The UN Security Council urged South Sudan on Wednesday to pull its troops out of a town seized from Sudan amid growing fears of all-out hostilities between the two.
With clashes spreading along the border between the two Sudans, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on South -Sudanese President Salva Kiir to hold a summit with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in a bid to head off war.
After a Security Council briefing on the Sudan conflict, US Ambassador Susan Rice said the South had “confirmed that it has seized Heglig,” a key oil town in the north claimed by both sides.
“This is a very serious development which comes in the context of repeated violations over the past several weeks of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of both countries,” Rice said, reading a statement as the council president for this month.
While bitter fighting has been reported around Heglig, the South has accused Khartoum of bombing targets in its Unity State.
“Council members stressed that the SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] must withdraw immediately and Sudan must stop aerial bombardments and incursions into South Sudan. Both sides must return to talks and cease all hostilities,” the US ambassador added.
The 15-nation council was working on a formal statement on Sudan and “additional actions” reflecting the mounting concerns, Rice said.
Meanwhile, the UN -secretary-general spoke with the South’s president, the Khartoum government’s UN envoy, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on ways to halt the collision course to conflict.
The UN leader told Kiir that “before undertaking a discussion on the causes of the escalation, the immediate priority is to de-escalate the situation to avoid any further bloodshed,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters.
“The secretary-general urged [them] to consider holding a presidential summit immediately to build confidence and assure the peoples of South Sudan and Sudan that peace and dialogue is the only option before both sides,” he added.
Kiir and al-Bashir blame each other for the new tensions and called off a planned April 3 summit. African Union mediator and former South African president Thabo Mbeki is trying to organize a new date.
Ban has had no contact with Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide, but his spokesman said the UN leader spoke with Sudan’s UN envoy on Tuesday and “strongly urged Khartoum to exercise maximum restraint and avoid further military action.”
The UN chief spoke with Clinton while in Washington on Wednesday and was likely to contact other international leaders about Sudan, Nesirky said.