Sudan had “declared war” on South Sudan, that country’s president said Tuesday, after days of aerial bombing that killed two people, wounded dozens, and destroyed both civilian markets and state oil infrastructure.
President Salva Kiir’s remarks, made during a visit to China to meet its president, Hu Jintao, marked a further worsening of a weeks-long crisis that threatens to take Sudan and South Sudan back to all-out conflict.
Mr. Kiir told Mr. Hu that his visit came at “a very critical moment for the Republic of South Sudan because our neighbor in Khartoum has declared war on the Republic of South Sudan.”
He was referring to Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s president, who last week vowed to revenge earlier South Sudanese incursions into his territory by “eliminating” the “insects” ruling South Sudan and “liberating” its people.
Eight bombs hit villages south of the countries’ disputed border late Monday night, South Sudanese officials said. The extent of the casualties was not immediately clear, and Sudan denied its air force dropped the weapons.
Several people were badly wounded, and one young boy was killed, when aircraft dropped three bombs earlier Monday around Bentiu town, a South Sudanese town 40 miles from the border area.
Kiir is in Beijing to tighten economic links to China, traditionally a close ally of Mr. Bashir’s, whose spokesman denied Tuesday that any official declaration of war had been made.
“China sincerely hopes that South Sudan and Sudan can become good neighbors who co-exist in amity and good partners who develop together,” Hu told Kiir during their meeting, according to Chinese state television. “The urgent task is to actively cooperate with the mediation efforts of the international community and halt armed conflict in the border areas.”
Aid groups are increasingly worried that fighting will worsen an already dire situation for civilians living in the border areas.
“We are incredibly concerned about the wellbeing of children fleeing in terror from aerial bombardment, separated from their families, seeing their homes destroyed and at risk of violence and deprivation as the conflict continues,” said Jon Cunliffe, head of Save The Children in South Sudan.
South Sudan became an independent nation in 2011 as part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended Africa’s longest-running civil war between Sudan’s Arab Muslim north and its majority Christian south.
But that deal failed to finalize key points of dispute between the two countries, including where the border lay and how to share oil revenues.
Both sides must “put an immediate end to armed hostilities,” Ramtane Lamamra, security commissioner for the African Union, told a session of the body’s peace and security committee that met Tuesday to discuss the crisis.
“These two brothers and neighbors [must] implement all accords that have been put forward by the African Union panel,” he said. Attempts by the AU to ink deals on the most contentious issues have so far failed.
There is still hope, however, that a full return to conflict may be short lived, as both countries have suffered severe losses of income since South Sudan cut off the flow of crude from its oilfields in January.
“Neither side has any money, but both appear blind to the awful effect that war will have on their finances, and their civilian populations,” one Western diplomat in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, told the Monitor.
“It’s likely that once they realize that they simply cannot afford war, they will be forced to the negotiating table. Both are just trying to get into the strongest position they can before that inevitable situation comes.”