JUBA/KHARTOUM (Reuters) - South Sudan said on Thursday it was ready to reopen negotiations “any time” on a range of disputes with its northern neighbour Sudan after a spasm of fighting, but Khartoum said there could be no such talks unless the two sides settled security issues.
The two countries have been at loggerheads over oil, security and frontier disputes that ignited border clashes last month and for a while raised fears of full-blown war in one of Africa’s most significant oil regions.
South Sudan Minister of Cabinet Affairs Deng Alor told reporters that his country, which became independent from Sudan last year, was committed to complying with a U.N. Security Council resolution last week that called on both countries to negotiate their differences peacefully or face sanctions.
“We are ready to go for negotiations any time ... I expect negotiations to resume any time from now,” Alor told a news conference in the South Sudanese capital Juba.
The May 2 Security Council resolution endorsed an African Union plan demanding that Khartoum and Juba cease hostilities, withdraw troops from disputed areas and resume talks within two weeks on all outstanding disputes. It gave them three months to resolve the issues under threat of sanctions.
But the north’s president Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who accuses South Sudan of supporting rebel militia along the disputed border, said there would be no talks unless the civil war foes resolved their security issues.
“In the coming negotiations, if we don’t solve the security problems ... there will be no talk over any other clause - not oil, not trade, not citizenship, not Abyei, or any other file,” Bashir told a group of oil and mining workers on Thursday.
Sudan on Wednesday said its army had liberated the areas of Kafen Dabbi and Kafya Kenji in South Darfur from the “remnants of the Southern army”. South Sudan contests these areas. The army also repelled rebels who had seized control of a town in south Darfur, as part of their campaign to topple Bashir.
South Sudan on Wednesday accused Sudan’s armed forces of carrying out fresh bombing raids on border areas. Khartoum routinely denies such accusations.
But Alor said the new attacks alleged by his government did not affect its commitment to resume talks with Sudan on the thorny issues of oil exports, security, border demarcation and citizenship that have remained unresolved since South Sudan became the world’s newest independent nation last year.
“We are ready to go the extra mile to negotiations,” he said. “Nobody is interested in war, we don’t want it, the international community doesn’t want it and the region doesn’t want it.”
Alor said South Sudan was waiting for former South African President Thabo Mbeki, the head of a high-level AU panel tasked with resolving the disputes between north and south, to formally call the two sides to resume talks on a specific date.
The AU road map for talks made resolving the dispute over oil a priority, Alor said.
“It’s a priority for everybody, for us, the Government of Sudan, for investors and for the AU,” he said. “We are committed to negotiations and discussing everything.”
Sudan said it supported the U.N. resolution, but pointed out it could have difficulties implementing parts of it.
“The clauses we want to implement, we will implement. And what we don’t want to implement, we won’t. Neither the Security Council, nor the (AU) Peace and Security Council, nor the whole world will make us implement it,” Bashir said.
Specifically Khartoum accuses South Sudan’s ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, of backing its civil war ally, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), which is fighting Sudanese government forces in Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
Alor denied that South Sudan was giving any support to the SPLM-N. “We are definitely friends (with the SPLM-N), but that does not mean that we will support them militarily,” he said.
But Bashir vowed to play hardball with South Sudan, whose ruling party he branded “insects”.
“We tell them if you want a second lesson, we will give you a second and third lesson because you (the South Sudan government) do not understand,” he said.
Sudan, which was Africa’s largest country before South Sudan broke away last year, lost three quarters of the oil output previously produced by unified Sudan. Khartoum and Juba have quarrelled over oil transit fees for carrying South Sudanese crude through Sudan’s pipelines and Red Sea port.
In January, the dispute led to South Sudan shutting down oil production, and the reduced output and depleted revenue have put severe strain on both countries’ fragile economies.
Additional reporting by Hereward Holland; writing by Pascal Fletcher and Yara Bayoumy; editing by Andrew Roche