Isma’il Kushkush & Josh Kron
Khartoum, Sudan. Sudan declared a state of emergency on Sunday along much of its border with South Sudan as the momentum toward all-out war continues to build after weeks of clashes over disputed areas and oil.
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s decree gives authorities in the border areas wide powers to make arrests and set up special courts. It was issued a day after Sudan detained three foreigners and a South Sudanese near the border and accused them of spying for South Sudan, a charge the South denies.
South Sudan, meanwhile, said it would remove its security forces from the contested region of Abyei in response to demands from the African Union and the UN Security Council. “We are not occupying any contested area,” said South Sudan’s minister of information, Barnaba Marial Benjamin.
But reports of fighting continued through the weekend. On Saturday, Sudanese aircraft bombed Panakuach, a town near the border in Unity state, Benjamin said. And on Sunday, South Sudan’s army said clashes with what it called a militia group backed by Sudan left 21 people dead in Malakal, near the border.
South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July after a referendum. A number of pressing issues, however, have not been resolved, including the demarcation of the border, the status of each nation’s citizens in the other’s country, and the sharing of the revenues from the region’s oil.
Hostilities between the two sides erupted this month when South Sudan captured the important oil-producing region of Heglig from Sudan, which soon regained control of it. Sudanese officials have accused the South of using foreign fighters supporting insurgents seeking to topple the government in Khartoum. Both sides deny they are supporting rebel militias.
On Saturday, Sudan said it had arrested a Briton, a Norwegian, a South African and a South Sudanese, accusing them of illegally entering Heglig to spy for South Sudan. Col. Sawarmy Khaled, a Sudanese army spokesman, said the arrests proved South Sudan was using foreign fighters.
South Sudan denied the allegations and said the men were working with the United Nations and aid groups to clear land mines and had lost their way in the remote territory. On Sunday, a Norwegian humanitarian organization, Norwegian People’s Aid, confirmed that one of its employees, John Soerboe, was detained while on a mine-clearing mission in the area.
South Sudan’s decision to withdraw from Abyei, which lies between South Sudan and Sudan and is claimed by both, was taken “to reaffirm and demonstrate with concrete measures” the government’s “true commitment to finding a peaceful solution” to the conflict, according to South Sudan’s letter to the United Nations.
A referendum was supposed to be held last year to decide what the people of Abyei wanted, but it was shelved because of disputes over who could vote.
Before the south’s succession last year, the northern Sudanese military marched in May into Abyei, forcing thousands of people out. But South Sudanese police — accused by Sudan of being soldiers in police uniforms — have remained in different parts of the larger Abyei region.
The New York Times