Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir threatened to overthrow South Sudan’s “insect” government, as world powers tried to pull the rivals from the brink of war after the South seized a key oil field.
“Our main target from today is to liberate South Sudan’s citizens from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement [SPLM],” al-Bashir said, adding that the southern regime cannot be called a “movement.”
“We call it an insect ... trying to destroy Sudan, and our main target from today is to eliminate this insect completely,” he said.
Al-Bashir was speaking at a rally on Wednesday in support of troops who hope to reclaim Sudan’s most important oil field, Heglig, from their South Sudanese counterparts, who seized it eight days ago.
“In a few hours you are going to listen to good news from your brothers in Heglig,” he told about 3,000 youths, some of them dressed in military gear.
“Heglig will not be the end. The end will be in Juba [the South’s capital],” al-Bashir said.
The UN, the US and the EU have criticized the South’s occupation of the oil field and equally denounced Sudan’s airstrikes against the South. There are widespread fears that the fighting will spread.
It is already the worst since South Sudan won independence in July 9 last year after a civil war from 1983 to 2005 that killed 2 million people.
“Given the escalation of violence over the past few weeks, given the rhetoric that’s being thrown about, we’re very concerned,” US State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters when asked about al-Bashir’s remarks.
Toner repeated Washington’s calls for US-backed South Sudan to withdraw from the disputed oil field — a major base for Sudan’s shaky economy — and for Khartoum to halt air raids.
War debris litters the dirt road leading to occupied Heglig, where bodies of dead Sudanese soldiers lie scattered.
In response to al-Bashir’s words, South Sudanese Minister of Information Barnaba Marial Benjamin said: “We can only resolve this through talks with the African Union.”
While al-Bashir predicted an imminent victory, an official from Sudan’s foreign ministry said the country was pursuing both military and diplomatic measures to get South Sudan out of the area.
“We have to end the occupation by hook or crook, by either way,” said Omar Dahab, head of the ministry’s crisis team.
Sudan’s military has released virtually no information about the situation on the ground, but South Sudan has vowed to hold its positions in Heglig, despite airstrikes.
“We thought that we could only resolve this peacefully around a table, but Sudan has been using Heglig as a base to launch attacks on the South,” Benjamin said.
Clashes broke out last month in the Heglig area and escalated last week with waves of aerial bombardment hitting the South.
On Tuesday, the UN Security Council discussed possible sanctions against Sudan and South Sudan in a bid to halt a wider war.
Penalizing both would be wrong, Dahab said.
“Logically it should be directed at the aggressor,” he said.
Airstrikes have killed several South Sudanese civilians and earlier this week damaged a UN peacekeeping camp in the South’s Unity State.
Although South Sudan disputes it, Heglig has been internationally recognized as being part of Sudan.
Princeton Lyman, the US special envoy on Sudan and South Sudan, was in Khartoum yesterday after a meeting the previous day in Juba with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir.
Lyman’s message was to stress “that we need an immediate and unconditional cessation of violence and we need both sides to get back to the African Union process,” Toner said, referring to talks on a variety of protracted disputes brokered by the union.
Sudan pulled out of those talks after the Heglig attack.
In another development, the impoverished South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, joined the World Bank and the IMF on Wednesday.