Monday, March 26, 2012

Sudan, South Sudan Armies Clash in Border Region

Sudan, South Sudan armies clash in border region

Mon Mar 26, 2012 7:37pm GMT

* Clashes come ahead of meeting between Sudan, South Sudan leaders

* South accused north of attacking disputed border areas

* Sudan says Darfur rebels joined southern troops (Details, background)

JUBA/KHARTOUM, March 26 (Reuters) - Clashes broke out between the armed forces of Sudan and South Sudan in disputed border regions on Monday, both sides said in a rare direct confrontation ahead of a meeting of their two presidents that was meant to ease tensions.

Both countries have been at loggerheads over a series of sensitive issues since South Sudan declared independence from Sudan in July, taking with it most of the country's known oil reserves.

The neighbours have yet to agree on the position of their 1,800 km (1,120 mile) shared border or how much the landlocked south should pay to export oil - the lifeblood of both economies - through Sudan.

South Sudan's army, or SPLA, said the Sudanese air force attacked the disputed areas of Jau and Pan Akuach in the morning. The SPLA later repelled an attack by Sudanese ground forces in Teshwin inside South Sudan, SPLA spokesman Philip Arguer said.

"After repulsing the attack, the SPLA pursued the withdrawing SAF (Sudanese Armed Forces) force and they captured two bases of SAF between Heglig and Teshwin," he said, adding that details were still unclear.

Sudan's army spokesman Sawarmi Khalid Saad confirmed fighting in the border area of Sudan's South Kordofan state and the southern Unity state. He denied there had been any fighting in Jau but did not name other locations or say who started the violence.

"The clashes there are still ongoing," he said. Heglig is a large oil producing area under the control of Sudan, though parts of the territory are disputed.

Saad said rebels from Sudan's Darfur region fought alongside the southern troops in South Kordofan. Darfur is the scene if a separate near decade-long insurgency against the Khartoum government.

Each country has accused the other of supporting rebels on either side of the border but direct confrontations are rare.

Sudan's army and SPLM-North rebels have been fighting in South Kordofan since June. Clashes spread in September to Sudan's Blue Nile state which also borders South Sudan.

South Sudan secured its independence in a referendum promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war with the north.

Both South Kordofan and Blue Nile are home to large communities who sided with the south during the civil war but were left on the Sudan side of the border after the secession. Khartoum says the SPLM-North is supported by South Sudan, an accusation dismissed by the southern government.

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is due to meet his southern counterpart Salva Kiir on April 3 in the southern capital Juba to try to resolve their disputes.

South Sudan shut down its oil production in January to protest against Khartoum's seizure of some crude. Sudan said it took the oil to make up for what it called unpaid transit fees. (Reporting by Hereward Holland, Khalid Abdelaziz and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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