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Sudan minimizes Heglig attack as Pagan invites Bashir to Juba summit

March 22, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – The governing National Congress Party (NCP) in Sudan said on Tuesday that an attack allegedly launched by rebels Khartoum accuses South Sudan of aiding will not affect President Omer Al-Bashir’s upcoming visit to Juba.

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Sudan’s President Omer al-Bashir (R) meets head of South Sudan delegation Pagan Amum, in Khartoum March 22, 2012. (REUTERS)

Al-Bashir is due to visit South Sudan’s capital on 3 April for the first time since he attended the South’s official declaration of independence from Sudan on 9 July 2011.

He accepted an invitation extended by his South Sudanese counterpart Salva Kiir, which was delivered formally on Thursday formally by his special envoy and head of its negotiating team Pagan Amum, who arrived in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum earlier on the same day.

The presidential summit will tackle the issues discussed by the two delegations in Addis Ababa including oil transit fees, Abyei, and security matters particularly the presence of rebel groups in the two countries. The two presidents will also sign two agreements on borders and four freedoms initiated by the two delegations on 13 March.

The diplomatic calm between the two countries was interrupted on Wednesday when the head of Sudan’s intelligence and security services Mohammed Atta, accused Juba of supporting and participating in an attack targeting oil fields in the South Kordofan.

Atta said the attack targeted the oil-rich town of Heglig in South Kordofan State, which has been the scene of fighting between government forces and rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) since June last year.

But the rebels have denied attacking the town. When contacted by Sudan Tribune, SPLM-N’s official spokesman Arnu Loddi said his group did not carry out any assault on Heglig, hinting that it could be a fabricated claim on the part of Khartoum.

Meanwhile, the NCP’s political secretariat Hasabu Abdel Rahman has condemned the alleged attack but said it would not affect Al-Bashir’s visit to Juba.

He told reporters following a meeting with the Japanese ambassador in Khartoum on Wednesday that “the Heglig attack” is unlikely to affect Bashir’s scheduled visit to Juba. However, he said that South Sudan’s support to the rebels is going to be part of the agendas that al-Bashir and Kiir will discuss.

Abdel Rahman called on the international community to support peace and cease support for “war and negative messages.”

Sudan and South Sudan signed on 10 February an agreement on “non-aggression.” Less than two weeks later, however, Khartoum accused South Sudan’s army of participating in an attack launched by rebels on the disputed town of Jau.

After his meeting with President Bashir Amum told reporters that they had come from Juba to deliver the invitation for the summit. He pointed out that the summit aims to resolve outstanding issues between the two countries so they can emerge as "neighbors living in peace, security and stability."

The South Sudanese official said that al-Bashir had expressed his readiness to visit Juba. He added that the joint committee in charge of arranging the summit already began its meetings on Wednesday and would hold a press conference to announce progress.

Sudan said the implementation of the four freedoms deal depends on a security agreement ending South Sudan support to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North and Darfur rebel groups.