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South Sudan accuses Sudan of amassing troops on border

December 31, 2012 (JUBA/WAU) - South Sudan on Sunday accused the government of neigbouring Sudan of “amassing troops” at the border ahead of a planned meeting between the President’s of both countries to resolve a number of outstanding issues pertaining to the South’s independence almost 18 months ago.

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South Sudanese minister of information and broadcasting Barnaba Marial Benjamin.

The troop build-up was "to preempt [the] presidential summit" and prevent the planned meeting between Salva Kiir of South Sudan and Omar al-Bashir of Sudan. The two Presidents have not met since September when they signed a Cooperation Agreement on numerous issues.

However, the deal has not been implemented due to differences on the border security aspects of the deal.

Juba made the allegation days after Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn visited Khartoum and Juba where he had discussions with both Presidents.

On 28 December the spokesperson of Ethiopia’s ministry of foreign affairs, Dina Mufti, told Sudan Tribune that the two Presidents had agreed to meet in Addis Ababa on Friday 4 January. However, Sudan’s official news agency (SUNA) reported on Friday evening that Desalegn had invited Bashir and Kiir to meet in his capital, the scene of previous talks, on 13 January.

South Sudan’s minister of information and broadcasting, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, said at news conference broadcast by state-owned South Sudan Television (SSTV) on Sunday that the government had noted Sudanese government was amassing troops at the border in order to block summit from taking place.

"There are now 3,000 troops fully equipped moving towards disputed areas. They are moving with heavy weapons and they started their activities with ground on areas which deeply inside our territory. They have started this with the attack on Northern Bahr el Ghazal State and a raid of farmers in Renk County in Upper Nile State", Marial said.

South Sudan says that on 26 December five people were killed by an air and ground attack on Kiir Adem, an area in the disputed Mile 14 area on the border between Northern Bahr el Ghazal State and Darfur. Mile 14 was controversially included in a proposed buffer zone between the two nations in an agreement signed by the Presidents in September.

On Friday South Sudan accused the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) of holding hostage farmers who had been kidnapped from Upper Nile State. Sudan always denies bombing or entering South Sudan’s territory.

Marial said the movement of Sudanese troops was focused around disputed areas.

Despite a six year peace deal and a year and a half of South Sudan’s independence the border has not been demarcated. The issue of the contested areas is complicated further by the presence of valuable minerals, oil and fertile grazing land.

Khartoum also recently accused Juba allowing Darfur rebel groups to establish a camp in the area.

South Sudan’s official spokesperson said that the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) intend to enter the disputed areas by force.

In March, Bashir’s planned trip to Juba to sign deals on citizenship and other matters was canceled when border skirmishes, which both sides blamed on the other, resulted in South Sudan’s army (SPLA) occupying the oil-rich Heglig/Panthou area for ten days in April.

The SPLA pulled out of the crucial oil field amid much international criticism and the conflict triggered an United Nations Security Council resolution calling on the two sides to resolve their differences or be subject to sanctions.

After extensions the September deal appeared to have made progress on many of the outstanding issues but Khartoum has refused to let South Sudan resume exporting its oil through the north until security issues are resolved.

Marial claimed that Khartoum had violated in the Cooperation Agreement by its alleged attack on Kiir Adem, the kidnap of farmers from Upper Nile and the amassing of troops on the border.

South Sudan, the minister said, was alerting Sudan’s military activities to the African Union Peace and Security Council, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), which has been mediating between the two sides..

"We need to tell them our responsibility as sovereign state to defend our territory and our resources from foreign aggression and attempts to invade", he warned.

Marial accused Sudan of failing to honour the September deal, which required the two nations to deploy their forces out of the designated buffer zones and create a Joint Border Verification Monitoring team under the United Nations peacekeeping forces already deployed in the disputed region of Abyei.

The Ethiopian peacekeepers in Abyei, under the deal, were due to expand their remit to include managing the joint demilitarized buffer zone until the final status of the border areas are resolved. Three months on however, the security elements of the deal remain unimplemented.

Sudan accuses Juba of backing Sudanese rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, while South Sudan says Khartoum has made new "impossible" demands that were not in the September deal.

However, Marial said South Sudan’s negotiating team were ready to continue talks "without condition and without delay".

"We are a sovereign state with all rights and constitutional obligations and duties to defend our territorial integrity and resources. The SPLA is on maximum alert in areas of their deployment", Marial said.

In Aweil, the capital of Northern Bahr el Ghazal State, Governor Paul Malong Awan on Saturday asked the civilian population to make contributions to support SPLA forces on the front line.

Governor Awan reportedly told the army on Friday, after paying a visit to SPLA positions in Kiir Adem, that defending the country was their responsibility and that citizens will do whatever they can to help them achieve their mission.

“Defense of the country is our responsibility in different ways. It requires collective responsibility. The citizens will give you moral and make contribution to support you”, he said.

Rizeigat Southern Migration

The Northern Bahr el Ghazal Governor said he was open to receiving Sudanese nomads, such as the Rizeigat, who traditionally enter the area with their cattle to access water and pasture, on the condition that they accept peace and enter the area as visitors and not as rivals contesting the ownership of the 14 Miles.

“We know this is the time when they come. If [the Rizeigat] come seeking peace with us, we will extend open reception. We will welcome them as usual to access water and grazing land. Doing so will benefit them but if they allow Khartoum to use them against us they will pay for it”, Awan reportedly the army on Friday.

Governor Awan was further quoted as adding that there are some Rizeigat who are members of Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP), who believe that they will be able to take the area with the support of the government in Khartoum and thus the SPLA needs to watch them carefully.

"They may say one thing to us when wanting to access and grazing and another to the government in Khartoum. We need to be ready and prepare for anything. There are real nomads who are seeking peace and there are people who are collaborating with the government in Khartoum. These are the people sabotaging peace efforts because they do not benefit from peace. They survive through confusion and conflict", he said.

(ST)