UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday urged Sudan and South Sudan to step back from the brink of war and return to the negotiating table.
Ban called on South Sudan to immediately withdraw its forces from the oil-rich Heglig area, calling their invasion “an infringement on the sovereignty of Sudan and a clearly illegal act.” He called on the government of Sudan to immediately stop shelling and bombing South Sudanese territory and withdraw its forces from disputed territories including Abyei.
The secretary-general said both countries “must stop -supporting proxy forces against each other.” He spoke to reporters in New York as the Arab League announced it would hold an emergency meeting over the increasing violence between the two countries.
On the ground, the south reported new skirmishes and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir increased his threats of war toward the south.
Al-Bashir said the recent violence had “revived the spirit of jihad” in Sudan, while South Sudan said it had repulsed four attacks from Sudan over a 24-hour period as fighting on the border showed no signs of slowing.
“This is not the time for war,” the UN secretary-general told reporters at UN headquarters in New York. “This is a time for leadership, for engagement, for negotiation — in the name of humanity and in the interests of the people of both countries and the region.”
“The last thing the people of these two countries need is another war — a war that could claim countless lives, destroy hope and ruin the prospects of peace and stability and prosperity of all Sudanese people,” Ban said.
Acting on a request by Sudan, the Arab League scheduled an emergency meeting of foreign ministers in Cairo next week to discuss the violence, Deputy Arab League -Secretary-General Ahmed bin Helli said.
The league earlier called on South Sudan to withdraw from the Heglig area that southern troops invaded and took over last week.
Despite the threats from Sudan, a southern government spokesman said South Sudan was only defending its territory and considered Sudan a “friendly nation.”
South Sudan military spokesman Colonel Philip Aguer said three of the attacks were on Wednesday and one was on Thursday. He did not give a death toll.
Al-Bashir on Wednesday threatened to topple the South Sudan government after accusing the south of trying to take down his Khartoum-based government.
He continued his hardline rhetoric on Thursday in an address to a “popular defense” brigade headed to the Heglig area. The ceremony was held in al-Obeid, in northern Kordofan.
The capture of Heglig by the South Sudanese “has revived the spirit of jihad and martyrdom among the Sudanese people,” he told the brigade’s 2,300 men, according to the official Sudan News Agency.
South Sudan government spokesman Barnaba Marial Benjamin said South Sudan does not consider itself at war with Sudan, but he said the south is defending territory it believes it owns based on borders outlined in 1956 by British colonialists.
“Up to now we have not crossed even an inch into Sudan,” Benjamin said, adding that southern forces would withdraw from Heglig if the African Union guaranteed a cessation of hostilities, an agreement on border demarcation, and the withdrawal of Sudanese forces from the nearby border region of Abyei, with Ethiopian troops moving in as peacekeepers.