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Obama urges Sudan talks after Heglig 'withdrawal'

Category: Headlines

Published: 21st Apr 2012 12:08:13

The presidents of Sudan and South Sudan "must have the courage" to return to the negotiating table and resolve their differences peacefully, says US President Barack Obama.

He was speaking after South Sudan said it had ordered its troops to withdraw from the Heglig oil field in Sudan.

Within hours of Friday's announcement, Sudan said it had retaken Heglig town.

South Sudanese forces captured the area last week, accusing Khartoum of using it as a base to launch attacks.

"We know what needs to happen," said President Obama. "The government of Sudan must stop its military actions including aerial bombardments.

"It must give aid workers the access they need to save lives. And it must end its support for armed groups inside the South."

Turning to the government of the newly independent South Sudan, Mr Obama said: "Likewise, the government of South Sudan must end its support for armed groups inside Sudan and it must cease its military actions across the border.

Did they jump or were they pushed?

It may take a while to establish which version of events - Sudan's glorious victory or South Sudan's strategic withdrawal - is closest to the truth.

President Omar al-Bashir will certainly portray this as a triumph - and for him it is.

Even Sudanese who do not like him feel strongly Heglig is Sudanese, and regaining it will boost his popularity at a difficult economic time.

South Sudan has been able to push its point that Heglig - or Panthou as the South Sudanese call it - belongs to it. But that message has fallen on deaf ears.

The US, AU and the UN all condemned South Sudan's takeover of the oilfields. On Thursday Ban Ki-moon called it "illegal".

Both countries have been energised by the fighting - and perhaps pushed closer to economic ruin.

But the big question now is whether Heglig marks the high watermark of the fighting - or the start of a new war.

The escalating fighting and rhetoric between the two sides over the past week has led to fears of all-out war.

It is not clear whether Khartoum regained the area by force or whether South Sudanese troops withdrew, under intense international pressure.

South Sudan said its forces were still in the process of withdrawal; Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told AFP it would take three days to complete the operations.

President Omar al-Bashir on Friday told supporters at a victory rally in Khartoum: "We thank God that he made successful your sons; and the security forces and the police force and the defence forces - he has made them victorious on this Friday."

South Sudan has so far made no public comments on Khartoum's claim.

South Sudan seceded last July following a 2005 peace deal that ended a two-decade civil war in which more than 1.5 million people died.

On Thursday, South Sudan issued a statement saying it was not interested in war with its northern neighbour and that it would only withdraw from Heglig if the UN deployed monitors there.

President Bashir had earlier threatened to bring down the government in Juba following the loss of Heglig, which provided more than half of Sudan's oil.

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir said the South still believed that Heglig was a part of South Sudan and that its final status should be determined by international arbitration, Associated Press reported.

Heglig is internationally accepted to be part of Sudanese territory - although the precise border is yet to be demarcated.

Other issues dividing the two countries are the transit fees the South should pay Sudan to use its oil pipelines and the status of the province of Abyei.

Both Sudan and the South are reliant on their oil revenues, which account for 98% of South Sudan's budget. But the two countries cannot agree how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north. It is feared that disputes over oil could lead the two neighbours to return to war.

Although they were united for many years, the two Sudans were always very different. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.

Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.

The health inequalities in Sudan are illustrated by infant mortality rates. In South Sudan, one in 10 children die before their first birthday. Whereas in the more developed northern states, such as Gezira and White Nile, half of those children would be expected to survive.

The gulf in water resources between north and south is stark. In Khartoum, River Nile, and Gezira states, two-thirds of people have access to piped drinking water and pit latrines. In the south, boreholes and unprotected wells are the main drinking sources. More than 80% of southerners have no toilet facilities whatsoever.

Throughout the two Sudans, access to primary school education is strongly linked to household earnings. In the poorest parts of the south, less than 1% of children finish primary school. Whereas in the wealthier north, up to 50% of children complete primary level education.

Conflict and poverty are the main causes of food insecurity in both countries. The residents of war-affected Darfur and South Sudan are still greatly dependent on food aid. Far more than in northern states, which tend to be wealthier, more urbanised and less reliant on agriculture.

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BBC News, 2012. Obama urges Sudan talks after Heglig 'withdrawal' [Online] (Updated 21st Apr 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1423771/Obama-urges-Sudan-talks-after-Heglig-withdrawal [Accessed 23rd Apr 2014]

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