A U.S. envoy headed Wednesday to Sudan after talks in newly independent South Sudan as he pressed for calm despite signs of a hardening of positions following an outbreak of fighting as the United Nations Security Council discussed threatening sanctions on both countries.
Princeton Lyman, the special envoy on Sudan and South Sudan, was headed to Khartoum late Tuesday or Wednesday after a meeting in the South’s capital Juba with President Salva Kiir, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
In Khartoum, Lyman will “essentially stress the same message, which is that we need an immediate and unconditional cessation of violence, and we need both sides to get back to the AU process,” Toner said, referring to deadlocked talks mediated by the African Union.
The U.N. Security Council late Tuesday talked about threatening sanctions on Khartoum and Juba as the two neighboring African countries teeter on the edge of war.
The 15-member body discussed ways to leverage the influence of the council to press the parties to take these steps, and included in that a discussion potentially of sanctions, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told reporters in New York.
Fighting has intensified, with Sudan accused of bombing a camp of U.N. peacekeepers, after fighters from the South seized the disputed Heglig oil field which is key to Sudan’s ailing economy.
The United States has urged South Sudan to withdraw. But despite its heavy reliance on U.S. aid, South Sudan has remained defiant with its army vowing Tuesday to hold its positions.
The violence has raised fears of a return to all-out war. More than two million people died in Sudan’s 1983-2005 civil war, one of the longest in Africa.
Earlier on Tuesday, Sudan said the cost of a full-blown conflict with South Sudan would not deter it from recapturing the disputed Heglig oilfield, and that newly tapped oilfields would help to sustain its struggling economy.
South Sudan took control of the contested oil-producing Heglig region last week, prompting Sudan’s parliament to brand its former civil war foe an “enemy” on Monday and to call for a swift recapture of the flat savanna region.
Both countries’ faltering economies are likely to be important factors in the conflict’s outcome.
“Despite the high cost of the war, despite the destruction that the war can cause ... our options are very limited. We can tolerate some sacrifice, until we can liberate our land,” Sudan’s ambassador to Kenya, Kamal Ismail Saeed, said, according to Reuters.
“So from our side, yes, it is expensive but that doesn’t deter us or that doesn’t stop us from exerting all effort to liberate our land,” he told reporters in Nairobi.
“We have been in war without oil for several years and we survived ... As a matter of fact ... the good news (is) we have developed other sources and fields of oil and that will really compensate our loss.”
Fighting over oil payments and territory has withered the combined crude output of both countries.
The Heglig field is vital to Sudan’s economy because it accounted for half the 115,000 barrels per day output that remained in its control when South Sudan seceded in July. The field’s output has stopped due to the fighting, officials say.
The landlocked South had already closed its 350,000 bpd output after failing to agree how much it should pay to export via Sudan’s pipelines, a Red Sea port and other facilities.
The latest clashes have also dampened hopes that Sudan and South Sudan can reach a deal soon on disputed issues such as demarcation of their 1,800-km (1,200-mile) border, division of debt and the status of citizens in each other's territory.
The loss of Heglig, a shock to many Sudanese, has also stirred tensions in the north. Sudan’s interior minister said on Tuesday the police college had dismissed its South Sudanese students after “their violation of police regulations and their celebration of the occupation of Heglig.”
U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay said she was alarmed by the South’s “unwarranted” occupation of Heglig and urged both sides to halt the violence, including the North's bombing campaign against the South.
“I condemn the indiscriminate aerial bombing by Sudanese forces in civilian areas in South Sudan, including in Mayom and Bentiu in Unity State, resulting in the deaths of at least 8 civilians and many injuries since Saturday,” she said in a statement.
“In the past week we have seen an intensification of the use of Antonovs as well as jetfighters dropping bombs and launching rocket attacks, including in areas dangerously close to the offices of international organizations. Such deplorable attacks must stop immediately.”
Pillay and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm over reports of a buildup of militia forces in the disputed Abyei border region.
The U.N. statement did not say where the reports were from or give details but called it a violation of a June agreement in which both sides said they would withdraw forces from the area.
Ban called on Khartoum to “ensure the full and immediate withdrawal of these elements from the area.”
Abyei, which is prized for its fertile grazing land and produces some oil, was a major battleground during Sudan’s civil war and is symbolically potent for both sides. Both countries lay claim to it.
Khartoum seized Abyei in May last year after a southern attack on an army convoy, triggering an exodus of tens of thousands of civilians. The Security Council authorized the deployment of 3,800 U.N. peacekeepers in Abyei in June.