KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir threatened war against his newly-independent neighbour on Thursday, vowing to teach South Sudan a “final lesson by force” after it occupied a disputed oil field.
Appearing in medal-spangled general’s uniform at a large rally in the border province of North Kordofan, the burly military ruler danced side-to-side, waved his walking stick in the air and made blistering threats against the leadership of the South, which broke off last year after decades of civil war.
“These people don’t understand, and we will give them the final lesson by force,” Bashir told the rally in El-Obeid, North Kordofan’s capital. “We will not give them an inch of our country, and whoever extends his hand on Sudan, we will cut it.”
South Sudan separated from the rest of Sudan with Bashir’s blessing last July under the terms of a 2005 peace deal. But since then violence has steadily escalated, fuelled by territorial disputes, ethnic animosity and quarrels over oil.
Last week, South Sudan seized Heglig, a disputed oil field near the border between the two countries, claiming it as its rightful territory and saying it would only withdraw if the United Nations deployed a neutral force there.
Bashir vowed to retake the oil field, which he said was part of Sudan’s Kordofan province. That alone would not resolve the conflict, he added.
“Heglig is not the end, but the beginning.”
Global powers have voiced alarm at the escalation of violence and urged the two to stop fighting and return to talks.
In a dramatic escalation of rhetoric on Wednesday, Bashir said he would “liberate” South Sudan from its rulers, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, which fought the guerrilla civil war against Khartoum.
There was no immediate comment from the South to Thursday’s speech.
China, a major investor in both countries, expressed “serious concern” about the increase of tensions and called on both sides to stop fighting, “maintain calm and exercise maximum restraint”.
“China has worked hard to ameliorate the problems between the two Sudans, and we will continue to work with the international community at mediation efforts,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a daily news briefing.
Some 2 million people died in Sudan’s civil war, fought for all but a few years from 1955 to 2005 over disputes of ideology, ethnicity and religion.
The countries remain at odds over the position of their border, how much the landlocked South should pay to transport its oil through Sudan and the division of national debt, among other issues.
Both countries accuse each other of waging proxy war through militia operating on each other’s territory.
Sudan’s military - with an air force, tanks and artillery - is far better equipped than the former guerrilla fighters who make up the South Sudan army. In addition to the civil war in the south, Sudan has also fought long-simmering rebellions in Kordofan and Darfur.
Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague for war crimes in connection with the Darfur conflict, charges he rejects as political.
The south has tens of thousands of fighters under arms, with decades of experience in guerrilla conflict.
Reporting by Ali Abdelatti, Khalid Abdelaziz, Alexander Dziadosz and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Peter Graff