Sudan and South Sudan said they would cease hostilities to honour a UN deadline that passed Friday after weeks of bitter border clashes that sparked fears of full scale conflict.
Rival forces remained in a tense standoff across their contested border but both Khartoum and Juba have pledged to seek peace after the UN Security Council on Wednesday threatened sanctions if the fighting continued.
“There’s nothing happening, or let’s hope so,” said South Sudan’s army spokesperson Philip Aguer.
“The SPLA [army] is in a defensive position and have been told today by the commander in chief … not to move and to respect the ceasefire.”
However, Aguer said Sudanese artillery had bombarded the south’s frontline army bases at Panakuach, Lalop and Teshwin earlier on Friday, and that troops remained on alert “monitoring for a possible attack”.
Khartoum claimed that Juba had not stopped hostilities because it continues to “occupy” points along the disputed border.
“Sudan has stopped fighting inside South Sudan in line with a UN resolution, but will continue battling Southern troops who remain on northern territory,” said Sudanese foreign ministry spokesperson Al-Obeid Meruh.
Sudanese army spokesperson Sawarmi Khaled Saad said “the other side still has a presence inside our land,” alleging that Juba’s army occupied two points along the border with Darfur, “and this means they haven’t stopped hostilities.
Sudan accuses the South of backing rebels from its conflict-hit western region of Darfur as well as those fighting in South Kordofan state and Blue Nile.
Juba rejects the claims, and in turn accuses Khartoum of backing rebels on its territory, a tactic it used to deadly effect during their 1983-2005 civil war.
The South also accuses Khartoum of occupying several parts of its territory, including the Lebanon-sized Abyei region, claimed by both sides but which Sudanese soldiers stormed last year forcing over 100 000 people to flee southwards.
Troops from the rival armies are dug into fortified defensive positions along the restive border, as officials traded bitter accusations against the other side.
“In Khartoum, the camp is divided between those who want war and those who want peace, unlike South Sudan that has accepted the UN Security Council resolution, so we’ll see if they agree,” Aguer said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed Sudan on Friday to cease bombing the South.
“Together we need to keep sending a strong message to the government of Sudan that it must immediately and unconditionally halt all cross-border attacks, particularly its provocative aerial bombardments,” Clinton said during a meeting with Chinese leaders in Beijing, according to her prepared remarks.
China has previously come under strong US criticism for its support of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, who faces an international arrest warrant on Darfur genocide allegations. But Beijing supported the UN resolution and has reached out to South Sudan, which controls much of the region’s oil potential and China is a major energy importer.
Weeks of bloody clashes between the former civil war foes began in late March, peaking with the Juba’s seizure of the key Heglig oil field from Khartoum’s army, before pulling back after international condemnation.
The South said it pulled out of Heglig in response to international calls, but Sudan claimed its military forced out the occupiers.
However, clashes and air strikes by Sudanese warplanes continued, prompting the UN ultimatum, which includes an order for the two sides to restart African Union-mediated peace talks within two weeks, by May 16.
The UN resolution threatens additional non-military sanctions if either side fails to meet its conditions, and urges Sudan to halt air strikes, which Khartoum has repeatedly denied carrying out.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay will visit South Sudan next week to discuss the protection of civilians affected by the border conflict.
While still one country, north and south Sudan fought a two-decade civil war up to 2005 in which more than two million people died.
South Sudan became independent last July following an overwhelming referendum vote for secession.
But the two countries are still at odds over oil transit fees landlocked South Sudan should pay Sudan for using its pipeline and refinery, border demarcation and the status of citizens of either country living in the other’s territory. — Sapa-AFP