JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) - South Sudan’s army said on Thursday it was ready for more attacks by northern forces, accusing them of clashing with its troops in the disputed Abyei area, situated in an ill-defined border region.
A spokesman for the northern army told reporters in Khartoum the military had not engaged in fighting south of the Bahr al-Arab river, known as the Kiir River in the south, and suggested internal southern rebels may have started the clashes.
The south is due to secede in less than a month, but tensions between the two sides have been high since Khartoum rolled tanks and troops into Abyei, a fertile, oil-producing region along the north-south border, on May 21.
Both sides agreed “in principle” to demilitarise Abyei and bring in Ethiopian peacekeepers after talks in Addis Ababa this week, the African Union said Monday, but officials have yet to reach a final agreement.
Philip Aguer, spokesman for the south’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), said the south was preparing for more fighting.
“We are expecting more of these kind of attacks at the border. As the border demarcation has not been happening, the logical conclusion that you can expect is that SAF (Sudanese Armed Forces) will continue occupying borders for the north to claim that they are their territories,” he said.
He said northern forces occupying Abyei showed no sign of pulling back from the region and that the southern army had taken up defensive positions along the border because they expected a land and oil field grab before separation.
Southerners overwhelmingly voted to declare independence from the north in a January referendum promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war with the north.
That conflict, fought over religion, ethnicity, oil and ideology, killed about 2 million people.
The two have yet to reach final agreements on a long list of unresolved issues, such as how to manage the oil industry and where to draw the border after the split.
The northern and southern presidents left talks in neighbouring Ethiopia earlier in the week without coming to any final agreements, officials said, although negotiators from both sides stayed behind to continue.
Some of Sudan’s richest oil fields lie near the disputed north-south border. Oil is the lifeblood of both economies and Khartoum stands to lose up to three-quarters of Sudan’s roughly 500,000 barrels per day of output when the south departs.
Additional reporting and editing by Alex Dziadosz in Khartoum; editing by Elizabeth Piper