sides. Khartoum said the SPLM-N headquarters were in Jau but also said captured South Sudanese troops there. Juba confirmed the incident and urged the release of its soldiers. South Sudan also warned on Tuesday that it would use force to retake disputed area.
Al-Sawarmi Khaled, SAF spokesperson, said the Sudanese troops defeated SPLM-N rebels in a position located south to Jau called Alatmor where SAF destroyed a tank and seized another besides different arms and ammunition.
He went to say that SAF was now fully in control of the areas of Jau and White Lake despite six attempts undertaken by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) of South Sudan to capture the area. He said the last attack by SPLA occurred on Wednesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, a statement issued by the SPLM-N said its forces “inflicted heavy causalities” on the Sudanese army. It said that SAF’s offensive targeted areas of civilian population and called for the delivery of aid to the affected areas.
In Juba, the South Sudanese army spokesperson Philip Aguer confirmed the attacks on SAF troops stressing that since Saturday the SPLA were defending South Sudanese territory.
“The SPLA is trying to repulse the attackers, the Sudan Armed Forces,” said Aguer in a statement to Reuters.
Today’s statements about the direct clashes between the north and South Sudanese armies were largely expected in view of the war of words both sides have been waging against each other since June 2011 after clashes erupted in Sudan’s border state of South Kordofan between SAF and SPLM-N who fought alongside the former South Sudanese rebels.
The two parties sought to win the international support to their cause. For several months, Khartoum lodged a complaint after complaint to the UN Security Council accusing Juba of supporting the rebels in S. Kordofan and Blue Nile while Juba petitioned two days ago the Security Council over the seizure of Jau by SAF.
An international troika of, Norway, UK and US issued a statement calling on the two Sudanese states to resolve their dispute over oil transportation and called on other international stakeholders to “play a positive role in engaging with both Sudan and South Sudan to help peacefully resolve outstanding issues”.
However regarding the growing tension between Juba and Khartoum, the joint statement just noted “with concern the recent and dangerous escalation of military action along the Sudan-South Sudan border” without elaboration.
Sudan foreign ministry condemned the “armed aggression” carried out by South Sudanese army “inside the border of the Republic of Sudan”.
In unusual way, the foreign ministry in Khartoum was the first to announce the first direct battle between SAF and SPLA soldiers since the independence of the South Sudan last July.
Khartoum further announced that a complaint on this “blatant aggression on Sudan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” would be lodged at the UN Security Council, describing Juba government of being “element of regional instability”.
Yesterday South Sudan’s foreign minister Nhial Deng Nhial warned that continuous provocation by the Sudanese army might lead to a war between the two countries.
“We will not attack president Bashir directly, but if his forces continue invading our territories, then we will have no option since we have to protect our territories and it’s our citizens,” he said in a press conference held on Tuesday.